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Improve INSERT-per-second performance of SQLite?


Optimizing SQLite is tricky. Bulk-insert performance of a C application can vary from 85 inserts-per-second to over 96000 inserts-per-second!

Background: We are using SQLite as part of a desktop application. We have large amounts of configuration data stored in XML files that are parsed and loaded into an SQLite database for further processing when the application is initialized. SQLite is ideal for this situation because it's fast, it requires no specialized configuration and the database is stored on disk as a single file.

Rationale: Initially I was disappointed with the performance I was seeing. It turns-out that the performance of SQLite can vary significantly (both for bulk-inserts and selects) depending on how the database is configured and how you're using the API. It was not a trivial matter to figure-out what all of the options and techniques were, so I though it prudent to create this community wiki entry to share the results with SO readers in order to save others the trouble of the same investigations.

The Experiment: Rather than simply talking about performance tips in the general sense (i.e. "Use a transaction!"), I thought it best to write some C code and actually measure the impact of various options. We're going to start with some simple data:

  • A 28 meg TAB-delimited text file (approx 865000 records) of the complete transit schedule for the city of Toronto
  • My test machine is a 3.60 GHz P4 running Windows XP.
  • The code is compiled with MSVC 2005 as "Release" with "Full Optimization" (/Ox) and Favor Fast Code (/Ot).
  • I'm using the SQLite "Amalgamation", compiled directly into my test application. The SQLite version I happen to have is a bit older (3.6.7), but I suspect these results will be comparable to the latest release (please leave a comment if you think otherwise).

Let's write some code!

The Code: A simple C program that reads the text file line-by-line, splits the string into values and then will inserts the data into an SQLite database. In this "baseline" version of the code, the database is created but we won't actually insert data:

    Baseline code to experiment with SQLite performance.

    Input data is a 28 Mb TAB-delimited text file of the
    complete Toronto Transit System schedule/route info 
    from http://www.toronto.ca/open/datasets/ttc-routes/

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <time.h>
#include <string.h>
#include "sqlite3.h"

#define INPUTDATA "C:\\TTC_schedule_scheduleitem_10-27-2009.txt"
#define DATABASE "c:\\TTC_schedule_scheduleitem_10-27-2009.sqlite"
#define BUFFER_SIZE 256

int main(int argc, char **argv) {

    sqlite3 * db;
    sqlite3_stmt * stmt;
    char * sErrMsg = 0;
    char * tail = 0;
    int nRetCode;
    int n = 0;

    clock_t cStartClock;

    FILE * pFile;
    char sInputBuf [BUFFER_SIZE] = "\0";

    char * sRT = 0;  /* Route */
    char * sBR = 0;  /* Branch */
    char * sVR = 0;  /* Version */
    char * sST = 0;  /* Stop Number */
    char * sVI = 0;  /* Vehicle */
    char * sDT = 0;  /* Date */
    char * sTM = 0;  /* Time */

    char sSQL [BUFFER_SIZE] = "\0";

    /* Open the Database and create the Schema */
    sqlite3_open(DATABASE, &db);
    sqlite3_exec(db, TABLE, NULL, NULL, &sErrMsg);

    /* Open input file and import into Database*/
    cStartClock = clock();

    pFile = fopen (INPUTDATA,"r");
    while (!feof(pFile)) {

        fgets (sInputBuf, BUFFER_SIZE, pFile);

        sRT = strtok (sInputBuf, "\t");     /* Get Route */
        sBR = strtok (NULL, "\t");          /* Get Branch */    
        sVR = strtok (NULL, "\t");          /* Get Version */
        sST = strtok (NULL, "\t");          /* Get Stop Number */
        sVI = strtok (NULL, "\t");          /* Get Vehicle */
        sDT = strtok (NULL, "\t");          /* Get Date */
        sTM = strtok (NULL, "\t");          /* Get Time */



    fclose (pFile);

    printf("Imported %d records in %4.2f seconds\n", n, (clock() - cStartClock) / (double)CLOCKS_PER_SEC);

    return 0;

The "Control"

Running the code as-is doesn't actually perform any database operations, but it will give us an idea of how fast the raw C file IO and string processing operations are.

Imported 864913 records in 0.94 seconds

Great! We can do 920 000 inserts-per-second, provided we don't actually do any inserts :-)

  • C

  • C++

  • asked 2 years ago
  • B Butts



Several tips

  1. Put inserts/updates in a transaction.
  2. For older versions of SQLite - Consider a less paranoid journal mode (pragma journal_mode). There is NORMAL, and then there OFF which can significantly increase insert speed if you're not too worried about the database possibly getting corrupted if the OS crashes. If your application crashes the data should be fine. Note that in newer versions, the OFF/MEMORY settings are not safe for application level crashes.
  3. Playing with page sizes makes a difference as well (PRAGMA page_size). Having larger page sizes can make reads and writes go a bit faster as larger pages are held in memory. Note that more memory will be used for your database.
  4. If you have indices, consider calling CREATE INDEX after doing all your inserts. This is significantly faster than creating the index and then doing your inserts.
  5. You have to be quite careful if you have concurrent access to SQLite, as the whole database is locked when writes are done, and although multiple readers are possible, writes will be locked out. This has been improved somewhat with the addition of a WAL in newer SQLite versions.
  6. Take advantage of saving space...smaller databases go faster. For instance, if you have key value pairs, try making the key an INTEGER PRIMARY KEY if possible, which will replace the implied unique row number column in the table.
  7. If you are using multiple threads, you can try using the shared page cache, which will allow loaded pages to be shared between threads, which can avoid expensive I/O calls.
  • answered 2 years ago
  • G John


Select performance is the other side of the coin, and that of most interest to me, and the reason I love SQLite. I have seen over 100,000 selects per second in my C++ application, with a three way join on a 50 MB table. That's obviously after enough 'warm-up' time to get the tables into the Linux page cache, but still it is amazing performance!

Historically SQLite has had trouble selecting indices to use for a join, but the situation has improved, to the point where I no longer notice. Careful use of indices is obviously important. Sometimes simply re-ordering the parameters in a SELECT statement can make a large difference too.

  • answered 2 years ago
  • Sandy Hook

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