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Relations are relationships between entities in your domain model, for example an Author's list of Books or an Author's current Publisher.

Joist's joist-codegen step automatically discovers the relations from your database schema (based on foreign keys) and generates either References (for relations that point to a single other entity) or Collections (for relations that point to multiple other entities).

Two common themes for all of Joist's relations are that:

  1. They are by default unloaded, and require await calls to load, but also all support preloading via populate hints, see load safe relations for more.

  2. Joist always keeps "both sides" of relationships in sync, for example if you add a Book to an Author, that Author's list of books will automatically include that Book.

    This is a big quality-of-life win, as business logic (validation rules, rendering logic) will always see the latest state of relations, and not have to worry about running against now-stale data.

Reading Relations

In other ORMs you may be used to checking for the existings of a relation by checking for it's presence, e.g. if ( { ... }. In Joist, all relations are always present, but may not be set to a value. To check if a relation is set use isSet, for example:

const b1 = await em.load(Book, "b:1");

// Always returns truthy
if ( {

// Returns true if the author is set
if ( {

If you want to read the id of a relation without loading it, you can do so via the id field:

const b1 = await em.load(Book, "b:1");

// The id of the author is available without loading the author
const authorId =;

Many To One References

Joist looks for "outgoing" (many-to-one) foreign keys like books.author_id pointing to and automatically includes a ManyToOneReference in the BookCodegen file:

export abstract class BookCodegen {
readonly author: ManyToOneReference<Book, Author, never> = hasOne(authorMeta, "author", "books");

Accessing the author field requires either calling .load() or a populate hint:

// Unloaded author field
const b1 = await em.load(Book, "b:1");
const a1 = await;

// Preloaded author field
const b2 = await em.load(Book, "b:2", "author");

If books.author_id is not null, then the reference will be required, i.e. will return Author, otherwise it will be optional, and will return Author | undefined.

One To Many Collections

Joist also looks for "incoming" foreign keys, like Author being "pointed at" by the books.author_id column and automatically generates a one-to-many hasMany collection as the "other side" in AuthorCodegen.ts:

export abstract class AuthorCodegen {
readonly books: Collection<Author, Book> = hasMany(bookMeta, "books", "author", "author_id");

When unloaded, Collections support adding and removing:

const a = await em.load(Author, "a:1");

But accessing the contents of the collection requires being loaded, again either with a .load() call or a populate hint:

// Unloaded Author.books collection
const a1 = await em.load(Author, "a:1");
const books = await a1.books.load();

// Preloaded Author.books collection
const a2 = await em.load(Author, "a:2", "books");

If a one-to-many collection is loaded, it can also be set, like a1.books.set([b1, b2]). Besides updating the value of a1.books.get, both the and references will be updated to a1.


If Author.ts has a cascadeDelete("books") and Book.ts. has a cannotBeUpdated("author") rule, then Joist will consider the book to be "fully owned" by the Author, and if any existing book is left out of the a1.books.set call, it will be implicitly deleted via em.delete.

The rationale is that this makes calls like parent.lineItems.set(...), that purposefully omit an existing child, "just work" by assuming the intent is that we no longer want that child to exist.

Currently, this behavior is not configurable (it relies on the convention of both the cascade delete + cannotBeUpdated rule), and also is only invoked by the a1.books.set side of the relation; i.e. if is called, then b1 won't be implicitly deleted, and instead a regular "author is required" validation error will be thrown.

Also note that Joist's em.createOrUpdatePartial API supports an op parameter to more explicitly control child collection behavior, see Saving Parents with Children.

One To One Reference

Joist distinguishes "incoming" foreign keys with a unique constraint as a one-to-one relationship rather than one-to-many and instead automatically generates a hasOneToOne reference as the "other side" rather than hasMany:

export abstract class AuthorCodegen {
readonly image: OneToOneReference<Author, Image> = hasOne(imageMeta, "image", "author", "author_id");

These references work similarly to a hasOne reference, but have less information available to them when in an unloaded state (such as checking if the reference is set without loading it). Additionally, they are always assumed to be nullable.

Many to Many Collection

Joist will skip generating full entity classes for any tables it considers to be a "join table" between two other entities. Instead, it will generate matching hasManyToMany collections on each of the entities pointed to by the foreign keys on the join table:

export abstract class BookCodegen {
readonly tags: Collection<Author, Tag> = hasManyToMany("authors_to_tags", "tags", "author_id", tagMeta, "authors", "tag_id");

These collections work similarly to a hasMany collection. When determining if a table is a "join table", joist checks if the table has a single primary key column, two foreign key columns, an optional created_at column, and no other columns. Joist also requires that the foreign keys are both not null and that the table has a unique constraint on the pair of foreign keys.

Polymorphic References

Polymorphic references model an entity (i.e. Book) that has a single logical field that can be set to multiple (i.e. poly) types of other entities, but only one such entity at a time (i.e. a reference b/c it points to only one other entity).

For example maybe a Book has a single logical publisher field that can either be a CorporatePublisher entity (a row in the corporate_publishers table) or a SelfPublisher entity (a row in the self_publishers table).

The simplest way to model this Book scenario would be having two foreign keys, a books.corporate_publisher_id and books.self_publisher_id, and then having your application's business logic "just know" that it should enforce only one of these keys being set at a single time.

Polymorphic references allow you to tell Joist about this "single logical field that could be two-or-more different types", and it will do the "can only be set at once" handling for you.


