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Last updated on 8/25/21

Create Many-to-Many Relationships

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Link Users With Many-to-Many Fields

So far, we have used   ForeignKey  relationships for linking different model types together. These create one-to-many relationships. For example, the model   Photo  has a  ForeignKey   relationship to   User via the field   uploader . You can only link each instance of   Photo to one instance of   User , but you can link an instance of  User  to many different instances of   Photo . 

Arrows lead from three objects each labeled photo to a single object labeled user. The arrows are labeled uploader.
One-to-many relationship

You can also use the  OneToOneField  to create one-to-one relationships. In this case, you can only link each instance of Model A to one instance of Model B, and vice versa. 

A common use case for one-to-one relationships is using profile models to extend the  User  model. In our case, as we have two user types - creators and subscribers - we may want to create a  Creator  and a  Subscriber model, each with a OneToOneField relating to the  User. These will contain information needed for each user, but that is only relevant to the creator and subscriber types. 

An arrow leads from a Creator object to a User object. A second arrow leads from a Subscriber object to a second User object.
One-to-one relationship

Finally, you also have the option of the  ManyToManyField , which you can use to create many-to-many relationships. Suppose Model A has a  ManyToManyField  linking it to Model B. That means that it can be linked to many different instances of Model B, and also that an instance of Model B can also be linked to many different instances of Model A. 

On our site, we are going to use many-to-many relationships to allow users to follow other users. We want a user to be able to subscribe to many different creators and to be subscribed to by multiple other users, so a many-to-many relationship is perfect.

Two-way arrows connect each User object of type creator on the left to all User objects of type subscriber on the right.
Many-to-many relationship

Now to implement this pattern in our models.

Step 1: Update the Models

To facilitate a many-to-many relationship between users, you need to specify a  ManyToManyField  on the  User model that links to another  User . Let's call ours follows . 

# authentication/models.py
class User(AbstractUser):
...
follows = models.ManyToManyField(
'self',
limit_choices_to={'role': CREATOR},
symmetrical=False
)

The first argument in the  ManyToManyField  is the model that you are forming a relationship with. In our case, it is another  User  model, which we reference with  'self' . 

You can limit which users can be followed by using the optional  limit_choices_to  keyword.  We only want to allow users with the  CREATOR  role to be followed. 

In this special case, where both models in the many-to-many relationship are the same, you also have to specify whether the relationship is symmetrical. Symmetrical relationships are ones in which there is no difference between the two parties in the relationship, such as linking two friends. One user follows another, so you specify  symmetrical=False  . The  symmetrical  argument is not required if you link to model other than the one in which the  ManyToManyField  is declared. 

Now make and run the migrations.

(ENV) ~/fotoblog (master)
→ python manage.py makemigrations
Migrations for 'authentication':
authentication/migrations/0003_user_follows.py
- Add field follows to user
(ENV) ~/fotoblog (master)
→ python manage.py migrate
Operations to perform:
Apply all migrations: admin, auth, authentication, blog, contenttypes, sessions
Running migrations:
Applying authentication.0004_user_follows... OK

Next, let’s see how to use forms to create the many-to-many relationships in a view.

Step 2: Creating Many-to-Many Relationships in a Form

To create the many-to-many relationship in the view, you first need to define the appropriate form. As the fields are on the  User  model, you can use a  ModelForm . 

Create a form that allows the user to select other users to follow.

# blog/forms.py
from django.contrib.auth import get_user_model
User = get_user_model()
class FollowUsersForm(forms.ModelForm):
class Meta:
model = User
fields = ['follows']

Step 3: Create the View

Now handle the form in a view.

# blog/views.py
@login_required
def follow_users(request):
form = forms.FollowUsersForm(instance=request.user)
if request.method == 'POST':
form = forms.FollowUsersForm(request.POST, instance=request.user)
if form.is_valid():
form.save()
return redirect('home')
return render(request, 'blog/follow_users_form.html', context={'form': form})

With ManyToManyField  you can use the  ModelForm.save()  function to create the many-to-many relationship. 

