Small. Fast. Reliable.
Choose any three.
Search for:
The RBU Extension

1. The RBU Extension

The RBU extension is an add-on for SQLite designed for use with large SQLite database files on low-power devices at the edge of a network. RBU may be used for two separate tasks:

The acronym RBU stands for "Resumable Bulk Update".

Both of the RBU functions may be accomplished using SQLite's built-in SQL commands - RBU update via a series of INSERT, DELETE and UPDATE commands within a single transaction, and RBU vacuum by a single VACUUM command. The RBU module provides the following advantages over these simpler approaches:

  1. RBU may be more efficient

    The most efficient way to apply changes to a B-Tree (the data structure that SQLite uses to store each table and index on disk) is to make the changes in key order. But if an SQL table has one or more indexes, the key order for each index may be different from the main table and the other auxiliary indexes. As a result, when executing a series of INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE statements it is not generally possible to order the operations so that all b-trees are updated in key order. The RBU update process works around this by applying all changes to the main table in one pass, then applying changes to each index in separate passes, ensuring each B-Tree is updated optimally. For a large database file (one that does not fit in the OS disk cache) this procedure can result in two orders of magnitude faster updates.

    An RBU Vacuum operation requires less temporary disk space and writes less data to disk than an SQLite VACUUM. An SQLite VACUUM requires roughly twice the size of the final database file in temporary disk space to run. The total amount of data written is around three times the size of the final database file. By contrast, an RBU Vacuum requires roughly the size of the final database file in temporary disk space and writes a total of twice that to disk.

    On the other hand, an RBU Vacuum uses more CPU than a regular SQLite VACUUM - in one test as much as five times as much. For this reason, an RBU Vaccum is often significantly slower than an SQLite VACUUM under the same conditions.

  2. RBU runs in the background

    An ongoing RBU operation (either an update or a vacuum) does not interfere with read access to the database file.

  3. RBU runs incrementally

    RBU operations may be suspended and then later resumed, perhaps with intervening power outages and/or system resets. For an RBU update, the original database content remains visible to all database readers until the entire update has been applied - even if the update is suspended and then later resumed.

The RBU extension is not enabled by default. To enable it, compile the amalgamation with the SQLITE_ENABLE_RBU compile-time option.

2. RBU Updates

2.1. RBU Update Limitations

The following limitations apply to RBU updates:

2.2. Preparing An RBU Update File

All changes to be applied by RBU are stored in a separate SQLite database called the "RBU database". The database that is to be modified is called the "target database".

For each table in the target database that will be modified by the update, a corresponding table is created within the RBU database. The RBU database table schema is not the same as that of the target database, but is derived from it as described below.

The RBU database table contains a single row for each target database row inserted, updated or deleted by the update. Populating the RBU database tables is described in the following section.

2.2.1. The RBU Database Schema

For each table in the target database, the RBU database should contain a table named "data<integer>_<target-table-name>" where <target-table-name> is the name of the table in the target database and <integer> is any sequence of zero or more numeric characters (0-9). Tables within the RBU database are processed in order by name (from smallest to largest according to the BINARY collation sequence), so the order in which target tables are updated is influenced by the selection of the <integer> portion of the data_% table name. While this can be useful when using RBU to update certain types of virtual tables, there is normally no reason to use anything other than an empty string in place of <integer>.

The data_% table must have all the same columns as the target table, plus one additional column named "rbu_control". The data_% table should have no PRIMARY KEY or UNIQUE constraints, but each column should have the same type as the corresponding column in the target database. The rbu_control column should have no type at all. For example, if the target database contains:


Then the RBU database should contain:

CREATE TABLE data_t1(a INTEGER, b TEXT, c, rbu_control);

The order of the columns in the data_% table does not matter.

If the target database table is a virtual table or a table that has no PRIMARY KEY declaration, the data_% table must also contain a column named "rbu_rowid". The rbu_rowid column is mapped to the tables ROWID. For example, if the target database contains either of the following:

CREATE TABLE x1(a, b);

then the RBU database should contain:

CREATE TABLE data_x1(a, b, rbu_rowid, rbu_control);

Virtual tables for which the "rowid" column does not function like a primary key value cannot be updated using RBU.

All non-hidden columns (i.e. all columns matched by "SELECT *") of the target table must be present in the input table. For virtual tables, hidden columns are optional - they are updated by RBU if present in the input table, or not otherwise. For example, to write to an fts4 table with a hidden languageid column such as:

CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE ft1 USING fts4(a, b, languageid='langid');

Either of the following input table schemas may be used:

CREATE TABLE data_ft1(a, b, langid, rbu_rowid, rbu_control);
CREATE TABLE data_ft1(a, b, rbu_rowid, rbu_control);

2.2.2. RBU Database Contents

For each row to INSERT into the target database as part of the RBU update, the corresponding data_% table should contain a single record with the "rbu_control" column set to contain integer value 0. The other columns should be set to the values that make up the new record to insert.

