Does SQLAlchemy Have an Equivalent of get_or_create?

SQLAlchemy and Django are both popular Python libraries used for interacting with databases in applications. However, they take different approaches – SQLAlchemy is more focused on providing a SQL toolkit and abstraction layer, while Django includes an object-relational mapper (ORM) and full-featured web framework. This leads to differences in their feature sets. One such example is Django’s convenient get_or_create method for retrieving database objects.

What Does Django’s get_or_create Do?

Django’s get_or_create method is handy for handling situations where you want to retrieve an object from the database if it exists, or create it if it does not. Specifically, it takes model parameters, searches for an existing object matching those parameters, and returns a tuple containing that object and a boolean that indicates if the object was created.

For example:

obj, created = MyModel.objects.get_or_create(
  defaults={'age': 30}

This elegantly handles the logic of “retrieve this or create it if not found” in one method call. The defaults parameter also populates attributes if a new object is created.

The SQLAlchemy Approach

SqlAlchemy does not include a direct equivalent of get_or_create in its ORM. However, similar behavior can be achieved through SQLAlchemy query methods and Session objects.

A key difference is that Django’s ORM is based on the Active Record pattern which ties objects to database rows for persistence. By contrast, SQLAlchemy follows the Data Mapper pattern which decouples in-memory objects from database rows. This affects get_or_create implementations.

Session Objects Handle Object Persistence
In SQLAlchemy, session objects handle the job of persisting objects to the database. To emulate get_or_create, you:

  1. Query for the object
  2. Check if an object was returned
  3. If not, create one and add it to the session

For example:

from sqlalchemy.orm import sessionmaker 

session = sessionmaker()

# 1. Query for object
obj = session.query(MyObject).filter_by(name='John').first()  

# 2. Check if object was returned
if obj:
  # Object exists
  # 3. Create object since it doesn't exist 
  obj = MyObject(name='John', age=30)  

While not as succinct, this pattern provides flexibility to separate concerns between querying and object persistence.

Other Approaches to Achieve Similar Functionality

The example above illustrates directly checking if an object exists in the database and creating it if needed. However, SQLAlchemy also provides some other ways to approach this:

  • Construct New Transient Objects: Instead of explicitly creating objects, declarative initialization functions allow constructing new Python objects not yet persisted to the database.
  • Upsert: SQLite natively supports upsert – insert or update on conflict – via insert().on_conflict_do_update(). Other databases have similar constructs.

So in summary, while SQLAlchemy does not have a get_or_create method, its Session layer and SQL capabilities provide the tools to implement similar functionality. The best approach depends on the use case at hand.


Django’s handy get_or_create method provides a clean way to retrieve objects or create them if they do not yet exist. SQLAlchemy does not have an exactly equivalent method but offers flexibility at the session and SQL levels to achieve similar behavior. The patterns focus on explicitly checking if database rows exist and inserting or updating accordingly.

So while the libraries take different approaches, both Django and SQLAlchemy ultimately provide the ability to elegantly handle “get or create” object persistence needs in Python database applications. The choice comes down to which approach better aligns to the architecture preferences at hand.