Giving your users the ability to delete objects from your database is a risky proposition — some types of objects are low risk, but others, no matter how much you warn them of the risks of deleting things, will lead to customer requests. You know the kind — “So, I deleted this thing, but I didn’t mean to and now I really need it back…can you recover it?” Of course, databases don’t work that way. When a thing is deleted, it’s deleted.

So, the dream: be able to easily define some objects to be soft-deleted and others to be hard-deleted so that your developers don’t have to remember as they are interacting with objects which are which, and be able to easily recover deleted objects for your users when they need you to. Soft deletion can help with this.

The Model

class SoftDeletionModel(models.Model):
deleted_at = models.DateTimeField(blank=True, null=True)

objects = SoftDeletionManager()
all_objects = SoftDeletionManager(alive_only=False)

class Meta:
abstract = True

def delete(self):
self.deleted_at =

def hard_delete(self):
super(SoftDeletionModel, self).delete()

The pieces:

  • deleted_at: this means that all models inheriting from the SoftDeletionModel will have this attribute available to be set. By default it will be null. I recommend a date instead of a boolean so that you can create a background job that hard-deletes any objects that were “deleted” more than 24 hours/7 days/30 days (whatever the right cadence is for you and your users ) ago — data that users choose to delete should actually be deleted.
  • We’ll look at objects and all_objects in the next section. This is what makes this so powerful
  • abstract = True: This just means we won’t ever define a SoftDeletionModel object on its own. More detail from the Django docs here.
  • The delete method means that whenever you call .delete() on any object that inherits from the SoftDeletionModel, it won’t actually be deleted from the database — its deleted_at attribute will be set instead
  • hard_delete gives you the option to really truly delete something from the database if you want to, but is named something other than the usual delete methods to ensure that you have to think about what you’re doing before you do it, and actually mean to do it. This usually won’t be exposed to users, but could only be called by developers from the shell.

The Manager

class SoftDeletionManager(models.Manager):
def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
self.alive_only = kwargs.pop('alive_only', True)
super(SoftDeletionManager, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)

def get_queryset(self):
if self.alive_only:
return SoftDeletionQuerySet(self.model).filter(deleted_at=None)
return SoftDeletionQuerySet(self.model)

def hard_delete(self):
return self.get_queryset().hard_delete()

The pieces:

  • We initialize with alive_only set to True by default, unless we’ve instantiated the manager with that in the kwargs(by calling all_objects instead of objects)
  • We define get_queryset that, unless we’re calling all_objects returns any object that doesn’t have a value for deleted_at — you don’t want to be working with things your users think they’ve deleted! Otherwise, just return everything, using the SoftDeletionQuerySet, which we’ll look at below
  • hard_delete, once again allows us to really truly delete a thing.

The QuerySet

class SoftDeletionQuerySet(QuerySet):
def delete(self):
return super(SoftDeletionQuerySet, self).update(

def hard_delete(self):
return super(SoftDeletionQuerySet, self).delete()

def alive(self):
return self.filter(deleted_at=None)

def dead(self):
return self.exclude(deleted_at=None)

The pieces:

  • delete — bulk deleting a QuerySet bypasses an individual object’s delete method, which is why this is needed here as well
  • alive and dead are just helpers — you may find you don’t need them.
  • hard_delete, as above, actually removes the objects from your database, but does this on a QuerySet instead of an individual object

Putting it all together

class VeryImportantSomething(SoftDeletionModel):
# Define the model just as you would any other Django model
  • If I call VeryImportantSomething.objects.get(pk=123).delete(), I will not remove the object from the database, but instead set the deleted_at attribute
  • If I call VeryImportantSomething.objects.all() I will actually get all VeryImportantSomethings that do not have a value set on their deleted_at attribute. Likewise, if I call VeryImportantSomething.objects.get(pk=123), I will get an ObjectDoesNotExist error, as if it weren’t in my database at all.
  • If I were to callVeryImportantSomething.all_objects.get(pk=123), however, the object would be returned to me (and I could then set deleted_at to be None, and thereby “un-delete” it for my user!


Django Admin

To override both of these defaults, the following admin class could be defined, and any admin class for a model using the SoftDeletionModel could inherit from it.

class SoftDeletionAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin):
def get_queryset(self, request):
qs = self.model.all_objects
# The below is copied from the base implementation in BaseModelAdmin to prevent other changes in behavior
ordering = self.get_ordering(request)
if ordering:
qs = qs.order_by(*ordering)
return qs
def delete_model(self, request, obj):

Related Objects

This is because soft-deleting an object does not result in cascade deletion the way true database-level deletes do. This is intentional — if the purpose of soft deletion is to be able to recover data, much, if not all, of that benefit would be lost if we deleted all the foreign key relationships on a soft-delete — the recovery would be pretty meaningless without those related objects!

However, this querying of Lessons with a deleted Course is a valid concern. Unfortunately, I don’t know of a great way to do this globally, since the solution relies on knowing which fields we need to ensure have not been deleted. If every model in your database is a SoftDeletionModel, I can imagine a solution that leverages Django’s introspection, but I haven’t implemented this myself —I’d love to hear about it if you have!

If you just need to implement this for a couple of models, you can do so with a similar mechanism as we used above, using a custom model Manager. It might look like this:

class LessonManager(models.Manager):
def get_queryset(self):
return super(LessonManager, self).get_queryset().filter(course__deleted_at__isnull=True)

And then on the Lesson model itself, you’d add:

objects = PublishedCourseManager()

Uniqueness Constraints

There’s no perfect solution to this — the best I’ve come up with is to further override the model’s delete method to update the field in question to prevent collisions. As with the solution above, this is not a global solution (though you may be able to build one using introspection, as suggested above — I’d love to hear from you if you do this!). For example we could further override the delete method on Course, like so:

def _regenerate_field_for_soft_deletion(obj, field_name):
timestamp = arrow.utcnow().timestamp
max_length = obj.__class__._meta.get_field(field_name).max_length
slug_suffix = '-deleted-{}'.format(str(timestamp))
new_slug = getattr(obj, field_name)
if (len(new_slug) + len(slug_suffix)) > max_length:
cutoff = max_length - len(slug_suffix)
new_slug = obj.slug[:cutoff]
return new_slug + slug_suffix
def delete(self):
# Rename the course to prevent collisions
self.title = _regenerate_field_for_soft_deletion(self, 'title')
# SoftDeletionModel.delete() saves the object, so no need to save it here
return super(Course, self).delete()

The _regenerate_slug_for_soft_deletion method handles any charfield and ensures that the new value won’t overrun the max_length of the field, so can be reused on a variety of models.

Updated 6/13/2020

Senior Software Engineer |

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