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Many-to-many relationships

The SQLAlchemy models

In one-to-many relationships, one of the models has a foreign key that links it to another model.

However, for a many-to-many relationship, one model can't have a single value as a foreign key (otherwise it would be a one-to-many!). Instead, what we do is construct a secondary table that has, in each row, a tag ID and and item ID.

Explanation of the table above

The table above has 4 rows, which tell us the following:

  1. Tag with ID 1 is linked to Items with IDs 3 and 4.
  2. Tag with ID 2 is linked to Item with ID 5.
  3. Tag with ID 4 is linked to Item with ID 5.

And therefore:

  1. Item with ID 3 is linked to Tag with ID 1.
  2. Item with ID 4 is linked to Tag with ID 1.
  3. Item with ID 5 is linked to Tags with IDs 2 and 4.

This is how many-to-many relationships work, and through this secondary table, the Tag.items and Item.tags attributes will be populated by SQLAlchemy.

The rows in this table then signify a link between a specific tag and a specific item, but without the need for those values to be stored in the tag or item models themselves.

Writing the secondary table for many-to-many relationships

As we've just seen, many-to-many relationships use a secondary table which stores which models of one side are related to which models of the other side.

Just as we did with Item, Store, and Tag, we'll create a model for this secondary table:

from db import db

class ItemsTags(db.Model):
__tablename__ = "items_tags"

id = db.Column(db.Integer, primary_key=True)
item_id = db.Column(db.Integer, db.ForeignKey(""))
tag_id = db.Column(db.Integer, db.ForeignKey(""))

Let's also add this to our models/ file:

from models.item import ItemModel
from models.tag import TagModel
from import StoreModel
from models.item_tags import ItemsTags

Using the secondary table in the main models

from db import db

class TagModel(db.Model):
__tablename__ = "tags"

id = db.Column(db.Integer, primary_key=True)
name = db.Column(db.String(80), unique=False, nullable=False)
store_id = db.Column(db.Integer, db.ForeignKey(""), nullable=False)

store = db.relationship("StoreModel", back_populates="tags")
items = db.relationship("ItemModel", back_populates="tags", secondary="items_tags")

The marshmallow schemas

Next up, let's add the nested fields to the marshmallow schemas.

The TagAndItemSchema will be used to return information about both the Item and Tag that have been modified in an endpoint, together with an informative message.
class ItemSchema(PlainItemSchema):
store_id = fields.Int(required=True, load_only=True)
store = fields.Nested(PlainStoreSchema(), dump_only=True)
tags = fields.List(fields.Nested(PlainTagSchema()), dump_only=True)

class TagSchema(PlainTagSchema):
store_id = fields.Int(load_only=True)
items = fields.List(fields.Nested(PlainItemSchema()), dump_only=True)
store = fields.Nested(PlainStoreSchema(), dump_only=True)

class TagAndItemSchema(Schema):
message = fields.Str()
item = fields.Nested(ItemSchema)
tag = fields.Nested(TagSchema)

The API endpoints

Now let's add the rest of our API endpoints (grayed out are the ones we implemented in one-to-many relationships review)!

GET/store/{id}/tagGet a list of tags in a store.
POST/store/{id}/tagCreate a new tag.
POST/item/{id}/tag/{id}Link an item in a store with a tag from the same store.
DELETE/item/{id}/tag/{id}Unlink a tag from an item.
GET/tag/{id}Get information about a tag given its unique id.
DELETE/tag/{id}Delete a tag, which must have no associated items.

Here's the code (new lines highlighted):

from flask.views import MethodView
from flask_smorest import Blueprint, abort
from sqlalchemy.exc import SQLAlchemyError

from db import db
from models import TagModel, StoreModel, ItemModel
from schemas import TagSchema, TagAndItemSchema

blp = Blueprint("Tags", "tags", description="Operations on tags")

class TagsInStore(MethodView):
@blp.response(200, TagSchema(many=True))
def get(self, store_id):
store = StoreModel.query.get_or_404(store_id)

return store.tags.all() # lazy="dynamic" means 'tags' is a query

@blp.response(201, TagSchema)
def post(self, tag_data, store_id):
if TagModel.query.filter(TagModel.store_id == store_id, == tag_data["name"]).first():
abort(400, message="A tag with that name already exists in that store.")

tag = TagModel(**tag_data, store_id=store_id)

except SQLAlchemyError as e:

return tag

class LinkTagsToItem(MethodView):
@blp.response(201, TagSchema)
def post(self, item_id, tag_id):
item = ItemModel.query.get_or_404(item_id)
tag = TagModel.query.get_or_404(tag_id)


except SQLAlchemyError:
abort(500, message="An error occurred while inserting the tag.")

return tag

@blp.response(200, TagAndItemSchema)
def delete(self, item_id, tag_id):
item = ItemModel.query.get_or_404(item_id)
tag = TagModel.query.get_or_404(tag_id)


except SQLAlchemyError:
abort(500, message="An error occurred while inserting the tag.")

return {"message": "Item removed from tag", "item": item, "tag": tag}

class Tag(MethodView):
@blp.response(200, TagSchema)
def get(self, tag_id):
tag = TagModel.query.get_or_404(tag_id)
return tag

description="Deletes a tag if no item is tagged with it.",
example={"message": "Tag deleted."},
@blp.alt_response(404, description="Tag not found.")
description="Returned if the tag is assigned to one or more items. In this case, the tag is not deleted.",
def delete(self, tag_id):
tag = TagModel.query.get_or_404(tag_id)

if not tag.items:
return {"message": "Tag deleted."}
message="Could not delete tag. Make sure tag is not associated with any items, then try again.",

And with that, we're done!

Making sure Store ID matches when linking tags

If you wanted to, you can make sure that you can only link a tag that belongs to a certain store, with an item of that same store.

Something like this would work:

if !=
abort(400, message="Make sure item and tag belong to the same store before linking.")

Now we're ready to look at securing API endpoints with user authentication.