If the target database table has an INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, it is not possible to insert a NULL value into the IPK column. Attempting to do so results in an SQLITE_MISMATCH error.

For each row to DELETE from the target database as part of the RBU update, the corresponding data_% table should contain a single record with the "rbu_control" column set to contain integer value 1. The real primary key values of the row to delete should be stored in the corresponding columns of the data_% table. The values stored in the other columns are not used.

For each row to UPDATE from the target database as part of the RBU update, the corresponding data_% table should contain a single record with the "rbu_control" column set to contain a value of type text. The real primary key values identifying the row to update should be stored in the corresponding columns of the data_% table row, as should the new values of all columns being update. The text value in the "rbu_control" column must contain the same number of characters as there are columns in the target database table, and must consist entirely of 'x' and '.' characters (or in some special cases 'd' - see below). For each column that is being updated, the corresponding character is set to 'x'. For those that remain as they are, the corresponding character of the rbu_control value should be set to '.'. For example, given the tables above, the update statement:

UPDATE t1 SET c = 'usa' WHERE a = 4;

is represented by the data_t1 row created by:

INSERT INTO data_t1(a, b, c, rbu_control) VALUES(4, NULL, 'usa', '..x');

If RBU is used to update a large BLOB value within a target database, it may be be more efficient to store a patch or delta that can be used to modify the existing BLOB instead of an entirely new value within the RBU database. RBU allows deltas to be specified in two ways:

The fossil delta format may only be used to update BLOB values. Instead of storing the new BLOB within the data_% table, the fossil delta is stored instead. And instead of specifying an 'x' as part of the rbu_control string for the column to be updated, an 'f' character is stored. When processing an 'f' update, RBU loads the original BLOB data from disk, applies the fossil delta to it and stores the results back into the database file. The RBU databases generated by sqldiff --rbu make use of fossil deltas wherever doing so would save space in the RBU database.

To use a custom delta format, the RBU application must register a user-defined SQL function named "rbu_delta" before beginning to process the update. rbu_delta() will be invoked with two arguments - the original value stored in the target table column and the delta value provided as part of the RBU update. It should return the result of applying the delta to the original value. To use the custom delta function, the character of the rbu_control value corresponding to the target column to update must be set to 'd' instead of 'x'. Then, instead of updating the target table with the value stored in the corresponding data_% column, RBU invokes the user-defined SQL function "rbu_delta()" and the store in the target table column.

For example, this row:

INSERT INTO data_t1(a, b, c, rbu_control) VALUES(4, NULL, 'usa', '..d');

causes RBU to update the target database table in a way similar to:

UPDATE t1 SET c = rbu_delta(c, 'usa') WHERE a = 4;

If the target database table is a virtual table or a table with no PRIMARY KEY, the rbu_control value should not include a character corresponding to the rbu_rowid value. For example, this:

INSERT INTO data_ft1(a, b, rbu_rowid, rbu_control) 
  VALUES(NULL, 'usa', 12, '.x');

causes a result similar to:

UPDATE ft1 SET b = 'usa' WHERE rowid = 12;

The data_% tables themselves should have no PRIMARY KEY declarations. However, RBU is more efficient if reading the rows in from each data_% table in "rowid" order is roughly the same as reading them sorted by the PRIMARY KEY of the corresponding target database table. In other words, rows should be sorted using the destination table PRIMARY KEY fields before they are inserted into the data_% tables.

2.2.3. Using RBU with FTS3/4 Tables

Usually, an FTS3 or FTS4 table is an example of a virtual table with a rowid that works like a PRIMARY KEY. So, for the following FTS4 tables:

CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE ft1 USING fts4(addr, text);
CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE ft2 USING fts4;             -- implicit "content" column

The data_% tables may be created as follows:

CREATE TABLE data_ft1 USING fts4(addr, text, rbu_rowid, rbu_control);
CREATE TABLE data_ft2 USING fts4(content, rbu_rowid, rbu_control);

And populated as if the target table were an ordinary SQLite table with no explicit PRIMARY KEY columns.

Contentless FTS4 tables are handled similarly, except that any attempt to update or delete rows will cause an error when applying the update.

