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Multitenancy for Rails 3 and ActiveRecord

Apartment provides tools to help you deal with multiple databases in your Rails application. If you need to have certain data sequestered based on account or company, but still allow some data to exist in a common database, Apartment can help.


Rails 3

Add the following to your Gemfile:

gem 'apartment'

That's all you need to set up the Apartment libraries. If you want to switch databases on a per-user basis, look under "Usage - Switching databases per request", below.

NOTE: If using postgresl schemas you must use:

  • for Rails 3.1.x: Rails ~> 3.1.2, it contains a patch that makes prepared statements work with multiple schemas


Creating new Databases

Before you can switch to a new apartment database, you will need to create it. Whenever you need to create a new database, you can run the following command:


If you're using the prepend environment config option or you AREN'T using Postgresql Schemas, this will create a database in the following format: "#environment_database_name". In the case of a sqlite database, this will be created in your 'db/' folder. With other databases, the database will be created as a new DB within the system.

When you create a new database, all migrations will be run against that database, so it will be up to date when create returns.

Notes on PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL works slightly differently than other databases when creating a new DB. If you are using PostgreSQL, Apartment by default will set up a new schema and migrate into there. This provides better performance, and allows Apartment to work on systems like Heroku, which would not allow a full new database to be created.

One can optionally use the full database creation instead if they want, though this is not recommended

Switching Databases

To switch databases using Apartment, use the following command:


When switch is called, all requests coming to ActiveRecord will be routed to the database you specify (with the exception of excluded models, see below). To return to the 'root' database, call switch with no arguments.

Switching Databases per request

You can have Apartment route to the appropriate database by adding some Rack middleware. Apartment can support many different "Elevators" that can take care of this routing to your data.

Switch on subdomain In house, we use the subdomain elevator, which analyzes the subdomain of the request and switches to a database schema of the same name. It can be used like so:

# application.rb
module MyApplication
  class Application < Rails::Application
    config.middleware.use 'Apartment::Elevators::Subdomain'

If you want to exclude a domain, for example if you don't want your application to treate www like a subdomain, in an initializer in your application, you can set the following:

# config/initializers/apartment/subdomain_exclusions.rb
Apartment::Elevators::Subdomain.excluded_subdomains = ['www']

This functions much in the same way as Apartment.excluded_models. This example will prevent switching your database when the subdomain is www. Handy for subdomains like: "public", "www", and "admin" :)

Switch on domain To switch based on full domain (excluding subdomains ie 'www' and top level domains ie '.com' ) use the following:

# application.rb
module MyApplication
  class Application < Rails::Application
    config.middleware.use 'Apartment::Elevators::Domain'

Switch on full host using a hash To switch based on full host with a hash to find corresponding database name use the following:

# application.rb
module MyApplication
  class Application < Rails::Application
    config.middleware.use 'Apartment::Elevators::HostHash', {'example.com' => 'example_database'}

Custom Elevator A Generic Elevator exists that allows you to pass a Proc (or anything that responds to call) to the middleware. This Object will be passed in an ActionDispatch::Request object when called for you to do your magic. Apartment will use the return value of this proc to switch to the appropriate database. Use like so:

# application.rb
module MyApplication
  class Application < Rails::Application
    # Obviously not a contrived example
    config.middleware.use 'Apartment::Elevators::Generic', Proc.new { |request| request.host.reverse }


The following config options should be set up in a Rails initializer such as:


To set config options, add this to your initializer:

Apartment.configure do |config|
  # set your options (described below) here

Excluding models

If you have some models that should always access the 'root' database, you can specify this by configuring Apartment using Apartment.configure. This will yield a config object for you. You can set excluded models like so:

config.excluded_models = ["User", "Company"]        # these models will not be multi-tenanted, but remain in the global (public) namespace

Note that a string representation of the model name is now the standard so that models are properly constantized when reloaded in development

Rails will always access the 'root' database when accessing these models, but note that tables will be created in all schemas. This may not be ideal, but its done this way because otherwise rails wouldn't be able to properly generate the schema.rb file.

