Fixing “populate() isn’t reentrant” RuntimeError

Django is a popular open-source web framework used by developers to build web applications quickly and efficiently. However, you may encounter the error “RuntimeError: populate() isn’t reentrant” when working with Django which stops things from functioning properly. In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons for this runtime error and the steps you can take to fix it.

Understanding Django’s Populate() Method

First, let’s review what the populate() method does in Django. ThePopulate() method lives in Django’s base data migration class and is used toPopulate models with data during a migration.

For example, if you create a new model and want to migrate some initial data into it, you would create a data migration and define aPopulate() method. When making this populate() call, Django expects it to run only once during the migration process.

The Reasons Behind the Populate() RuntimeError

When you see the “populate() isn’t reentrant” runtime error in Django, it means populate() has been called more than once during the migration. Since Django only expects this method to be called once, this results in the error being thrown.

There are a few common triggers for this reentrant behavior:

  • Running the population migration multiple times
  • Calling populate() from inside another data migration
  • Existing data clashes with the newly populated data

Making one of these reentrant calls causes Django to get confused on the population status and throw the runtime error.

Fixing the Issue in Django’s Populate() RuntimeError

While this Django runtime error sounds ominous, the good news is it can be easily fixed. Here are some tips on resolving the “populate() isn’t reentrant” error:

1. Delete All Migration Files

First, delete all generated migration files across all your apps. This gives you a clean slate for regenerating the proper data population migrations.

2. Create Initial Migrations

Run makemigrations on each app to recreate the initial table migrations. This resolves any clashes from old migration data hanging around.

3. Create Data Migrations

Now create dedicated data migration files for each model needing population. Be sure to only callPopulate() inside these data migration files.

4. Run Migrations

Finally, run migrate across all your apps to run the new migration files. The data population should now work without any reentrant behavior.

Key Takeaways and Preventative Tips

Fixing this Django runtime error is straightforward once you understand what’s occurring. To prevent it in the future, follow these best practices:

  • Only call populate() inside data migrations, not standard migrations
  • Never run data population more than once on the same table
  • Delete old migrations when changing population approach

Additionally, try not to nest data migrations by calling them from other files. Keep your populate() calls simple and isolated inside dedicated migration files.


Django‘s “populate() isn’t reentrant” runtime error certainly can cause confusion. However, by tracing it back to reentrantPopulate() calls, developers can get back on track with some simple migration cleanup.

Be sure to only define your population logic inside standalone data migrations. Additionally, never call populate more than once on the same table. Follow these best practices and you’ll avoid this frustrating Django error message going forward!