When a Django Field Gets Updated: Techniques for Checking


Understanding the Challenge:

In Django, models represent your data structure and interact with the database. By default, Django doesn't provide a built-in way to directly determine if a specific field's value has been modified before saving.

Approaches to Track Field Changes:

Here are two common methods to achieve this functionality:

  1. Using from_db Classmethod (Django 1.8+):

    • Django's from_db classmethod allows you to cache the old field values when a model instance is retrieved from the database.
    • Override the from_db method in your model to store these old values in a class attribute or instance variable.
    • In your model's save method, compare the cached old value with the current value of the field. If they differ, the field has changed.
    class MyModel(models.Model):
        my_field = models.CharField(max_length=100)
        _old_my_field = None  # Class attribute to store old value
        def from_db(cls, db, field_names, values):
            instance = super().from_db(db, field_names, values)
            instance._old_my_field = instance.my_field  # Cache old value
            return instance
        def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
            if self._old_my_field != self.my_field:
                # Field has changed, do something
            super().save(*args, **kwargs)
  2. Leveraging update_fields Argument (Limited Use):

    • The save method can optionally accept an update_fields argument, which is a list of field names to be explicitly updated.
    • However, this approach has limitations:
      • It only reflects fields explicitly passed to save, not necessarily those that actually changed.
      • If you're updating all fields or don't have control over save arguments, it's not suitable.


  • Both methods have their trade-offs. The from_db approach offers more flexibility but requires additional code.
  • Evaluate your specific use case and choose the method that best suits your requirements.

Additional Option (Third-Party Packages):

  • If you need more sophisticated change tracking, consider using third-party Django model utilities like django-model-utils. These packages can provide advanced features for auditing changes and managing field histories.

By following these approaches, you can effectively track field modifications within your Django models during the save process.

Using from_db Classmethod (Recommended for Most Cases):

class MyModel(models.Model):
    my_field = models.CharField(max_length=100)
    _old_my_field = None  # Instance attribute (more flexible)

    def from_db(cls, db, field_names, values):
        instance = super().from_db(db, field_names, values)
        instance._old_my_field = getattr(instance, 'my_field')  # Dynamically access field
        return instance

    def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
        if self._old_my_field != self.my_field:
            # Field has changed, do something (e.g., log the change)
            print(f"Field 'my_field' changed from '{self._old_my_field}' to '{self.my_field}'")
        super().save(*args, **kwargs)


  • We use an instance attribute (_old_my_field) for flexibility (you can store old values for multiple fields).
  • The from_db method dynamically retrieves the current value of my_field using getattr for better maintainability (handles potential field name changes).
  • In the save method, we compare the old and new values to determine if the field has changed.
  • We've included an example action (printing a message) to demonstrate what you might do when a change is detected.
def update_model(instance, data, update_fields=None):
    # ... your code to update the model instance ...

    if update_fields is not None and 'my_field' in update_fields:
        # Field might have changed (but not guaranteed)
        print("Field 'my_field' might have changed")
    super().save(instance, update_fields=update_fields)
  • This example assumes a function to update a model instance (update_model).
  • It checks if the update_fields argument was provided and if 'my_field' is included in the list.
  • However, this approach has limitations as mentioned earlier. It's only useful if you have control over update_fields.

Remember, the from_db approach is generally more reliable for tracking field changes. Choose the method that best suits your specific scenario.

These packages simplify the process and offer additional features like:

  • Logging changes with usernames, timestamps, etc.
  • Accessing historical versions of models.
  • Configuring which fields to track.

Overriding Model's clean Method:

  • You can override the model's clean method to perform custom validation and potentially detect changes based on specific logic.
  • However, this approach might not be ideal for general field change tracking, as it's primarily for data validation before saving.

Choosing the Right Method:

  • If you need basic change detection for specific fields, the from_db approach is a good starting point.
  • For more advanced change tracking with logging and historical versions, consider using third-party packages.
  • The update_fields approach has limitations and is only suitable in specific scenarios.
  • Overriding the clean method is generally for data validation, not primarily for change detection.

Additional Considerations:

  • Evaluate the performance impact of any method, especially for large datasets or frequent changes.
  • Third-party packages may introduce additional dependencies to your project.

By understanding these options, you can effectively implement field change tracking in your Django models based on your requirements.

django django-models

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