Postgresql Schemas

Providing a Different default_schema By default, ActiveRecord will use "$user", public as the default schema_search_path. This can be modified if you wish to use a different default schema be setting:

config.default_schema = "some_other_schema"

With that set, all excluded models will use this schema as the table name prefix instead of public and reset on Apartment::Database will return to this schema also

Persistent Schemas Apartment will normally just switch the schema_search_path whole hog to the one passed in. This can lead to problems if you want other schemas to always be searched as well. Enter persistent_schemas. You can configure a list of other schemas that will always remain in the search path, while the default gets swapped out:

config.persistent_schemas = ['some', 'other', 'schemas']

This has numerous useful applications. Hstore, for instance, is a popular storage engine for Postgresql. In order to use Hstore, you have to install it to a specific schema and have that always in the schema_search_path. This could be achieved like so:

# NOTE do not do this in a migration, must be done
# manually before you configure apartment with hstore
# In a rake task, or on the console...
ActiveRecord::Base.connection.execute("CREATE SCHEMA hstore; CREATE EXTENSION HSTORE SCHEMA hstore")

# configure Apartment to maintain the `hstore` schema in the `schema_search_path`
config.persistent_schemas = ['hstore']

There are a few caveats to be aware of when using hstore. First off, the hstore schema and extension creation need to be done manually before you reference it in any way in your migrations, database.yml or apartment. This is an unfortunate manual step, but I haven't found a way around it. You can achieve this from the command line using something like:

rails r 'ActiveRecord::Base.connection.execute("CREATE SCHEMA hstore; CREATE EXTENSION HSTORE SCHEMA hstore")'

Next, your database.yml file must mimic what you've set for your default and persistent schemas in Apartment. When you run migrataions with Rails, it won't know about the hstore schema because Apartment isn't injected into the default connection, it's done on a per-request basis, therefore Rails doesn't know about hstore during migrations. To do so, add the following to your database.yml for all environments

# database.yml
adapter: postgresql
schema_search_path: "public,hstore"

This would be for a config with default_schema set to public and persistent_schemas set to ['hstore']

Another way that we've successfully configured hstore for our applications is to add it into the postgresql template1 database so that every db that gets created has it by default.

You can do so using a command like so

psql -U postgres -d template1 -c "CREATE SCHEMA hstore AUTHORIZATION some_username;"
psql -U postgres -d template1 -c "CREATE EXTENSION IF NOT EXISTS hstore SCHEMA hstore;"

The ideal setup would actually be to install hstore into the public schema and leave the public schema in the search_path at all times. We won't be able to do this though until public doesn't also contain the tenanted tables, which is an open issue with no real milestone to be completed. Happy to accept PR's on the matter.

Managing Migrations

In order to migrate all of your databases (or posgresql schemas) you need to provide a list of dbs to Apartment. You can make this dynamic by providing a Proc object to be called on migrations. This object should yield an array of string representing each database name. Example:

# Dynamically get database names to migrate
config.database_names = lambda{ Customer.pluck(:database_name) }

# Use a static list of database names for migrate
config.database_names = ['db1', 'db2']

You can then migrate your databases using the rake task:

rake apartment:migrate

This basically invokes Apartment::Database.migrate(#{db_name}) for each database name supplied from Apartment.database_names

Handling Environments

By default, when not using postgresql schemas, Apartment will prepend the environment to the database name to ensure there is no conflict between your environments. This is mainly for the benefit of your development and test environments. If you wish to turn this option off in production, you could do something like:

config.prepend_environment = !Rails.env.production?


Has been removed... See apartment-sidekiq for a better backgrounding experience


  • In both spec/dummy/config and spec/config, you will see database.yml.sample files
    • Copy them into the same directory but with the name database.yml
    • Edit them to fit your own settings
  • Rake tasks (see the Rakefile) will help you setup your dbs necessary to run tests
  • Please issue pull requests to the development branch. All development happens here, master is used for releases
  • Ensure that your code is accompanied with tests. No code will be merged without tests

  • If you're looking to help, check out the TODO file for some upcoming changes I'd like to implement in Apartment.


Apartment is released under the MIT License.