External content FTS4 tables may also be updated using RBU. In this case the user is required to configure the RBU database so that the same set of UPDATE, DELETE and INSERT operations are applied to the FTS4 index as to the underlying content table. As for all updates of external content FTS4 tables, the user is also required to ensure that any UPDATE or DELETE operations are applied to the FTS4 index before they are applied to the underlying content table (refer to FTS4 documentation for a detailed explanation). In RBU, this is done by ensuring that the name of the data_% table used to write to the FTS4 table sorts before the name of the data_% table used to update the underlying content table using the BINARY collation sequence. In order to avoid duplicating data within the RBU database, an SQL view may be used in place of one of the data_% tables. For example, for the target database schema:

CREATE TABLE ccc(addr, text);
CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE ccc_fts USING fts4(addr, text, content=ccc);

The following RBU database schema may be used:

CREATE TABLE data_ccc(addr, text, rbu_rowid, rbu_control);
CREATE VIEW data0_ccc_fts AS SELECT * FROM data_ccc;

The data_ccc table may then be populated as normal with the updates intended for target database table ccc. The same updates will be read by RBU from the data0_ccc_fts view and applied to FTS table ccc_fts. Because "data0_ccc_fts" is smaller than "data_ccc", the FTS table will be updated first, as required.

Cases in which the underlying content table has an explicit INTEGER PRIMARY KEY column are slightly more difficult, as the text values stored in the rbu_control column are slightly different for the FTS index and its underlying content table. For the underlying content table, a character must be included in any rbu_control text values for the explicit IPK, but for the FTS table itself, which has an implicit rowid, it should not. This is inconvenient, but can be solved using a more complicated view, as follows:

-- Target database schema
CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE ddd_fts USING fts4(k, content=ddd);

-- RBU database schema
CREATE TABLE data_ccc(i, k, rbu_control);
CREATE VIEW data0_ccc_fts AS SELECT i AS rbu_rowid, k, CASE 
  WHEN rbu_control IN (0,1) THEN rbu_control ELSE substr(rbu_control, 2) END
FROM data_ccc;

The substr() function in the SQL view above returns the text of the rbu_control argument with the first character (the one corresponding to column "i", which is not required by the FTS table) removed.

2.2.4. Automatically Generating RBU Updates with sqldiff

As of SQLite version 3.9.0 (2015-10-14), the sqldiff utility is able to generate RBU databases representing the difference between two databases with identical schemas. For example, the following command:

sqldiff --rbu t1.db t2.db

Outputs an SQL script to create an RBU database which, if used to update database t1.db, patches it so that its contents are identical to that of database t2.db.

By default, sqldiff attempts to process all non-virtual tables within the two databases provided to it. If any table appears in one database but not the other, or if any table has a slightly different schema in one database it is an error. The "--table" option may be useful if this causes a problem

Virtual tables are ignored by default by sqldiff. However, it is possible to explicitly create an RBU data_% table for a virtual table that features a rowid that functions like a primary key using a command such as:

sqldiff --rbu --table <virtual-table-name> t1.db t2.db

Unfortunately, even though virtual tables are ignored by default, any underlying database tables that they create in order to store data within the database are not, and sqldiff will include add these to any RBU database. For this reason, users attempting to use sqldiff to create RBU updates to apply to target databases with one or more virtual tables will likely have to run sqldiff using the --table option separately for each table to update in the target database.

2.3. RBU Update C/C++ Programming

The RBU extension interface allows an application to apply an RBU update stored in an RBU database to an existing target database. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Open an RBU handle using the sqlite3rbu_open(T,A,S) function.

    The T argument is the name of the target database file. The A argument is the name of the RBU database file. The S argument is the name of a "state database" used to store state information needed to resume the update after an interruption. The S argument can be NULL in which case the state information is stored in the RBU database in various tables whose names all begin with "rbu_".

    The sqlite3rbu_open(T,A,S) function returns a pointer to an "sqlite3rbu" object, which is then passed into the subsequent interfaces.

  2. Register any required virtual table modules with the database handle returned by sqlite3rbu_db(X) (where argument X is the sqlite3rbu pointer returned from sqlite3rbu_open()). Also, if required, register the rbu_delta() SQL function using sqlite3_create_function_v2().

  3. Invoke the sqlite3rbu_step(X) function one or more times on the sqlite3rbu object pointer X. Each call to sqlite3rbu_step() performs a single b-tree operation, so thousands of calls may be required to apply a complete update. The sqlite3rbu_step() interface will return SQLITE_DONE when the update has been completely applied.

  4. Call sqlite3rbu_close(X) to destroy the sqlite3rbu object pointer. If sqlite3rbu_step(X) has been called enough times to completely apply the update to the target database, then the RBU database is marked as fully applied. Otherwise, the state of the RBU update application is saved in the state database (or in the RBU database if the name of the state database file in sqlite3rbu_open() is NULL) for later resumption of the update.

