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Persistent Entity Syntax

Persistent's entity file syntax.

Conversion table (migrations)

Haskell PostgreSQL MySQL MongoDB SQLite
ByteString BYTEA BLOB BinData BLOB
Int INT8 BIGINT(20) NumberLong INTEGER
Rational NUMERIC(22, 12) DECIMAL(32,20) Unsupported NUMERIC(32,20)
TimeOfDay TIME TIME** Unsupported TIME

* Support for ZonedTime was dropped in persistent 2.0. UTCTime can be used with timestamp without timezone and timestamp with timezone in PostgreSQL. See also the section below about timezone support.

** The default resolution for TIME and DATETIME in MySQL is one second. As of MySQL version 5.6.4, and persistent-mysql-2.6.2, fractional seconds are handled correctly if you declare an explicit precision by using sqltype. For example, appending sqltype=TIME(6) to a TimeOfDay field definition will give microsecond resolution.

Compatibility tables

Haskell type Compatible MySQL types
Bool Tiny
Int8 Tiny
Int16 Tiny,Short
Int32 Tiny,Short,Int24,Long
Int Tiny,Short,Int24,Long,LongLong*
Int64 Tiny,Short,Int24,Long,LongLong
Integer Tiny,Short,Int24,Long,LongLong
Word8 Tiny
Word16 Tiny,Short
Word32 Tiny,Short,Int24,Long
Word64 Tiny,Short,Int24,Long,LongLong
Double Float,Double,Decimal,NewDecimal,Tiny,Short,Int24,Long
Ratio Integer Float,Double,Decimal,NewDecimal,Tiny,Short,Int24,Long,LongLong
ByteString VarChar,TinyBlob,MediumBlob,LongBlob,Blob,VarString,String,Set,Enum
Lazy.ByteString VarChar,TinyBlob,MediumBlob,LongBlob,Blob,VarString,String,Set,Enum
Encoding.Text** VarChar,TinyBlob,MediumBlob,LongBlob,Blob,VarString,String,Set,Enum
Lazy.Text VarChar,TinyBlob,MediumBlob,LongBlob,Blob,VarString,String,Set,Enum
[Char]/String VarChar,TinyBlob,MediumBlob,LongBlob,Blob,VarString,String,Set,Enum
UTCTime DateTime,Timestamp
Day Year,Date,NewDate
TimeOfDay Time

* When Word size is 64bit

** Utf8 only

Not currently supported
Scientific #225

See MySQL.Simple.Result


Persistent automatically derives some typeclasses, but the typeclasses derived can be changed.

    name Text
    deriving Show Read

JSON instances

You can automatically get ToJSON and FromJSON instances for any entity by adding json to the entity line:

Person json
    name Text

Requires {-# LANGUAGE FlexibleInstances #-}

Customizable by using mpsEntityJSON

Changing table/collection name

Person sql=peoples
    name Text

Change table/collection key definition (field name and/or type ,persistent >= 2.1)

Id defines the column to use to define the key of the entity. Without type, the default backend key type will be used. You can change it's database name using the sql attributes :

   Id         sql=my_id_name
   phone Text

With a Haskell type, the corresponding type is used. Note that you'll need to use default= to tell it what to do on insertion.

   Id    Day default=CURRENT_DATE
   phone Text

default= works for SQL databases, and is backend specific. For MongoDB currently one always needs to create the key on the application side and use insertKey. insert will not work correctly. Sql backends can also do this if default does not work.

sqltype can also be used to specify a different database type

    Id String sqltype=varchar(3) sql=code

Composite key (using multiple columns) can also be defined using Primary (see Primary and Foreign Keys).

sql= also works for setting the names of unique indexes.

  name Text
  phone Text
  UniquePersonPhone phone sql=UniqPerPhone

This makes a unique index requiring phone to be unique across Person rows. Ordinarily Persistent will generate a snake-case index name from the capitalized name provided such that UniquePersonPhone becomes unique_person_phone. However, we provided a sql= so the index name in the database will instead be UniqPerPhone. Keep in mind sql= and ! attrs must come after the list of fields in front of the index name in the quasi-quoter.

Primary and Foreign keys

The tests for this feature demonstrates their usage


By default the records created by persistent have strict fields. You can prefix a field name with ~ to make it lazy (or ! to make it strict).

