Chris LaBarge

Rails '#delete_all' - Fast & Powerful - Beware

May 23, 2018

What You Will Learn

  • A fast way to delete a large batch of rows from a Database table
  • How to prevent from locking your Database

Who This Is For

  • Rails developers who need to delete records more efficiently.


  • Ruby
  • Rails >= 5.0
  • Relational Database like MySQL or PostgreSQL


I am currently working on a Rails project that deals with importing and exporting large amounts of data. The user is able to import and store data into the applications Database as well and delete the data.

Because some of these data deletions can consist of thousands of rows you must code the removal process a little differently.

When a User imports/uploads new data into the application it creates a new DataUplodad model. The application also creates a new DataSet record for every single data set from the import.

I have the model DataSet which has a belongs_to relationship to DataUploads.

  class DataSet < ApplicationRecord
    belongs_to :data_uploads

I have the model DataUploads which has a has_many relationship to DataSets.

  class DataUpload < ApplicationRecord
    has_many :data_sets, dependent: :destroy

Notice the dependent: :destroy. This means that when a DataUpload model gets deleted/destroyed, all of the associated DataSet models will all get destroyed as well.

This also loads every associated DataSet model into memory as well. This will bog down the server if there is a very large association of thousands of DataSet records.

The way we solve this is to use the ActiveRecord::Relation#delete_all. This method performs a single SQL statement and efficiently deletes all of the records within the Relation.

Look at the example below.

  # Remove the data sets of the last Data Upload instance
  upload = DataUpload.last
  data_sets = upload.data_sets



  • DO NOT use this method on more then 5,000 records in a Database table. It will lock the Database for the entire transaction.
  • #delete_all does not load the record, so any callbacks will not be fired. Make sure the application and/or model is not dependent on any pre/post delete processes.

Now we can implement the method in the in the DataUpload callback.

  class DataUpload < ApplicationRecord
    has_many :data_sets, dependent: :delete_all

BUT WAIT!! If you were a good reader and saw the first WARNING above you will notice that if I left the code this way and a particular DataUpload instance had an association of more then 5,000 DataSet records…the Database will lock for the entire transaction. To prevent from this we must utilize one of the Ruby on Rails 5.0 methods #in_batches

If you are not use a Rails version that is >= 5.0 then check out the gem delete_in_batches

  class DataUpload < ApplicationRecord
    has_many :data_sets

    before_destroy :destroy_data_sets


    def destroy_data_sets
      data_sets.in_batches(of: 1000).delete_all

First we remove the previous callback dependent: :delete_all, and replace it with before_destroy callback and pass in the new private method #destroy_data_sets.

You will notice that #in_batches takes an option :of set to 1000. This will limit the amount of records deleted in a single SQL transaction to 1,000. Thus preventing the Database from locking.