If an update is only partially applied to the target database by the time sqlite3rbu_close() is called, state information is saved within the state database if it exists, or otherwise in the RBU database. This allows subsequent processes to automatically resume the RBU update from where it left off. If state information is stored in the RBU database, it can be removed by dropping all tables whose names begin with "rbu_".

For more details, refer to the comments in header file sqlite3rbu.h.

3. RBU Vacuum

3.1. RBU Vacuum Limitations

When compared with SQLite's built-in VACUUM command, RBU Vacuum has the following limitations:

3.2. RBU Vacuum C/C++ Programming

This section provides an overview of and example code demonstrating the integration of RBU Vacuum into an application program. For full details, refer to the comments in header file sqlite3rbu.h.

RBU Vacuum applications all implement some variation of the following procedure:

  1. An RBU handle is created by calling sqlite3rbu_vacuum(T, S).

    Argument T is the name of the database file to vacuum. Argument S is the name of a database in which the RBU module will save its state if the vacuum operation is suspended.

    If state database S does not exist when sqlite3rbu_vacuum() is invoked, it is automatically created and populated with the single table used to store the state of an RBU vacuum - "rbu_state". If an ongoing RBU vacuum is suspended, this table is populated with state data. The next time sqlite3rbu_vacuum() is called with the same S parameter, it detects this data and attempts to resume the suspended vacuum operation. When an RBU vacuum operation is completed or encounters an error, RBU automatically deletes the contents of the rbu_state table. In this case, the next call to sqlite3rbu_vacuum() starts an entirely new vacuum operation from scratch.

    It is a good idea to establish a convention for determining the RBU vacuum state database name based on the target database name. The example code below uses "<target>-vacuum", where <target> is the name of the database being vacuumed.

  2. Any custom collation sequences used by indexes within the database being vacuumed are registered with both of the database handles returned by the sqlite3rbu_db() function.

  3. Function sqlite3rbu_step() is called on the RBU handle until either the RBU vacuum is finished, an error occurs or the application wishes to suspend the RBU vacuum.

    Each call to sqlite3rbu_step() does a small amount of work towards completing the vacuum operation. Depending on the size of the database, a single vacuum may require thousands of calls to sqlite3rbu_step(). sqlite3rbu_step() returns SQLITE_DONE if the vacuum operation has finished, SQLITE_OK if the vacuum operation has not finished but no error has occurred, and an SQLite error code if an error is encountered. If an error does occur, all subsequent calls to sqlite3rbu_step() immediately return the same error code.

  4. Finally, sqlite3rbu_close() is called to close the RBU handle. If the application stopped calling sqlite3rbu_step() before either the vacuum finished or an error occurred, the state of the vacuum is saved in the state database so that it may be resumed later on.

    Like sqlite3rbu_step(), if the vacuum operation has finished, sqlite3rbu_close() returns SQLITE_DONE. If the vacuum has not finished but no error has occurred, SQLITE_OK is returned. Or, if an error has occurred, an SQLite error code is returned. If an error occurred as part of a prior call to sqlite3rbu_step(), sqlite3rbu_close() returns the same error code.

The following example code illustrates the techniques described above.

** Either start a new RBU vacuum or resume a suspended RBU vacuum on 
** database zTarget. Return when either an error occurs, the RBU 
** vacuum is finished or when the application signals an interrupt
** (code not shown).
** If the RBU vacuum is completed successfully, return SQLITE_DONE.
** If an error occurs, return SQLite error code. Or, if the application
** signals an interrupt, suspend the RBU vacuum operation so that it
** may be resumed by a subsequent call to this function and return
** This function uses the database named "<zTarget>-vacuum" for
** the state database, where <zTarget> is the name of the database 
** being vacuumed.
int do_rbu_vacuum(const char *zTarget){
  int rc;
  char *zState;                   /* Name of state database */
  sqlite3rbu *pRbu;               /* RBU vacuum handle */

  zState = sqlite3_mprintf("%s-vacuum", zTarget);
  if( zState==0 ) return SQLITE_NOMEM;
  pRbu = sqlite3rbu_vacuum(zTarget, zState);

  if( pRbu ){
    sqlite3 *dbTarget = sqlite3rbu_db(pRbu, 0);
    sqlite3 *dbState = sqlite3rbu_db(pRbu, 1);

    /* Any custom collation sequences used by the target database must
    ** be registered with both database handles here.  */

    while( sqlite3rbu_step(pRbu)==SQLITE_OK ){
      if( <application has signaled interrupt> ) break;
  rc = sqlite3rbu_close(pRbu);
  return rc;