Sum types

Field level

You'll frequently want to store an enum of values in your database. For example, you might describe a Person's employment status as being Employed, Unemployed, or Retired. In Haskell this is represented with a sum type, and Persistent provides a Template Haskell function to marshall these values to and from the database:

-- @Employment.hs
{-# LANGUAGE TemplateHaskell #-}
module Employment where

import Database.Persist.TH
import Prelude

data Employment = Employed | Unemployed | Retired
    deriving (Show, Read, Eq)
derivePersistField "Employment"

derivePersistField stores sum type values as strings in the database. While not as efficient as using integers, this approach simplifies adding and removing values from your enumeration.

Due to the GHC Stage Restriction, the call to the Template Haskell function derivePersistField must be in a separate module than where the generated code is used.

Note: If you created a new module, make sure add it to the exposed-modules section of your Cabal file.

Use the module by importing it into your Model.hs file:

-- @Model.hs
import Employment

and use it in the models DSL:

    employment Employment

You can export the Employment module from Import to use it across your app:

-- @Import.hs
import Employment as Import


The tests for this feature demonstrates their usage. Note the use of the sign + in front of the entity name.


By default, Persistent maps the Haskell types you specify in the Models DSL to an appropriate SQL type in the database (refer to the conversion table above for the default mappings). Using the sqltype= option, you can customize the SQL type Persistent uses for your column. Use cases include:

  • Interacting with an existing database whose column types don't match Persistent's defaults.
  • Taking advantage of a specific SQL type's features
    • e.g. Using an equivalent type that has better space or performance characteristics

To use this setting, add the sqltype= option after declaring your field name and type:

    username Text sqltype=varchar(255)

Nullable fields

By default fields will have NOT NULL added. To allow NULL values, add Maybe.

string Text Maybe


string Text Maybe default=NULL


Persistent supports setting default values on SQL backends like so:

created UTCTime default=now()

The DEFAULT attribute is set with the exact SQL entered in your models file—Persistent performs no analysis of default values, and simply passes them onto the DBMS verbatim.

The DEFAULT attribute will affect migrations and raw SQL, but will have no impact on normal Persistent calls. You must still specify all fields, for example, when using an insert call.

Note: Persistent determines whether or not to migrate a column's default value by comparing the exact string found in your models file with the one returned by the database. If a database canonicalizes the SQL FALSE from your models file to false in the database, Persistent will think the default value needs to be migrated and attempt a migration each time you start your app.

To workaround this, find the exact SQL your DBMS uses for the default value. For example, using postgres:

psql database_name # Open postgres

\d+ table_name -- describe the table schema
created       | timestamp without time zone | not null default now()

Then use the listed default value SQL inside your models file.


Introduced with persistent-template 1.2.0. The purpose of this attribute is to mark a field which will be entirely ignored by the normal processing, but retained in the database definition for purposes of migration. This means, in SQL, a column will not be flagged for removal by the migration scripts, even though it is not used in your code. This is useful for phasing out usage of a column before entirely removing it, or having columns which are needed by other tools but not by Persistent.

    name Text
    age Int
    unusedField ByteString Maybe MigrationOnly

Note that you almost certainly want to either mark the field as Maybe or provide a default value, otherwise insertions will fail.


This is intended to be used as part of a deprecation of a field, after MigrationOnly has been used usually. This works somewhat as a superset of the functionality of MigrationOnly. In addition, the field will be removed from the database if it is present. Note that this is a destructive change which you are marking as safe.


Migration will remove any manual constraints from your tables. Exception: constraints whose names begin with the string __manual_ (which starts with two underscores) will be preserved.


Each uniqueness constraint must start with an uppercase letter (it does not have to be prefixed with 'Unique', that is just a convention), and is followed by one or more fields.

    firstName Text
    lastName Text
    age Int
    UniqueFA firstName age
    UniqueL lastName

Times with timezones

Storing times with timezones in one type in databases is not possible, although it seems that it should be possible (timezone and timezonetz in PostgreSQL). Thats why starting with persistent 2.0, all times will be mapped to UTCTime. If you need to store timezone information along with times in a database, store the timezone in a second field. Here are some links about the topic with further information: