Exporting data from a large multi-realm Zulip server¶
This is a draft design document considering potential future refinements and improvements to make large migrations easier going forward, and is not yet a set of recommendations for Zulip systems administrators to follow.
Zulip offers an export tool,
management/export.py, which works well
to export the data for a single Zulip realm, and which is your best
choice if you’re migrating a Zulip realm to a new server.
This document supplements the explanation in
but here we focus more on the logistics of a big conversion of a
multi-realm Zulip installation. (For some historical perspective, this
document was originally begun as part of a big Zulip cut-over in
There are many major operational aspects to doing a conversion. I will list them here, noting that several are not within the scope of this document:
Get new servers running.
Export data from the old DB.
Export files from Amazon S3.
Import files into new storage.
Import data into new DB.
Restart new servers.
Decommission old server.
This document focuses almost entirely on the export piece. Issues with getting Zulip itself running are out of scope here; see the production installation instructions. As for the import side of things, we only touch on it implicitly. (My reasoning was that we had to get the export piece right in a timely fashion, even if it meant we would have to sort out some straggling issues on the import side later.)
Exporting multiple realms’ data when moving to a new server¶
The main exporting tools in place as of summer 2016 are below:
We can export single realms (but not yet limit users within the realm).
We can export single users (but then we get no realm-wide data in the process).
We can run exports simultaneously (but have to navigate a bunch of /tmp directories).
Things that we still may need:
We may want to export multiple realms simultaneously.
We may want to export multiple single users simultaneously.
We may want to limit users within realm exports.
We may want more operational robustness/convenience while doing several exports simultaneously.
We may want to merge multiple export files to remove duplicates.
We have a few major classes of data. They are listed below in the order
that we process them in
Public realm data¶
Cross realm data¶
Client and three bots.
Client is unique in being a fairly core table that is not tied to
Realm (unless you somewhat painfully tie it back to
users in a bottom-up fashion though other tables).
Disjoint user data¶
These tables are tied back to users, but they introduce complications when you try to deal with multi-user subsets.
Here are the same classes of data, listed in roughly decreasing order of riskiness:
Message data (sheer volume/lack of time/security)
File-related data (S3/security/lots of moving parts)
Recipient data (complexity/security/cross-realm considerations)
Cross realm data (duplicate ids)
Disjoint user data
Public realm data
(Note the above list is essentially in reverse order of how we process the data, which isn’t surprising for a top-down approach.)
The next section of the document talks about risk factors.
We have two major mechanisms for getting data:
Get realm data, then all users in realm, then all recipients, then all messages, etc.
The problem with the top-down approach will be filtering. Also, if errors arise during top-down passes, it may be time consuming to re-run the processes.
We have not yet integrated the approved-transfer model, which tells us which users can be moved.
Risk factors broken out by data categories¶
messages-*.json, subprocesses, partial files
Rows in the
Message model depend on
Rows in the
UserMessage model depend on
The biggest concern here is the sheer volume of data, with security being a close second. (They are interrelated, as without security concerns, we could just bulk-export everything one time.)
We currently have these measures in place for top-down processing:
messages are filtered by both sender and recipient
File related data¶
uploads-temp/, image files in
avatars/, assorted files in
When it comes to exporting attachment data, we have some minor volume issues, but the main concern is just that there are lots of moving parts:
S3 needs to be up, and we get some metadata from it as well as files.
We have security concerns about copying over only files that belong to users who approved the transfer.
This piece is just different in how we store data from all the other DB-centric pieces.
At import time we have to populate the
m2mtable (but fortunately, this is pretty low risk in terms of breaking anything.)
This data is fortunately low to medium in volume. The risk here will come from model complexity and cross-realm concerns.
From the top down, here are the dependencies:
Streamcurrently depends on
Realm(but maybe it should be tied to
The biggest risk factor here is probably just the possibility that we
could introduce some bug in our code as we try to segment
into user, stream, and huddle components, especially if we try to
handle multiple users or realms. I think this can be largely
mitigated by the new
And then we also have some complicated
Huddle logic that will be
customized regardless. The fiddliest part of the
Huddle logic is
creating the set of
Last but not least, if we go with some hybrid of bottom-up and top-down, these tables are neither close to the bottom nor close to the top, so they may have the most fiddly edge cases when it comes to filtering and merging.
Recommendation: We probably want to get a backup of all this data that is very simply bulk-exported from the entire DB, and we should obviously put it in a secure place.
Cross realm data¶
realm.json, three bots (
The good news here is that
Client is a small table, and there are
only three special bots.
The bad news is that cross-realm data complicates everything else, and we have to avoid database ID conflicts.
If we use bottom-up approaches to load small user populations at a
time, we may have merging issues here. We will need to
consolidate IDs either by merging exports in
/tmp or handle it at
For the three bots, they live in
we re-map their IDs on the new server.
Recommendation: Do not sweat the exports too much. Deal with all the
messiness at import time, and rely on the tables being really small.
We already have logic to catch
Client.DoesNotExist exceptions, for
example. As for possibly missing messages that the welcome bot and
friends have sent in the past, I am not sure what our risk profile is
there, but I imagine it is relatively low.
Disjoint user data¶
On the DB side this data should be fairly easy to deal with. All of these tables are basically disjoint by user profile ID. Our biggest risk is remapped user ids at import time, but this is mostly covered in the section above.
We have code in place to exclude
UserProfile rows. The import process calls
Public realm data¶
All of these tables are public (per-realm), and they are keyed by realm ID. There is not a ton to worry about here, except possibly merging if we run multiple bottom-up jobs for a single realm.