Soft Deletes aren’t Append Only model

time to read 3 min | 450 words

There seems to be some confusion regarding my post about soft deletes, in particular, people brought up the idea of append only models.

I had the chance to work on both types of systems, and I can tell you that I would much rather work with append only model than with soft deletes. The append only model means that you can only ever insert, never delete or update.

Thing about the way your bank account works. If I had the clerk transfer money from one account to another, and he had a typo and send tens times the amount that I wanted, the bank will not “delete” the transaction. What will happen is that there will be a separate transaction, canceling the first one.

There are several reasons for going with this approach, which Jim has brought up in his post:

  • automatic audit logging, since nothing is ever UPDATE'd or DELETE'd, you've got a constant trail of changes
  • automatic support for infinite undo/roll-back support of data, as you simply load a prior version and then save as usual
  • automatic support for labeling of versions, much like in source/version control systems, at an individual record level, table level, "aggregate root level", or database level
  • automatic support for "back querying" a system, in search of what the situation looked like last month, last year, etc. (though raising this "aspect", as in AOP, to the ORM level would be crucial)

As I said, this makes things much simpler from a lot of aspects. It does mean that you have a more complex data model (because all associations are now using: Id + max(version) ), but that is manageable.

But, as I said, there is a distinct difference between that and soft deletes. Soft deletes, as I refer to them, portend to IsDeleted columns that perform a logical deletion in the database. I don’t really like those, and I explained my reasoning in my previous post.

Append Only models represent some complexity with regards to managing things, but in general, they force you to think in a very different fashion than CUD models. For one thing, you are almost always going to have a different reporting model, instead of trying to query the append only model directly (which gets to be complicated).

There is one thing that I want to emphasis, using Append Only model should be reflected in your API. Trying to abstract that away is going to lead to a world of pain.