Razor Pages with EF Core in ASP.NET Core - Migrations - 4 of 8

By Tom Dykstra, Jon P Smith, and Rick Anderson

The Contoso University web app demonstrates how to create Razor Pages web apps using EF Core and Visual Studio. For information about the tutorial series, see the first tutorial.

In this tutorial, the EF Core migrations feature for managing data model changes is used.

If you run into problems you can't solve, download the completed app for this stage.

When a new app is developed, the data model changes frequently. Each time the model changes, the model gets out of sync with the database. This tutorial started by configuring the Entity Framework to create the database if it doesn't exist. Each time the data model changes:

  • The DB is dropped.
  • EF creates a new one that matches the model.
  • The app seeds the DB with test data.

This approach to keeping the DB in sync with the data model works well until you deploy the app to production. When the app is running in production, it's usually storing data that needs to be maintained. The app can't start with a test DB each time a change is made (such as adding a new column). The EF Core Migrations feature solves this problem by enabling EF Core to update the DB schema instead of creating a new DB.

Rather than dropping and recreating the DB when the data model changes, migrations updates the schema and retains existing data.

Entity Framework Core NuGet packages for migrations

To work with migrations, use the Package Manager Console (PMC) or the command-line interface (CLI). These tutorials show how to use CLI commands. Information about the PMC is at the end of this tutorial.

The EF Core tools for the command-line interface (CLI) are provided in Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Tools.DotNet. To install this package, add it to the DotNetCliToolReference collection in the .csproj file, as shown. Note: This package must be installed by editing the .csproj file. Theinstall-package command or the package manager GUI cannot be used to install this package. Edit the .csproj file by right-clicking the project name in Solution Explorer and selecting Edit ContosoUniversity.csproj.

The following markup shows the updated .csproj file with the EF Core CLI tools highlighted:

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web">
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.AspNetCore.All" Version="2.0.0" />
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.VisualStudio.Web.CodeGeneration.Design" Version="2.0.0" />
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.VisualStudio.Web.CodeGeneration.Utils" Version="2.0.0" />
    <DotNetCliToolReference Include="Microsoft.VisualStudio.Web.CodeGeneration.Tools" Version="2.0.0" />
    <DotNetCliToolReference Include="Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Tools.DotNet" Version="2.0.0" />

  The version numbers in the preceding example were current when the tutorial was written. Use the same version for the EF Core CLI tools found in the other packages.

Change the connection string

In the appsettings.json file, change the name of the DB in the connection string to ContosoUniversity2.

  "ConnectionStrings": {
    "DefaultConnection": "Server=(localdb)\\mssqllocaldb;Database=ContosoUniversity2;ConnectRetryCount=0;Trusted_Connection=True;MultipleActiveResultSets=true"

Changing the DB name in the connection string causes the first migration to create a new DB. A new DB is created because one with that name doesn't exist. Changing the connection string isn't required for getting started with migrations.

An alternative to changing the DB name is deleting the DB. Use SQL Server Object Explorer (SSOX) or the database drop CLI command:

dotnet ef database drop

The following section explains how to run CLI commands.

Create an initial migration

Build the project.

Open a command window and navigate to the project folder. The project folder contains the Startup.cs file.

Enter the following in the command window:

dotnet ef migrations add InitialCreate

The command window displays information similar to the following:

info: Microsoft.AspNetCore.DataProtection.KeyManagement.XmlKeyManager[0]
      User profile is available. Using 'C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\ASP.NET\DataProtection-Keys' as key repository and Windows DPAPI to encrypt keys at rest.
info: Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Infrastructure[100403]
      Entity Framework Core 2.0.0-rtm-26452 initialized 'SchoolContext' using provider 'Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.SqlServer' with options: None
Done. To undo this action, use 'ef migrations remove'

If the migration fails with the message "cannot access the file ... ContosoUniversity.dll because it is being used by another process." is displayed:

  • Stop IIS Express.

    • Exit and restart Visual Studio, or
    • Find the IIS Express icon in the Windows System Tray.
    • Right-click the IIS Express icon, and then click ContosoUniversity > Stop Site.

If the error message "Build failed." is displayed, run the command again. If you get this error, leave a note at the bottom of this tutorial.

Examine the Up and Down methods

The EF Core command migrations add generated code to create the DB from. This migrations code is in the Migrations<timestamp>_InitialCreate.cs file. The Up method of the InitialCreate class creates the DB tables that correspond to the data model entity sets. The Down method deletes them, as shown in the following example:

    public partial class InitialCreate : Migration
        protected override void Up(MigrationBuilder migrationBuilder)
                name: "Course",
                columns: table => new
                    CourseID = table.Column<int>(type: "int", nullable: false),
                    Credits = table.Column<int>(type: "int", nullable: false),
                    Title = table.Column<string>(type: "nvarchar(max)", nullable: true)
                constraints: table =>
                    table.PrimaryKey("PK_Course", x => x.CourseID);

        protected override void Down(MigrationBuilder migrationBuilder)
                name: "Enrollment");

                name: "Course");

                name: "Student");

Migrations calls the Up method to implement the data model changes for a migration. When you enter a command to roll back the update, migrations calls the Down method.

