In search of better enums

I've been fighting now to deal with a pretty common use case in my Pylons applications. I often have a db model (with the marvelous SqlAlchemy) and the object in question has some type of limited set of options for a field. It's basically an enum field, but I don't want to deal with the enum on the DB end. It makes it hard to support with different databases and such.

One solution is to actually create a table for the options. For instance you might have a state table that is joined to your object. It has all the US states in there for you and whenever you query you have to do a join on the state table to get the pretty name. The use cases I'm talking about are sets of 2->5 options. The models might have 5 or more of these as well. So I don't want to deal with creating tables, migrations, and joins for them all.

I had a few failed attempts, but I ended up learning some great new things about SqlAlchemy and have something working. First up I need to create an object that contains the options. Forgive the cheesy names, but let's say we have a table with a Severity field in it.

[sourcecode lang="python"] # first we want to inherit from a common base for all of these enums

class MyEnum(object): """Enum-like object type

Each implementation need only extend MyEnum and define the dict _enum

""" def __getattribute__(self, name): if name in object.__getattribute__(self, '_enum'): return object.__getattribute__(self, '_enum')[name] else: # Default behaviour return object.__getattribute__(self, name)

def to_list(self): """Generate a list of tuples we use to quickly create <select> elements""" return [(val, string) for val, string in self._enum.iteritems()]

class Severity(MyEnum):

_enum = { 'low': 'Low', 'med': 'Medium', 'high': 'High', } [/sourcecode]

So the base MyEnum object gives up a method of accessing the values via an object like interface.

[sourcecode lang="python"] my_instance = SomeModel() my_instance.severity = Severity().low [/sourcecode]

Now this is cool because it helps us have nice refactorable code to reference these strings we're storing into the database for the column. Yep, I know that having lots of strings is more resource intensive on the database. In most of these low scale tables though I'd rather have the table easy to read. Not only that, when I get the values out they're actually the prettified version of the string. So output is much easier.

Also just to note, in order for the MyEnum.__getattribute__ stuff to work you have to have an instance of the object. So that's why you have to enter Severity().high because Severity.high won't hit __getattribute__ and you'll get that there's no attribute by the name 'high'.

I also added a nice to_list() method because we use the webhelpers package to generate html elements and it'll accept a list of value tuples. I can just shoot Severity().to_list() to the webhelper for generation now

This was a good start and works well, but the one other thing I get nervous about is making sure the database doesn't take in garbage, it should be able to make sure that the option I'm setting is in fact in the Severity list of options. In order to do this I added a custom SqlAlchemy column type using the TypeDecorator. In doing this I basically have access to when the value is pulled from the database and placed upon the instance of the model, as well as when the value gets put onto the model from the code side. A database getter/setter in practice.

[sourcecode lang="python"] class MyEnumType(types.TypeDecorator): """SqlAlchemy Custom Column Type MyEnumType

This works in partnership with a MyEnum object


# so this is basically usable anywhere I have a column type of Unicode impl = types.Unicode

def __init__(self, enum_obj, *args, **kwargs): """Init method

:param enum_obj: The enum class that this column should be limited to

e.g. severity = Column(MyEnumType(Severity, 255)) for a unicode column that has a length allowance of 255 characters

""" types.TypeDecorator.__init__(self, *args, **kwargs) self.enum_obj = enum_obj

def process_bind_param(self, value, dialect): """When setting the value make sure it's valid for our MyEnum

# allow setting to None for empty value if value is None or value in self.enum_obj._enum.itervalues(): return value else: assert False, "%s -- %s" % (value, self._enum)

def process_result_value(self, value, dialect): """Going out to the database just return our clean value""" return value

# brief usage example class SupportTicket(meta.Base): __tablename__ == 'tickets'

severity = Column(MyEnumType(Severity, 255)) [/sourcecode]

So now I have things tied into my database model as well. Hopefully this holds up as a valid method for doing this. It seems like it'd be a common use case. What I love is that my code never has to get down to specifying strings. If I want to limit a column or check a value I can use somewhat cleaner (imho that is)

[sourcecode lang="python"] if some_ticket.severity == Severity().low: ... do something

# or in a query results = SupportTicket.query.\ filter(SupportTicket.severity == Severity().high).\ all()


Anyway, food for though. let me know if you've got an alternative I'm missing that I should be using.