Introduction to Ecto

May 7, 2024

Ecto: a powerful database wrapper and query generator designed specifically for Elixir, a dynamic and functional programming language built on the Erlang virtual machine (BEAM). Ecto empowers developers to interact with databases seamlessly, providing an intuitive and expressive interface for managing database schema, executing queries, and handling data validation.

This blog post serves as an introduction to Ecto, shedding light on its features, functionalities, and the benefits it offers to developers. Whether you’re new to Elixir or looking to enhance your database management capabilities, join us as we explore the world of Ecto and its potential impact on your web development journey.


What is Ecto?

Ecto stands as a cornerstone within the Elixir ecosystem, offering a robust and versatile toolkit for database management. At its core, Ecto serves as a database wrapper and query generator, providing developers with the necessary tools to interact with databases seamlessly.


Key features and characteristics

Schema definitions: Ecto simplifies database modeling through the use of Elixir structs, which serve as the foundation for defining database schemas. By leveraging Elixir’s metaprogramming capabilities, developers can succinctly define schema modules that map to database tables, specifying fields, associations, and constraints with ease.

Query interface: Ecto’s query interface provides a powerful toolkit for constructing and executing database queries. With its intuitive syntax and expressive API, developers can compose a wide range of queries, including basic CRUD operations, complex joins, and aggregations. Ecto’s query interface promotes readability and maintainability, allowing developers to craft efficient and scalable database interactions.

Migration system: Managing database schema changes is made effortless with Ecto’s migration system. By defining migration scripts, developers can declaratively specify schema alterations, such as adding or removing columns, creating or dropping tables, and applying data transformations. Ecto’s migration system ensures database schema changes are executed in a controlled and reversible manner, facilitating seamless schema evolution across different environments.

Changesets: Ecto introduces the concept of changesets, which encapsulate data validation and manipulation logic before database insertion. Changesets enable developers to define transformation pipelines for incoming data, applying validations, sanitizations, and default values as needed. By validating data at the changeset level, developers can ensure data integrity and enforce business rules before persisting data to the database, reducing the risk of invalid or inconsistent data.


History and evolution

Ecto has evolved over the years to become a cornerstone of Elixir’s database ecosystem. With each new release, Ecto continues to refine and enhance its feature set, further solidifying its position as a go-to solution for database interactions in Elixir applications.


Getting started with Ecto

Getting up and running with Ecto is the first step towards harnessing its power for database interactions in your Elixir applications. Let’s dive into the essential steps to kickstart your journey with Ecto.

Setting up a database connection: Begin by configuring Ecto to establish a connection to your database. Ecto supports various databases, including PostgreSQL, MySQL, and SQLite, among others. You’ll need to install the necessary Ecto adapter for your chosen database and configure the database connection parameters in your application’s configuration files. Once configured, Ecto seamlessly handles database connections, allowing you to focus on building your application’s functionality.

Defining schemas and migrations: With your database connection in place, it’s time to define schemas and migrations to model your application’s data. Schemas represent the structure of database tables and define the fields and associations of your data entities using Elixir structs. Meanwhile, migrations enable you to manage database schema changes over time by providing a versioned history of schema alterations. Using Ecto’s DSL (Domain-Specific Language), you can define schema modules and migration files to describe your database schema and evolution.

Performing basic database operations: Once your schemas are defined and your database is set up, you can start interacting with the database using Ecto’s powerful query interface. Ecto provides convenient functions for performing basic CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations on your data. Whether you need to insert new records, fetch existing data, update records, or delete entries, Ecto’s expressive API makes it straightforward to execute database operations with confidence.

By following these steps, you’ll be equipped to leverage Ecto’s capabilities to build robust and scalable database-backed applications with ease. Let’s embark on this journey to unlock the full potential of Ecto for your Elixir projects!


Examples of Ecto

In this chapter, we’ll delve into practical examples of using Ecto, the database wrapper and query generator for Elixir. Ecto is a powerful tool that simplifies database interactions in Elixir applications, providing an intuitive interface for defining schemas, executing queries, and managing database migrations.

Through the following examples, we’ll demonstrate how to work with Ecto to perform common database operations, such as creating, reading, updating, and deleting records. We’ll start by defining a schema for our data model, then explore how to establish a connection to the database, define migrations, and execute queries using Ecto’s query interface.


CRUD operations using Ecto

defmodule MyApp.User do
   use Ecto.Schema

   schema "users" do
      field :name, :string
      field :age, :integer


In this example, we define a schema for a User model with two fields: name and age. The timestamps() function automatically adds created_at and updated_at fields to the schema.


defmodule MyApp.Repo do
   use Ecto.Repo, otp_app: :my_app

Next, we define a repository module MyApp.Repo to interact with the database. This module uses Ecto’s Ecto.Repo`behaviour and specifies the OTP application name (:my_app) for the repository.


