One of the wonderful things about Core Data is that it provides a versioning mechanism that makes it easier to migrate your data if the model has changed from release to release. Apple has a guide called the "Core Data Model Versioning and Data Migration Programming Guide" with useful info on this.

To use Core Data versioning support you need to be using Mac OS X v10.5 and your model file needs to be a .xcdatamodeld file type. That last "d" in the file type stands for directory; and it's a directory that contains .xcdatamodel files.

Update: If Mac OS X v10.6 is your baseline target operating system you should try lightweight migration instead of following this article. Use the new NSInferMappingModelAutomaticallyOption migration option.


Once you've created more than one version of your model you should support migrating old versions of the model to the new version. You can do this by passing the NSMigratePersistentStoresAutomaticallyOption option to NSPersistentStoreCoordinator when adding the persistent store and by creating a mapping model.

NSDictionary *optionsDictionary =
      dictionaryWithObject:[NSNumber numberWithBool:YES]

NSPersistentStore* store = [persistentStoreCoordinator

if( store == nil ) {
    [[NSApplication sharedApplication] presentError:error];
    [[NSApplication sharedApplication] terminate:self];

Core Data will now magically convert the data from version 1 to version 2, if necessary when the program loads. You and your users will be happy. Everything is hunky-dory.

Where's the Beef?

So far I've simply summarized Apple's documentation. What kind of blog is this anyway?

Well, automatic migration isn't completely automatic. Let's add a third version of the data model with another model mapping and see what happens.

Okay, we've added a data model and a mapping model to that data model from the previous. We've set version three as the current version of the data model and now have two test cases to try.

  • Case 1: Run with version 1 data and see if migration works
  • Case 2: Run with version 2 data and see if migration works

Testing shows that case 1 fails and case 2 passes. Case 1 fails because the automatic migration logic provided by Apple is very simple. It looks for a mapping model from the ol to the new version. If it can't find one then it stops.

To solve this problem you can modify the mapping from version 1 to 2 to go from version 1 to 3. The problem with this solution is that as you get more versions of your data model you will have to modify more mapping models. To be specific, if you have N data models you will need to configure N - 1 mapping models.

Custom Migration

When N is large then so is N - 1, so modifying all those mapping models when we added one data model probably isn't the greatest solution; especially if we only added one attribute. We need custom migration code.

First we need to modify the appDelegate class in the standard Core Data generated project to use a migration class. We'll create a migration object and tell it to do the migration if it needs to be done.

SFMigrationManager* migrator = [[SFMigrationManager alloc]

BOOL latestVersion = [migrator migrateIfNeeded:&error];
[migrator release];

if ( latestVersion ) {
  store = [persistentStoreCoordinator

if (! latestVersion || store == nil){
  [[NSApplication sharedApplication] presentError:error];
  [[NSApplication sharedApplication] terminate:self];

Let's take a look at the init method for the class. The init method loads all the object models and figures out what model version the store is.

#define SFAssign(oldValue,newValue) \
  [ newValue retain ]; \
  [ oldValue release ]; \
  oldValue = newValue;

- (id)initWithModelName:(NSString*)name
      andXMLStoreURL:(NSURL*)url {

  if ( (self = [super init]) ){
    SFAssign(storeURL, url);

    if ( ! [self loadObjectModels:name] ||
         ! [self determineModelVersion] ) {
      [self release];
      return nil;

  return self;

The object models are loaded by loading the file VersionInfo.plist, which is embedded in your applications bundle, and getting a dictionary of NSManagedObjectModel_VersionHashes. Dictionaries are not ordered so we need to sort the dictionary and then finally we create NSManagedObjectModel objects and put them in an array in their sorted order.

-(BOOL)loadObjectModels:(NSString*)modelName {

  NSString* momdPath = [[NSBundle mainBundle] pathForResource:modelName ofType:@"momd"];
  NSBundle* modelBundle = [NSBundle bundleWithPath:momdPath];
  NSString* plistPath = [modelBundle pathForResource:@"VersionInfo" ofType:@"plist"];
  NSData* plistData = [NSData dataWithContentsOfFile:plistPath];
  NSString *error;

  NSDictionary* versionInfo = [NSPropertyListSerialization propertyListFromData:plistData
  if ( error ) {
    NSLog(@"An error occurred retrieving versionInfo --> %@", error);
    return NO;

  NSDictionary* versionDict 
    = [versionInfo valueForKey:@"NSManagedObjectModel_VersionHashes"];

  objectModels = [[NSMutableArray alloc] initWithCapacity:[versionDict count]];
  NSArray* sortedMomList = [[versionDict allKeys] sortedArrayUsingFunction:nameSort context:NULL];

  for (NSString* modelName in sortedMomList) {
    NSString* modelPath = [modelBundle pathForResource:modelName ofType:@"mom"];
    NSManagedObjectModel* model =
         [[NSManagedObjectModel alloc] initWithContentsOfURL: [NSURL fileURLWithPath: modelPath]];
    [objectModels addObject:model];
    [model release];

  return YES;

Determining the model version of the persistent store is as simple as iterating through the array of ordered object models until we find the correct one.

-(BOOL)determineModelVersion {
  NSError* error;
  NSDictionary *storeMetadata = [NSPersistentStoreCoordinator
  if ( ! storeMetadata ) {
    return NO;

  for( NSManagedObjectModel* model in objectModels ) {
    if ([model isConfiguration:nil compatibleWithStoreMetadata:storeMetadata] ) {
      currentStoreModel = [objectModels indexOfObject:model];
      return YES;

  return NO;

Finally, here is the core of the migration class that incrementally converts the persistent store to the latest version.

- (BOOL)migrationNeeded {
  return ! ( currentStoreModel == [objectModels count] );

- (BOOL)migrateIfNeeded:(NSError**)error {

  if ( ! [self migrationNeeded] ) {
    return YES; }

  // Backup the store before we do anything
  NSString* backupFilePath = [[storeURL path] stringByAppendingString:@".backup"];
  if( ![self overWriteCopy:[storeURL path] to:backupFilePath error:error] ) {
    return NO;

  NSDictionary *opts =
  [NSDictionary dictionaryWithObject:[NSNumber numberWithBool:YES]
  NSInteger i;
  NSURL* tempURL = [NSURL fileURLWithPath:[[storeURL path] stringByAppendingString:@".temp"]];

  for( i = currentStoreModel; i < [objectModels count] - 1; i++ ) {     // Migrate the store to a temp file.     // SunFlower.xml --> SunFlower.xml.temp
    BOOL migrationSuccess = [[self migrationManagerForIndex:i]
                               migrateStoreFromURL:storeURL type:NSXMLStoreType options:opts
                               withMappingModel:[self mappingModelForIndex:i]
                              destinationType:NSXMLStoreType destinationOptions:opts

    // Revert and return if:
    // 1.) The migration failed.
    // 2.) The temp file could not be copied over the original.
    // 3.) The temp file could not be deleted.
    if (! migrationSuccess ||
        ! [self overWriteCopy:[tempURL path] to:[storeURL path] error:error] ||
        ! [[NSFileManager defaultManager]  removeItemAtPath:[tempURL path] error:error]) {
      // Revert to backup file and exit
      // Not passing an error because we want to propogate the previous error.
      [self overWriteCopy:backupFilePath to:[storeURL path]  error:NULL];
      return NO;

  return YES;

Happy Koding!