Polymorphic references have two components:

  • In the domain model, they are a single logical field (i.e. Book.publisher).

    The field type is PolymorphicReference<BookPublisher>, where BookPublisher is a code generated type union of each potential type, i.e. Joist will create:

    export type BookPublisher = CorporatePublisher | SelfPublisher;

    In the BookCodegen.ts file.

  • In the database schema, they are multiple physical columns, one per "other" entity type (i.e. books.publisher_corporate_publisher_id and books.publisher_self_publisher_id)


To use polymorphic references, there are two steps:

  1. Create the multiple physical foreign keys in your schema, all with a similar publisher_*_id naming convention.

  2. In joist-config.json, add a new publisher relation that is marked as polymorphic:

    "entites": {
    "Comment": {
    "relations": { "publisher": { "polymorphic": "notNull" } },
    "tag": "comment"

    Joist with then use the publisher name to scan for any other publisher_-prefixed foreign keys and automatically pull them in as components of this polymorphic reference.

Renaming Relations

Joist makes a best guess for relation names, based on the foreign key's column name and the table it points to (i.e. the "other side" of books.author_id should be called Author.books), but this is not always perfect.

Sometimes a table will have two incoming foreign keys that cause a naming collision, or you just want a different name (self-referential foreign keys like authors.mentor_id are particularly hard for Joist to guess good names for).

In these circumstances, you can specify which field names to use directly in the database schema. Joist uses pg-structure's commentData convention (which is basically a JSON payload in the column's COMMENT metadata) to look for two properties:

  • fieldName for renaming a m2o reference, and
  • otherFieldName for renaming the opposing m2o/m2m/o2o relation

Setting this commentData structure by hand can be tedious, but Joist's joist-migration-utils package provides both a renameRelation function (for renaming fields of existing columns) and a foreignKey helper (for renames fields on new columns) that allow easily setting the fieldName and otherFieldName keys.


Why COMMENT metadata? Putting field names in the COMMENT metadata is somewhat unconventional, but it has a few advantages:

  1. It follows Joist's overall philosophy of "the database is the source of truth", and

  2. Previously we put renames in the joist-config.json file, but that meant having to know/guess the wrong/unintuitive name, just to map it over to the correct name. Which was confusing and also did not handle collisions.

    With the COMMENT approach, the joist-config.json now has only the correct/best field name for the rest of the config options you might want to specify on the relation.

Consistent Relations

Joist keeps both sides of m2o/o2m/o2o relationships in sync, i.e.:

// Load the author with the books collection loaded
const a = await em.load(Author, "a:1", "books");
// Load a book, and set the author
const b = await em.load(Book, "b:1");;
// This will print true

If the Author.books collection is not loaded yet, then the line does not cause it to become loaded, but instead will remember "add b" as a pending operation, to apply to a.books, should it later become loaded within the current EntityManager.

Custom Relations

Besides the core relations discovered from the schema's foreign keys, Joist lets you declare additional relations in your domain model.


These custom relations are great for defining relationships between entities in your domain model, like how Author might relate to BookReview.

If you'd like to define custom non-entity fields, like derived numbers or strings, see Derived Fields.


hasOneThrough defines a shortcut from your entity to a single other entity, for example if asking for a BookReview's author (via the Book) is very common, you can define a relation:

export class BookReview extends BookReviewCodegen {
// use never if Author will always be set, or undefined if it might be unset
readonly author: Reference<BookReview, Author, never> = hasOneThrough((review) =>;
// Paths can be arbitrarily long
readonly publisher: Reference<BookReview, Publisher, never> = hasOneThrough((review) =>;

With this alias defined, you can refactor code to be more succinct:

// Using the core relations
const br1 = await em.load(BookReview, { book: { author: "publisher" } });
console.log(`br1 publisher:` +;

// Using the hasOneThrough alias
const br2 = await em.load(BookReview, "publisher");
console.log(`br2 publisher:` + br2.publisher.get);

Both of these approaches have the same runtime behavior, i.e. under the hook br2.publisher.get is actually executing


Note that currently hasOneThrough and hasManyThrough load all the entities on the path between the current entity and the target(s), i.e. the above example pulls all the review's books, the book's authors, and the author's publisher into memory.

We have an issue tracking optimizing this to avoid loading entities, see Issue 524.


hasManyThrough is very similar to hasOneThrough but for collections of multiple entities:

export class Publisher extends PublisherCodegen {
readonly reviews: Collection<Publisher, BookReview> = hasManyThrough((p) => p.authors.books.bookReviews);

The behavior is the same as hasOneThrough:

// Using the core relations
const p1 = await em.load(Publisher, { authors: { books: "reviews" } });
console.log(`p1 reviews:` + p1.authors.get.flatMap((a) => a.books.get.flatMap((b) =>;

// Using the hasManyThrough alias
const p2 = await em.load(Publisher, "reviews");
console.log(`p2 reviews:` +;

hasOneDerived & hasManyDerived

hasOneDerived and hasManyDerived are very similar to hasOneThrough and hasManyThrough, but allow a lambda to filter the results.

For example, maybe should only be public reviews:

class BookReview extends PublisherCodegen {
readonly reviews: Collection<Publisher, BookReview> = hasManyDerived(
{ authors: { books: "reviews" } },
(p) => p.authors.get
.flatMap(a => a.books.get.flatMap(b =>
.filter(br => br.isPublic)

Recursive Relations

We also support recursive relations, see Recursive Relations for more.