# Create a new user
changeset = MyApp.User.changeset(%MyApp.User{}, %{name: "John", age: 30})

# Retrieve all users
users = MyApp.Repo.all(MyApp.User)

# Retrieve a user by ID
user = MyApp.Repo.get(MyApp.User, 1)

# Update a user
changeset = MyApp.User.changeset(user, %{age: 31})

# Delete a user

In the above code, we demonstrate various CRUD operations using Ecto. We create a new user, retrieve all users, fetch a user by ID, update a user’s age, and finally delete a user from the database.


Associations and joins using Ecto

defmodule MyApp.Article do
   use Ecto.Schema

   schema "articles" do
      field :title, :string
      field :content, :string
      has_many :comments, MyApp.Comment

defmodule MyApp.Comment do
   use Ecto.Schema

   schema "comments" do
      field :body, :string
      belongs_to :article, MyApp.Article

defmodule MyApp.Blog do
   def list_articles_with_comments do
      articles_with_comments =
         from a in MyApp.Article,
            left_join: c in assoc(a, :comments),
            select: {a, c}


In this example, we define two schemas: MyApp.Article and MyApp.Comment. An article has many comments, so we define a has_many association in the MyApp.Article schema and a belongs_to association in the MyApp.Comment schema.

We then define a module MyApp.Blog with a function list_articles_with_comments that uses Ecto’s query syntax to perform a left join between the articles and comments tables. This query retrieves all articles along with their associated comments.

This example demonstrates how to work with associations and perform joins using Ecto, allowing you to build more complex queries and work with relational data in your Elixir applications.


Advanced topics and best practices

As you delve deeper into Ecto, you’ll encounter advanced topics and best practices that will enhance your database interactions and streamline your application’s development. Let’s explore some of these advanced topics.

Associations and joins: Ecto provides robust support for defining and managing database associations, allowing you to model complex relationships between data entities effortlessly. Whether it’s a one-to-many, many-to-many, or polymorphic association, Ecto’s intuitive DSL empowers you to express associations declaratively. Additionally, Ecto’s query interface enables you to perform efficient joins between associated tables, enabling you to retrieve related data with ease and efficiency.

Repo pattern: Adopting the repository pattern is a common best practice when working with Ecto to organize your database-related code effectively. By encapsulating database operations within repository modules, you can decouple your application’s business logic from the underlying database implementation. This separation of concerns promotes maintainability, testability, and flexibility in your application architecture, allowing you to swap out database backends or refactor database code without affecting other parts of your application.

Data validation: Ensuring data integrity and validity is crucial in any application, and Ecto provides powerful tools for implementing data validation logic. Ecto’s changeset concept serves as a cornerstone for data validation, allowing you to define transformations, constraints, and validations for incoming data before persisting it to the database. Whether you’re validating presence, uniqueness, length, or custom constraints, Ecto’s changesets provide a flexible and composable mechanism for enforcing data integrity at the database level. Additionally, you can leverage custom validators and custom constraints to implement domain-specific validation logic tailored to your application’s requirements.

By mastering these advanced topics and adopting best practices, you’ll elevate your Ecto skills to the next level, enabling you to build sophisticated and maintainable database-backed applications with confidence and efficiency.



In this blog post, we’ve delved into the world of Ecto and explored its capabilities as a powerful database library for Elixir applications. Let’s recap the key points we’ve covered.

Introduction to Ecto: We began by introducing Ecto as a database wrapper and query generator for Elixir, highlighting its significance in modern web application development.

Getting started with Ecto: A guide was provided to help developers set up database connections, define schemas and migrations, and perform basic database operations using Ecto.

Examples of Ecto: Two examples were presented to illustrate CRUD operations and working with associations and joins, showcasing the power and flexibility of Ecto in managing database interactions within Elixir applications.

Advanced topics and best practices: We explored advanced topics such as associations and joins, the repo pattern, and data validation, along with best practices for organizing and optimizing Ecto code.

As we conclude, we encourage developers to delve deeper into Ecto and explore its vast ecosystem of features, libraries, and integrations. By leveraging Ecto’s capabilities, developers can streamline database interactions, improve application performance, and enhance the overall development experience in Elixir projects.


Additional resources

Check out the Ada Beat Functional Programming blog for more topics, including functional programming principles, summaries of MeetUps, language specific articles, and much more. Whether you’re interested in functional programming theory or practical application, we have something for everyone.