Understanding Django’s Auto-Created Primary Keys

When you create a model in Django and don’t explicitly define a primary key, Django will automatically add an id field to serve as the primary key. This auto-created id field can generate warnings that many developers find confusing at first. In this blog post, we’ll take a deeper look at these warnings and what they mean.

The AutoField Primary Key

By default, Django adds an AutoField named id if you don’t specify a primary key on a model. The AutoField automatically increments an integer for each record inserted. For example:

class MyModel(models.Model):
    name = models.CharField(max_length=100)

This MyModel will have an id primary key that auto-increments as the primarykey for each record, even though we did not define id explicitly.

The Warning Message

When running migrations or checking for model changes with this default id primarykey, you may see a warning like:

Your models have changes that are not yet reflected in a migration, and so won't be applied.
  Run 'manage.py makemigrations' to make new migrations, and then re-run 'manage.py migrate' to apply them.

AutoField is used but a primarykey type has not been specified.

This simply means that Django created the AutoField for you, but wants you to be aware that you did not explicitly define the primary key in your model.

Why the Warning Exists

The warning exists because Django wants developers to intentionally decide on their primarykeys. Relying on the auto-created key could cause problems down the line if requirements change.

Explicitly declaring primarykeys avoids confusion by making the intention clear. That said, the auto-created id field works perfectly fine as a primary key for most use cases.

When the Warning Matters

For simple cases, the warning can be ignored. The auto-created id field works well for basic primary key needs.

However, at larger scales or for distributed systems, the auto id field may not provide enough control or predictability.

For example, you may want to:

  • Use UUIDs instead of incrementing integers
  • Customize the order records are inserted
  • Have better control over the distribution of ids
  • Intentionally obfuscate ids
  • Design partition-tolerant systems

In these cases, thoughtfully selecting the primarykey is important. Heeding Django’s warning and explicitly declaring the primarykey helps set the application up for long-term success.

Defining a Custom Primary Key

Defining your own primarykey field in Django is simple:

import uuid

class MyModel(models.Model):
    id = models.UUIDField(primary_key=True, default=uuid.uuid4, editable=False)
    name = models.CharField(max_length=100)

Here we’ve defined a UUID-based id primary key field instead of relying on the auto-created one.

Other common solutions are using an AutoField with additional options or an entirely different field like a CharField or SlugField.


To recap, Django automatically creates id integer primary keys but warns when model changes occur to encourage consciously selecting keys. For simple cases the auto id works well, but for more complex needs, customize the primary key.

Defining your own primarykeys explicitly avoids confusion down the line. Learning to create custom keys gives flexibility to adapt applications to new requirements.

So don’t fear the auto-create primarykey warning – take it as a nudge to review and potentially improve your models! With the right primarykeys defined upfront, your app is set up for success.