Technical details

Tree structure

In addition to the left and right identifiers which form the core of how MPTT works and the parent field, Django MPTT has the following additional fields on each tree node.

Tree id

A unique identifier assigned to each root node and inherited by all its descendants.

This identifier is the means by which Django MPTT implements multiple root nodes.

Since we can use it to identify all nodes which belong to a particular tree, the subtree headed by each root node can have its edge indicators starting at 1 - as long as tree operations are constrained to the appropriate tree id(s), we don’t have to worry about overlapping of left and right edge indicator values with those of nodes in other trees.

This approach limits the number of rows affected when making space to insert new nodes and removing gaps left by deleted nodes.

Root node ordering

This field also defines the order in which root nodes are retrieved when you create a QuerySet using TreeManager, which by default orders the resulting QuerySet by tree id, then left edge indicator (for depth-first ordering).

When a new root node is created, it is assigned the next-largest tree id available, so by default root nodes (and thus their subtrees) are displayed in the order they were created.

Movement and volatility

Since root node ordering is defined by tree id, it can also be used to implement movement of other nodes as siblings of a target root node.

When you use the node movement API to move a node to be a sibling of a root node, tree ids are shuffled around to achieve the new ordering required. Given this, you should consider the tree id to be volatile, so it’s recommended that you don’t store tree ids in your applications to identify particular trees.

Since every node has a tree id, movement of a node to be a sibling of a root node can potentially result in a large number of rows being modified, as the further away the node you’re moving is from its target location, the larger the number of rows affected - every node with a tree id between that of the node being moved and the target root node will require its tree id to be modified.


The level (or “depth”) at which a node sits in the tree.

Root nodes are level 0, their immediate children are level 1, their immediate children are level 2 and so on...

This field is purely denormalisation for convenience. It avoids the need to examine the tree structure to determine the level of a particular node and makes queries which need to take depth into account easier to implement using Django’s ORM. For example, limiting the number of levels of nodes which are retrieved for the whole tree or any subtree:

# Retrieve root nodes and their immediate children only

# Retrieve descendants of a node up to two levels below it
node.get_descendants().filter(level__lte=node.level + 2)


Most CRUD methods involve the execution of multiple queries. These methods need to be made mutually exclusive, otherwise corrupt hierarchies might get created. Mutual exclusivity is usually achieved by placing the queries between LOCK TABLE and UNLOCK TABLE statements. However, mptt can’t do the locking itself because the LOCK/UNLOCK statements are not transaction safe and would therefore mess up the client code’s transactions. This means that it’s the client code’s responsibility to ensure that calls to mptt CRUD methods are mutually exclusive.

Note: In the above paragraph ‘client code’ means any django app that uses mptt base models.

Running the test suite

The mptt.tests package is set up as a project which holds a test settings module and defines models for use in testing MPTT. You can run the tests from the command-line using the script:

python test