Soft Deletion in Django

Adrienne Domingus
Jun 3, 2017 · 4 min read

Giving your users the ability to delete objects from your database is a risky proposition — some types of objects are low risk, but others, no matter how much you warn them of the risks of deleting things, will lead to customer requests. You know the kind — “So, I deleted this thing, but I didn’t mean to and now I really need it back…can you recover it?” Of course, databases don’t work that way. When a thing is deleted, it’s deleted.

So, the dream: be able to easily define some objects to be soft-deleted and others to be hard-deleted so that your developers don’t have to remember as they are interacting with objects which are which, and be able to easily recover deleted objects for your users when they need you to. Soft deletion can help with this.

The Model

Most objects in Django inherit from models.Model. If we define a SoftDeletionModel that our objects inherit from instead, we can give it whatever attributes we want, and trust that all models that inherit this way will have the same behavior, and we only have to remember it at the time we define the model, not every time we use it. It might look something like this:

class SoftDeletionModel(models.Model):
deleted_at = models.DateTimeField(blank=True, null=True)

objects = SoftDeletionManager()
all_objects = SoftDeletionManager(alive_only=False)

class Meta:
abstract = True

def delete(self):
self.deleted_at =

def hard_delete(self):
super(SoftDeletionModel, self).delete()

The pieces:

  • deleted_at: this means that all models inheriting from the SoftDeletionModel will have this attribute available to be set. By default it will be null. I recommend a date instead of a boolean so that you can create a background job that hard-deletes any objects that were “deleted” more than 24 hours/7 days/30 days (whatever the right cadence is for you and your users ) ago — data that users choose to delete should actually be deleted.
  • We’ll look at objects and all_objects in the next section. This is what makes this so powerful
  • abstract = True: This just means we won’t ever define a SoftDeletionModel object on its own. More detail from the Django docs here.
  • The delete method means that whenever you call .delete() on any object that inherits from the SoftDeletionModel, it won’t actually be deleted from the database — its deleted_at attribute will be set instead
  • hard_delete gives you the option to really truly delete something from the database if you want to, but is named something other than the usual delete methods to ensure that you have to think about what you’re doing before you do it, and actually mean to do it. This usually won’t be exposed to users, but could only be called by developers from the shell.

The Manager

The objects and all_objects attributes defined on the SoftDeletionModel above reference a Django custom manager.

class SoftDeletionManager(models.Manager):
def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
self.alive_only = kwargs.pop('alive_only', True)
super(SoftDeletionManager, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)

def get_queryset(self):
if self.alive_only:
return SoftDeletionQuerySet(self.model).filter(deleted_at=None)
return SoftDeletionQuerySet(self.model)

def hard_delete(self):
return self.get_queryset().hard_delete()

The pieces:

  • We initialize with alive_only set to True by default, unless we’ve instantiated the manager with that in the kwargs(by calling all_objects instead of objects)
  • We define get_queryset that, unless we’re calling all_objects returns any object that doesn’t have a value for deleted_at — you don’t want to be working with things your users think they’ve deleted! Otherwise, just return everything, using the SoftDeletionQuerySet, which we’ll look at below
  • hard_delete, once again allows us to really truly delete a thing.

The QuerySet

Before we jump in, here are the docs on Django QuerySets.

class SoftDeletionQuerySet(QuerySet):
def delete(self):
return super(SoftDeletionQuerySet, self).update(

def hard_delete(self):
return super(SoftDeletionQuerySet, self).delete()

def alive(self):
return self.filter(deleted_at=None)

def dead(self):
return self.exclude(deleted_at=None)

The pieces:

  • delete — bulk deleting a QuerySet bypasses an individual object’s delete method, which is why this is needed here as well
  • alive and dead are just helpers — you may find you don’t need them.
  • hard_delete, as above, actually removes the objects from your database, but does this on a QuerySet instead of an individual object

Putting it all together

Lets say we’ve got a VeryImportantSomething that we want users to think they can delete, but that we want to be able to recover for them in case they do it, and come back with regrets.

class VeryImportantSomething(SoftDeletionModel):
# Define the model just as you would any other Django model
  • If I call VeryImportantSomething.objects.get(pk=123).delete(), I will not remove the object from the database, but instead set the deleted_at attribute
  • If I call VeryImportantSomething.objects.all() I will actually get all VeryImportantSomethings that do not have a value set on their deleted_at attribute. Likewise, if I call VeryImportantSomething.objects.get(pk=123), I will get an ObjectDoesNotExist error, as if it weren’t in my database at all.
  • If I were to callVeryImportantSomething.all_objects.get(pk=123), however, the object would be returned to me (and I could then set deleted_at to be None, and thereby “un-delete” it for my user!
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