Step 4: Create the Template

Next, add the template as usual.

# blog/templates/blog/follow_users_form.html
{% extends 'base.html' %}
{% block content %}
<h2>Follow Users</h2>
<form method="post">
{{ form.as_p }}
{% csrf_token %}
<button type="submit" >Confirm</button>
</form>
{% endblock content %}

Step 5: Add the URL Pattern

Now add the URL pattern for the new page.

# fotoblog/urls.py
urlpatterns = [
path('follow-users/', blog.views.follow_users, name='follow_users')
]

Step 6: Add a Link to the New Page

Add a link from the sidebar.

# templates/base.html
{% if perms.blog.add_photo %}
<p><a href="{% url 'photo_upload' %}">Upload Photo</a></p>
<p><a href="{% url 'create_multiple_photos' %}">Upload Multiple Photos</a></p>
{% endif %}
<p><a href="{% url 'follow_users' %}">Follow Users</a></p>
<p><a href="{% url 'upload_profile_photo' %}">Change Profile Photo</a></p>
...

Let's see how that form looks.

Screenshot of form
Screenshot of form

We’ve done it. The form contains all of the creators and allows the user to select and follow them. It also allows you to select multiple users by holding the CTRL/Command button; the form then stores them in a many-to-many field.

Next, let’s see how to store information about many-to-many relationships.

Store Extra Data on Many-to-Many Relationships With Intermediary Tables

Sometimes, you will want to store extra data on the relationship between two model instances linked by a many-to-many relationship.

Let's say you want to allow a  Blog  model to have multiple contributors and store a log of what each author has added. 

To do this, create an intermediary table to store data on the relationship. When you use the  ManyToManyField  , Django produces this table on its own. All you are doing is creating it manually instead. 

Step 1: Create the Intermediary Table

The intermediary table requires two  ForeignKey  relationships to the two models involved in the many-to-many relationship. For our application, one to the  User  and one to the  Blog  . 

We are also going to add the field  contribution  to store information on which author contributed what. 

Let’s see how this looks.

# blog/models.py
class BlogContributor(models.Model):
contributor = models.ForeignKey(settings.AUTH_USER_MODEL, on_delete=models.CASCADE)
blog = models.ForeignKey(Blog, on_delete=models.CASCADE)
contribution = models.CharField(max_length=255, blank=True)
class Meta:
unique_together = ('contributor', 'blog')

We set the  unique_together  attribute in the  Meta  class to ensure that there is only one instance of  BlogContributor  for each  contributor  -  blog  pairing. 

Step 2: Update the  ManyToManyField  to Use the Intermediary Table

Now add a  ManyToManyField  to  Blog  and tell it to use our intermediary table. 

Do this by specifying the  through  keyword argument when declaring the field. You just need to point it towards the new model. For now, let's leave the old  author  field in place, but we will make it optional by allowing it to be  null  . 

class Blog(models.Model):
...
author = models.ForeignKey(settings.AUTH_USER_MODEL, on_delete=models.CASCADE, null=True)
contributors = models.ManyToManyField(settings.AUTH_USER_MODEL, through='BlogContributor')
...

Now make the migrations.

→ python manage.py makemigrations
SystemCheckError: System check identified some issues:
ERRORS:
blog.Blog.author: (fields.E304) Reverse accessor for 'blog.Blog.author' clashes with reverse accessor for 'blog.Blog.contributors'.
HINT: Add or change a related_name argument to the definition for 'blog.Blog.author' or 'blog.Blog.contributors'.
blog.Blog.contributors: (fields.E304) Reverse accessor for 'blog.Blog.contributors' clashes with reverse accessor for 'blog.Blog.author'.
HINT: Add or change a related_name argument to the definition for 'blog.Blog.contributors' or 'blog.Blog.author'.

Oh no! Django doesn't seem happy with the changes! The reason you see this is because there is a clash in our reverse accessor

Before adding this field, you could have used  user.blog_set  to access a QuerySet of a particular author's   Blog  instances.

