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Have you ever needed to copy a given user from a production database into your local box in order to debug some obscure bug?

Forceps lets you copy related models from one database into another. The source and target databases must support an active record connection. Typically, your source database is a remote production database and your target database is a local development one.


In your Gemfile:

gem 'forceps'


Configure a remote database connection

Add a node labeled remote to your database.yml

  adapter: mysql2
  port: 5432
  username: someuser
  password: somepassword
  database: somedatabase
  encoding: utf8

The low level connection mechanism doesn't matter thanks to Active Record. For example, this gem has been tested on MySQL tunneled over SSH and on Heroku using Postgres credentials.

Copy models

To configure forceps you must invoke:


This will take each Active Record model defined in the project and define a class that will mirror it in the remote database. These classes will live in the Forceps::Remote namespace.

For example, given:

class Invoice < ActiveRecord::Base

You can use the generated class to download some invoice:


By default, Forceps will:

  1. Create a new local object copying all the attributes of the remote object
  2. Explore all the associations of the remote object, and copy the related objects applying (1)

In most real-life situations you will want to tune this behavior:

Exclude associated models

Forceps lets you exclude associations from the automatic discovery process, in order to avoid downloading big chunks of unrelated data:

For example:

class Invoice < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_many :line_items

class LineItem < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :product

class Product < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_many :line_items

If you execute:


It could end up downloading all the line items in the database:

invoice 1
	line item 1
		product 1
			line item 2 # we are not interested in these line items
			line item 3
			line item 4
			line item 5

The option exclude lets you specify which associations you are not interested in:

Forceps.configure exclude: {Product => [:line_items]}

Reuse models

Sometimes you don't want to clone an object. Instead, you want to use one that already exists in your database.

For example:

class Product < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_and_belongs_to_many :tags

What about if the tags are reused across all the products in your database? For situations like this you can use the reuse option.

It can be used providing the name of a column that can be used to find the object:

Forceps.configure reuse: {Tag => :name}
Forceps::Remote::Product.find(1234).copy_to_local # for each remote tag, it will try to find a tag with the same name

And, more generically, with a lambda that takes the remote object and returns the matched object (or nil if not found). The equivalent to the previous example would be:

Forceps.configure reuse: {Tag => ->(remote_tag) {Tag.find_by_name}}

When a reuse option is provided but the model can't be found locally, it will be cloned normally.


You can configure callbacks that will be invoked after each object is copied. You can use these callbacks to perform additional operations that are needed to perform the copy. For example: copying S3 assets:

Forceps.configure after_each: {
	Invoice => lambda do |local_invoice, remote_invoice|

Ignore a model by name

Sometimes you have several models that all have a relationship to a model that you want to ignore.

In this case it could be difficult to explicitly ignore each of those relationships. Instead, you can completely ignore a model anytime forceps tries to copy it.

Forceps.configure ignore_model: ['LineItem']

Then anytime this model is reached while copying a relation, it will be ignored.

Rails and lazy loading

In development, Rails loads classes lazily as they are used. Forceps will only know how to handle those classes defined when Forceps.configure is executed. You can make sure that all the Rails models are loaded before executing Forceps.configure with:


Using the generated remote classes

When you invoke Forceps.configure, for each model class it will define an equivalent class in the namespace Forceps::Remote. These remote classes will be identical to the original ones with 2 differences:

  • They keep a connection with the remote database, instead of the connection defined by the current Rails environment.
  • Their associations are modified to reference the corresponding remote classes.

These remote classes can be very handy if you want to prepare scripts that do something with your production data.

class Invoice < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_many :line_items

class LineItem < ActiveRecord::Base
	belongs_to :invoice


Forceps::Remote::Invoice.count # the number of invoices in the remote database
invoice = Forceps::Remote::Invoice.find(1234)
invoice.line_items.last.class # Forceps::Remote::LineItem


Rails 3 and 4

Run the test suite

In order to run the test suite you must create the test and remote databases (both are local)

cd test/dummy
RAILS_ENV=test rake db:create db:migrate
RAILS_ENV=remote rake db:create db:migrate


  • It is recommended to use a read-only connection for production databases. Forceps will never modify remote objects when copying them but prevention is definitely better than cure when it comes to production data.
  • Thanks to bandzoogle for supporting the development of this project.

Pull requests are welcomed! Overview of how forceps works internally.


Copy active record models from remote databases



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