How to Update Your Database Structure in Entity Framework

Written on February 21, 2018

Using Code First with Entity Framework, EF will create a database for you based on your domain models. But how do you control when and how the database will be created, and how the structure is updated?

Entity Framework 6.x includes a range of database initializers that specify how and when EF should generate a new database. These database initializers are intended to be used in different stages of the development process. By default, Entity Framework will create a database only if one does not already exist using the CreateDatabaseIfNotExists class. However, during development Entity Framework can be configured to drop and recreate the database every time there’s a schema change.

Note: In this post I cover how to use database initializers with Entity Framework 6.x in an ASP.NET project. Entity Framework Core doesn’t include database initializer classes.

Drop and Recreate Your Database

During the development process, the domain models will be changing often. You can configure Entity Framework to delete (drop) and recreate your database every time there is a change to your schema.

To do this, you need to create an initializer class in the same folder as your DbContext class. The class needs to inherit from DropCreateDatabaseIfModelChanges.

 public class YourInitializer: System.Data.Entity
    // Seed Method
    // ...

To tell Entity Framework to use your initializer class, add an element to the entityFramework element in the application Web.config file (this should be in the root of your project folder):

    <context type="Namespace.YourDbContext, ProjectName">
      <databaseInitializer type="Namespace.YourInitializer, ProjectName" />

Creating a Seed method

The Database initializer classes include a Seed method that you can override. EF will automatically call this method after recreating the database to populate it with data. For example:

public class MyInitializer : System.Data.Entity
   protected override void Seed(MyContext context)
      var students = new List<Student>
      new Student{FirstMidName="Carson",EnrollmentDate=DateTime.Parse("2005-09-01")},
      new Student{FirstMidName="Meredith",EnrollmentDate=DateTime.Parse("2002-09-01")},
      new Student{FirstMidName="Yan", EnrollmentDate=DateTime.Parse("2002-09-01")}
      students.ForEach(s => context.Students.Add(s));


There is also a DropCreateDatabaseAlways initializer class you can use to drop and recreate your database every time your application runs. This is useful during the testing stage.

Using Migrations

Once your database is ready for production, none of the above database initializers are going to be suitable for use. If you want to make changes to a database in production, you don’t want to drop the entire database and lose all of the data. Code First Migrations allow you to update your database structure without having to drop and re-create the database.

To install the Migration package, click:

  • Tools
  • Nuget Package Manager
  • Package Manager Console

and type:


You will need only three CLI commands to use Migrations in your ASP.NET EF project.

Command Description
Enable-Migrations Install migration modules - this only needs to be run once initially
Add-Migration [MigrationName] Generate a new migration code file based on changes in your project models
Update-Database Implement any outstanding migrations

Migration Files

Migrations are code files. Every time you run Add-Migration a code file is generated, usually in a folder called Migrations inside your project. The name of a migration file is composed with a timestamp of its generation concatenated with the name used when running Add-Migration. For example:

Add-Migration Initial



You can check the contents of those files and see the generated migration file. You can also modify them like any other code file.

It’s useful to think of migrations as git commits for your database. They document changes to your schema over time, and each migration builds on the last. Like git commits, you should be able to revert to any specific migration if necessary. Over time, your migrations folder will look something like this:


In addition to the Migration code files, EF creates a table in your database called __MigrationsHistory that contains information about all of the migrations that have been run in your database.

Up and Down Methods

Every migration file has an Up method and a Down method. The Up method updates the database. The Down method reverts them. Here’s a simple change as an example:

namespace Project.Migrations
    public partial class TransactionModelUpdated : DbMigration
        public override void Up() 
        // Contains the code to implement the changes
            AddColumn("dbo.Transaction", "Note", c => c.String());
        public override void Down()
        // Contains the code to undo the changes
            DropColumn("dbo.Transaction", "Note");

The Down method is invoked with:

Remove-Migration  [options]

However, in reality you will probably never have to use this.

I have never needed the ‘undo’ a migration command, and a quick survey of EF users at a recent talk I gave came back with the answer that none of them had ever used the ‘undo’ migration commands either. – Jon P Smith, Entity Framework Core in Action

The Configuration File

There is a configuration class for EF Migrations called DbMigrationsConfiguration class. This configuration class is automatically generated with the Enable-Migrations command. You can find it in the Migrations folder:

internal sealed partial class Configuration :

This class has its own Seed method that will run every time the Update-Database command is executed, even if there is no explicit pending migration. Before using the Migrations Seed method, you’ll need to disable the database initializer by commenting out or deleting the <databaseInitializer> element you added in the Web.config file.

Since we are no longer dropping and recreating the database, the Migrations Seed method must be able handle the data already contained in the database. There is an extension method, AddOrUpdate, that is specifically designed for this purpose.

protected override void Seed(ProjectName.DAL.DBContextName context)
  s => s.LastName,
  new Student { StudentID = 12345678,
  FirstMidName="Carson", LastName="Arturo" }, );

Instead of loading data into the database, AddOrUpdate will only add the entry if it doesn’t currently exist in the database. If the entry doesn’t match the new database schema, it will update accordingly.

It’s important to note that you will need all of the fields for your record when you are using AddOrUpdate. For example, if the above record already exists in the database, but also included an EmailAddress field, this would be set to null in the update, since it wasn’t provided to the AddOrUpdate method. Julie Lerman (One of the creators of Entity Framework) writes more about AddOrUpdate more here.

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