Ecto is split into 3 main components:

In the following sections, we will provide an overview of those components and how they interact with each other. Feel free to access their respective module documentation for more specific examples, options and configuration.

If you want to quickly check a sample application using Ecto, please check


Ecto.Repo is a wrapper around the database. We can define a repository as follows:

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

Where the configuration for the Repo must be in your application environment, usually defined in your config/config.exs:

config :my_app, Repo,
  adapter: Ecto.Adapters.Postgres,
  database: "ecto_simple",
  username: "postgres",
  password: "postgres",
  hostname: "localhost"

Each repository in Ecto defines a start_link/0 function that needs to be invoked before using the repository. In general, this function is not called directly, but used as part of your application supervision tree.

If your application was generated with a supervisor (by passing --sup to mix new) you will have a lib/my_app.ex file containing the application start callback that defines and starts your supervisor. You just need to edit the start/2 function to start the repo as a worker on the supervisor:

def start(_type, _args) do
  import Supervisor.Spec

  children = [
    worker(Repo, [])

  opts = [strategy: :one_for_one, name: MyApp.Supervisor]
  Supervisor.start_link(children, opts)


Models provide a set of functionalities around structuring your data, defining relationships and applying changes to repositories.

For now, we will cover two of those:

Let’s see an example:

defmodule Weather do
  use Ecto.Model

  # weather is the DB table
  schema "weather" do
    field :city,    :string
    field :temp_lo, :integer
    field :temp_hi, :integer
    field :prcp,    :float, default: 0.0

By defining a schema, Ecto automatically defines a struct with the schema fields:

iex> weather = %Weather{temp_lo: 30}
iex> weather.temp_lo

The schema also allows the model to interact with a repository:

iex> weather = %Weather{temp_lo: 0, temp_hi: 23}
iex> Repo.insert!(weather)

After persisting weather to the database, it will return a new copy of %Weather{} with the primary key (the id) set. We can use this value to read a struct back from the repository:

# Get the struct back
iex> weather = Repo.get Weather, 1
%Weather{id: 1, ...}

# Update it
iex> weather = %{weather | temp_lo: 10}
iex> Repo.update!(weather)

# Delete it
iex> Repo.delete!(weather)

NOTE: by using Ecto.Model, an :id field with type :integer is generated by default, which is the primary key of the Model. If you want to use a different primary key, you can declare custom @primary_key before the schema/2 call. Consult the Ecto.Schema documentation for more information.

Notice how the storage (repository) and the data are decoupled. This provides two main benefits:


Although in the example above we have directly inserted and updated the model in the repository, most of the times, developers will use changesets to perform those operations.

Changesets allow developers to filter, cast, and validate changes before we apply them to a model. Imagine the given model:

defmodule User do
  use Ecto.Model

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

  def changeset(user, params \\ nil) do
    |> cast(params, ~w(name email), ~w(age))
    |> validate_format(:email, ~r/@/)
    |> validate_inclusion(:age, 0..130)
    |> validate_unique(:email, on: Repo)

Since Ecto.Model by default imports Ecto.Changeset functions, we use them to generate and manipulate a changeset in the changeset/2 function above.

First we invoke Ecto.Changeset.cast/4 with the model, the parameters and a list of required and optional fields; this returns a changeset. The parameter is a map with binary keys and a value that will be cast based on the type defined on the model schema.

Any parameter that was not explicitly listed in the required or optional fields list will be ignored. Furthermore, if a field is given as required but it is not in the parameter map nor in the model, it will be marked with an error and the changeset is deemed invalid.

After casting, the changeset is given to many Ecto.Changeset.validate_*/2 functions that validate only the changed fields. In other words: if a field was not given as a parameter, it won’t be validated at all. For example, if the params map contain only the “name” and “email” keys, the “age” validation won’t run.

As an example, let’s see how we could use the changeset above in a web application that needs to update users:

def update(id, params) do
  changeset = User.changeset Repo.get!(User, id), params["user"]

  if changeset.valid? do
    user = Repo.update!(changeset)
    send_resp conn, 200, "Ok"
    send_resp conn, 400, "Bad request"

The changeset/2 function receives the user model and its parameters and returns a changeset. If the changeset is valid, we persist the changes to the database, otherwise, we handle the error by emitting a bad request code.

Another example to create users:

def create(id, params) do
  changeset = User.changeset %User{}, params["user"]

  if changeset.valid? do
    user = Repo.insert!(changeset)
    send_resp conn, 200, "Ok"
    send_resp conn, 400, "Bad request"

The benefit of having explicit changesets is that we can easily provide different changesets for different use cases. For example, one could easily provide specific changesets for create and update:

def changeset(user, :create, params) do
  # Changeset on create

def changeset(user, :update, params) do
  # Changeset on update


Last but not least, Ecto allows you to write queries in Elixir and send them to the repository, which translates them to the underlying database. Let’s see an example:

import Ecto.Query, only: [from: 2]

query = from w in Weather,
      where: w.prcp > 0 or is_nil(w.prcp),
     select: w

# Returns %Weather{} structs matching the query

Queries are defined and extended with the from macro. The supported keywords are:

Examples and detailed documentation for each of those are available in the Ecto.Query module.

When writing a query, you are inside Ecto’s query syntax. In order to access params values or invoke functions, you need to use the ^ operator, which is overloaded by Ecto:

def min_prcp(min) do
  from w in Weather, where: w.prcp > ^min or is_nil(w.prcp)

Besides Repo.all/1, which returns all entries, repositories also provide, which returns one entry or nil, and!/1 which returns one entry or raises.

Other topics

Mix tasks and generators

Ecto provides many tasks to help your workflow as well as code generators. You can find all available tasks by typing mix help inside a project with Ecto listed as a dependency.

Ecto generators will automatically open the generated files if you have ECTO_EDITOR set in your environment variable.


Ecto supports defining associations on schemas:

defmodule Post do
  use Ecto.Model

  schema "posts" do
    has_many :comments, Comment

defmodule Comment do
  use Ecto.Model

  schema "comments" do
    field :title, :string
    belongs_to :post, Post

Once an association is defined, Ecto provides a couple conveniences. The first one is the Ecto.Model.assoc/2 function that allows us to easily retrieve all associated data to a given struct:

import Ecto.Model

# Get all comments for the given post
Repo.all assoc(post, :comments)

# Or build a query on top of the associated comments
query = from c in assoc(post, :comments), where: c.title != nil

Ecto also supports joins with associations:

query = from p in Post,
       join: c in assoc(p, :comments),
     select: {p, c}

[{post, comment}] = Repo.all(query)

When an association is defined, Ecto also defines a field in the model with the association name. By default, associations are not loaded into this field:

iex> post = Repo.get(Post, 42)
iex> post.comments

However, developers can use the preload functionality in queries to automatically pre-populate the field:

iex> post = Repo.get from(p in Post, preload: [:comments]), 42
iex> post.comments
[%Comment{...}, %Comment{...}]

You can find more information about defining associations and each respective association module in Ecto.Schema docs.

NOTE: Ecto does not lazy load associations. While lazily loading associations may sound convenient at first, in the long run it becomes a source of confusion and performance issues.


Ecto supports database migrations. You can generate a migration with:

$ mix ecto.gen.migration create_posts

This will create a new file inside priv/repo/migrations with the up and down functions. Check Ecto.Migration for more information.