But now if we want to do the same for the  contributors  field - by retrieving all of the  Blog  instances for a  User  for which the user is present in the  contributors  of the  Blog  instance - again, the reverse look up would be  user.blog_set  .

To get around this, give the field a custom reverse accessor by specifying the  related_name  argument. If you set this to  contributions  , you can then access all of the  Blog  instances with the  User  as a contributor via  user.contributions  instead. 

Let’s update the model accordingly.

# blog/models.py
class Blog(models.Model):
...
author = models.ForeignKey(settings.AUTH_USER_MODEL, on_delete=models.CASCADE, null=True)
contributors = models.ManyToManyField(
settings.AUTH_USER_MODEL, through='BlogContributor', related_name='contributions')
...

And then try those migrations again.

(ENV) ~/fotoblog (master)
→ python manage.py makemigrations
Migrations for 'blog':
blog/migrations/0003_auto_20210427_2325.py
- Create model BlogContributor
- Add field contributors to blog
(ENV) ~/fotoblog (master)
→ python manage.py migrate
Operations to perform:
Apply all migrations: admin, auth, authentication, blog, contenttypes, sessions
Running migrations:
Applying blog.0003_auto_20210427_2325... OK

Step 3: Update the View to Handle a Many-to-Many Relationship

Next, update the blog_and_photo_upload  view to reflect the changes.

Let’s see how the view currently handles a  POST  request.

def blog_and_photo_upload(request):
...
if request.method == 'POST':
blog_form = forms.BlogForm(request.POST)
photo_form = forms.PhotoForm(request.POST, request.FILES)
if all([blog_form.is_valid(), photo_form.is_valid()]):
photo = photo_form.save(commit=False)
photo.uploader = request.user
photo.save()
blog = blog_form.save(commit=False)
blog.photo = photo
blog.author = request.user
blog.save()
...

You can only store the relationships in the  ManyToManyField  once  the model has been saved into the database. 

In our case, we want to add the logged in user as a contributor once the  blog  instance is saved. 

To do that, use the  add  method to create the many-to-many relationship. You can also specify the contents of the extra fields with the  through_defaults  keyword argument. 

Let’s update the view to use the new  ManyToManyField .

def blog_and_photo_upload(request):
...
if request.method == 'POST':
blog_form = forms.BlogForm(request.POST)
photo_form = forms.PhotoForm(request.POST, request.FILES)
if all([blog_form.is_valid(), photo_form.is_valid()]):
photo = photo_form.save(commit=False)
photo.uploader = request.user
photo.save()
blog = blog_form.save(commit=False)
blog.photo = photo
blog.save()
blog.contributors.add(request.user, through_defaults={'contribution': 'Primary Author'})
return redirect('home')
...

The contributor relationship has now been saved as a many-to-many relationship instead.

We have added the capability to add multiple contributors for a blog post, but we still need to migrate the old data stored in the  author  field to the new format. That is what you are going to do next. 

Exercise: Migrate From a  ForeignKey  to a  ManyToManyField  Using a Custom Migration 

Now that our new relationship is set up, you can migrate the data from the old one-to-many relationship to a many-to-many relationship. 

To do this, you will need to:

  1. Create an empty migration in the  blog  app.

  2. In the migration, iterate through each instance of the  Blog  model. Add the value of  author  to  contributors  with a default contribution of  'Primary Author' for each one.

  3. Run the migration. If you are happy with the result, delete the author field on  Blog  .

  4. Make and run the new migrations. You should have successfully migrated all of the existing data to the new dataset! 

Once you’ve written your custom migration, see how it matches up against the solution in the GitHub repo

Let's Recap!

  • Use the ManyToManyField to store many-to-many relationships.

  • Many-to-many relationships are stored in intermediary tables.

  • To store data on a relationship, create custom intermediary tables with additional fields and point to them with the  through  keyword.

Now that you’re familiar with many-to-many relationships, let’s check your model and form skills before moving on to the Django ORM and templates.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement