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Prisma is the Next-generation Node.js and TypeScript ORM. It is widely used in the Node.js community to make the developer experience with the database easier. The release of version 2.17.0 of Prisma introduced a new feature called shadow database that solves an interesting problem developers face when creating a new migration from the Prisma schema.

In this post, we will understand the shadow database feature of Prisma, when do you need and how to get the most of it.


To follow this tutorial, you will need a MySQL instance installed on your local computer, or Docker must be installed to create a container from the MySQL Docker image. Here is the command to start a container:

docker run -it --rm -e MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD=secret -e MYSQL_DATABASE=taskdb --name mysqldb -p 3307:3306 mysql:8.0

The connection string is : mysql://root:secret@localhost:3307/taskdb. Keep it somewhere because we will use it later.

The use case

To explore this Prisma feature, let's say we will build a simple task manager and focus on the database schema creation through Prisma migration. Below is the schema of our database:

Database schema of our task manager
Database schema of our task manager

Setup Node.js project and Prisma

Let's initialize a project with Typescript and Prisma:

# create a folder and enter inside
mkdir prisma-shadow-db && cd prisma-shadow-db

# initialize a node.js project
yarn init -y

# install typescript and prisma dependencies
yarn add -D typescript ts-node @types/node prisma

# initialize Typescript for the project
yarn tsc --init

# initialize prisma
yarn prisma init

At this step, your project structure will look like this:

Folder structure after the project initialization
Folder structure after the project initialization

Open the file .env, and update the DATABASE_URL with the connection string of the MySQL instance running in Docker.


Create tasks table and run the migration

Update the file prisma/schema.prisma to add the schema for the tasks table; your file will look like this:

generator client {
  provider = "prisma-client-js"

datasource db {
  provider = "mysql"
  url      = env("DATABASE_URL")

enum Status {

model Task {
  id          Int      @id @default(autoincrement())
  name        String   @unique @db.VarChar(255)
  description String?  @db.Text
  status      Status   @default(PENDING)
  dueDate     DateTime @map("due_date") @db.Date
  createdAt   DateTime @default(now()) @map("created_at")
  updatedAt   DateTime @updatedAt @map("updated_at")


Run the command to create the migration and apply it to the local database:

yarn prisma migrate dev --name create-tasks-table

We got the output below:

Prisma migrate execution in local environment
Prisma migration is executed in the local environment.

We can explore the table using Prisma studio; run the command: yarn prisma studio.
A tab will automatically open on your default browser, and you can add/edit/delete records in the table.

Add/Delete a row in the tasks table from Prisma studio
Add/Delete a row in the tasks table from Prisma studio.

So, at this step of a classic development workflow, you will write code for CRUD operations on the table tasks , create endpoints in your application, test if it works, and deploy to production with the database changes using prisma db push.

The problem when running Prisma migrate

Here, everything is fine, and you might wonder what the problem is? To start, let's analyze what Prisma does under the hood when you run yarn migrate dev.

Prisma migrate workflow on a local database
Prisma migrate workflow on a local database.

In the picture above, step one is crucial because if the Prisma engine fails to create the database, we can't do the following steps. Two reasons can make this step fails:

  • Invalid database credentials
  • The credentials are valid, but the user doesn't have enough privilege to create a database.

In our case, we are connected with the root user who has all the privileges.

When working with a Cloud-hosted database, the user you connect to the database doesn't have that right. This basically means you cannot create a new migration on your development database when it is hosted on the Cloud.

Why will I have my development database in the Cloud?

There are many reasons for that:

  • The local environment is unpredictable: you run a lot of software on your computer; apply custom configurations that might indirectly affect other software. You know the classic sentence "It works on my machine"? ?
  • Easy onboarding: To build a feature, you need to install MySQL in your database or use Docker to start a container, make sure it is running, etc. With your database in the cloud, you find the credentials, and you are good to go.
  • IDE in the Cloud: We see many solutions to code on the cloud. Even companies like GitHub are moving to the cloud to improve teams productivity. This comes with the cost that you can't install your tool like a local database.

Here are some cloud-hosted database offers:

PlanetScale is a serverless database with a branching concept that makes it easier to manage your database. I wrote a whole post on how to start with.

Discover PlanetScale: The MySQL serverless database
PlanetScale is a Serverless database for MySQL. In this tutorial, I show to use the CLI to manage your database and perform tasks like creating a branch, connecting to the shell, executing the query, and deploying to production.

Run migration on a cloud-hosted database

We will create two databases branches on PlanetScale, one as the development and the other as the shadow one.

You will need to log in to PlanetScale, create the database, and finally, create the required branch. You can do it from the Web UI, but I will go for the CLI do; here are the commands to run:

# log into planetscale
pscale auth login

# create the database
pscale database create taskdb

# create the development branch
pscale branch create taskdb create-tasks-table

# create the shadow database
pscale branch create shadowdb

With this new configuration, the Prisma migrate workflow changes a little bit. On the picture below, the lines in red are the ones that changed from previous:

Prisma migrate workflow on a cloud hosted database
Prisma migrate workflow on a cloud-hosted database.

As we can see, when working with a cloud-hosted database, we cannot create the database automatically or drop the database. The shadow database reset consists of deleting the foreign keys, indexes, and tables created.

Execute the migration

We need the credentials of the development database and shadow databases' credentials, although we can find them in the Planetscale Web console. With the CLI, we can create a connection between our computer and the remote database, so we don't need to expose the credentials.

  • Create a proxy to the development branch:

Open a terminal then, run the command below:

pscale connect taskdb create-tasks-table --port 3308

The connection string for this database is: mysql://root@localhost:3308/taskdb

  • Create a proxy to the shadow branch:

Open another terminal then, run the command below:

pscale connect taskdb shadowdb --port 3309

The connection string for this database is: mysql://root@localhost:3309/taskdb

Update our .env file to set the database URL and the shadow database URL.


Update the file prisma.schema to add the shadow database URL:

generator client {
  provider = "prisma-client-js"

datasource db {
  provider            = "mysql"
  url                 = env("DATABASE_URL")
  shadowDatabaseUrl   = env("SHADOW_DATABASE_URL")

Run the migration: yarn prisma migrate dev

Apply the migrate on the remote development database 

Wrap up

The shadow database feature of Prisma makes it possible to create new migration on a cloud-hosted database which doesn't allow the database to create or drop a database. Prisma will connect to a second database created manually to validate the current migration state with the migration state of our production database and decide if the migration should be created or not.

Check out this link to learn more about the shadow database feature.

You can find the code source on the GitHub repository.

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