The preceding code is for the initial migration. That code was created when the migrations add InitialCreate command was run. The migration name parameter ("InitialCreate" in the example) is used for the file name. The migration name can be any valid file name. It's best to choose a word or phrase that summarizes what is being done in the migration. For example, a migration that added a department table might be called "AddDepartmentTable."

If the initial migration is created and the DB exists:

  • The DB creation code is generated.
  • The DB creation code doesn't need to run because the DB already matches the data model. If the DB creation code is run, it doesn't make any changes because the DB already matches the data model.

When the app is deployed to a new environment, the DB creation code must be run to create the DB.

Previously the connection string was changed to use a new name for the DB. The specified DB doesn't exist, so migrations creates the DB.

The data model snapshot

Migrations creates a snapshot of the current database schema in Migrations/SchoolContextModelSnapshot.cs. When you add a migration, EF determines what changed by comparing the data model to the snapshot file.

When deleting a migration, use the dotnet ef migrations remove command. dotnet ef migrations remove deletes the migration and ensures the snapshot is correctly reset.

See EF Core Migrations in Team Environments for more information about how the snapshot file is used.

Remove EnsureCreated

For early development, the EnsureCreated command was used. In this tutorial, migrations is used. EnsureCreated has the following limitations:

  • Bypasses migrations and creates the DB and schema.
  • Doesn't create a migrations table.
  • Can not be used with migrations.
  • Is designed for testing or rapid prototyping where the DB is dropped and re-created frequently.

Remove the following line from DbInitializer:


Apply the migration to the DB in development

In the command window, enter the following to create the DB and tables.

dotnet ef database update

Note: If the update command returns the error "Build failed.":

  • Run the command again.
  • If it fails again, exit Visual Studio and then run the update command.
  • Leave a message at the bottom of the page.

The output from the command is similar to the migrations add command output. In the preceding command, logs for the SQL commands that set up the DB are displayed. Most of the logs are omitted in the following sample output:

info: Microsoft.AspNetCore.DataProtection.KeyManagement.XmlKeyManager[0]
      User profile is available. Using 'C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\ASP.NET\DataProtection-Keys' as key repository and Windows DPAPI to encrypt keys at rest.
info: Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Infrastructure[100403]
      Entity Framework Core 2.0.0-rtm-26452 initialized 'SchoolContext' using provider 'Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.SqlServer' with options: None
info: Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Database.Command[200101]
      Executed DbCommand (467ms) [Parameters=[], CommandType='Text', CommandTimeout='60']
      CREATE DATABASE [ContosoUniversity2];
info: Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Database.Command[200101]
      Executed DbCommand (20ms) [Parameters=[], CommandType='Text', CommandTimeout='30']
      CREATE TABLE [__EFMigrationsHistory] (
          [MigrationId] nvarchar(150) NOT NULL,
          [ProductVersion] nvarchar(32) NOT NULL,
          CONSTRAINT [PK___EFMigrationsHistory] PRIMARY KEY ([MigrationId])

<logs omitted for brevity>

info: Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Database.Command[200101]
      Executed DbCommand (3ms) [Parameters=[], CommandType='Text', CommandTimeout='30']
      INSERT INTO [__EFMigrationsHistory] ([MigrationId], [ProductVersion])
      VALUES (N'20170816151242_InitialCreate', N'2.0.0-rtm-26452');

To reduce the level of detail in log messages, change the log levels in the appsettings.Development.json file. For more information, see Introduction to logging.

Use SQL Server Object Explorer to inspect the DB. Notice the addition of an __EFMigrationsHistory table. The __EFMigrationsHistory table keeps track of which migrations have been applied to the DB. View the data in the __EFMigrationsHistory table, it shows one row for the first migration. The last log in the preceding CLI output example shows the INSERT statement that creates this row.

Run the app and verify that everything works.

Applying migrations in production

We recommend production apps should not call Database.Migrate at application startup. Migrate shouldn't be called from an app in server farm. For example, if the app has been cloud deployed with scale-out (multiple instances of the app are running).

Database migration should be done as part of deployment, and in a controlled way. Production database migration approaches include:

  • Using migrations to create SQL scripts and using the SQL scripts in deployment.
  • Running dotnet ef database update from a controlled environment.

EF Core uses the __MigrationsHistory table to see if any migrations need to run. If the DB is up to date, no migration is run.

Command-line interface (CLI) vs. Package Manager Console (PMC)

The EF Core tooling for managing migrations is available from:

  • .NET Core CLI commands.
  • The PowerShell cmdlets in the Visual Studio Package Manager Console (PMC) window.

This tutorial shows how to use the CLI, some developers prefer using the PMC.

The EF Core commands for the PMC are in the Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Tools package. This package is included in the Microsoft.AspNetCore.All metapackage, so you don't have to install it.

Important: This isn't the same package as the one you install for the CLI by editing the .csproj file. The name of this one ends in Tools, unlike the CLI package name which ends in Tools.DotNet.

For more information about the CLI commands, see .NET Core CLI.

For more information about the PMC commands, see Package Manager Console (Visual Studio).


Download the completed app for this stage.

The app generates the following exception:

SqlException: Cannot open database "ContosoUniversity" requested by the login.
The login failed.
Login failed for user 'user name'.

Solution: Run dotnet ef database update

If the update command returns the error "Build failed.":

  • Run the command again.
  • Leave a message at the bottom of the page.