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Invalid UTF Policy

1. Garbage In, Garbage Out

With regard to invalid UTF, SQLite follows a policy of Garbage-In, Garbage-Out (GIGO). If you insert invalid UTF into an SQLite database, then try to query that data, what you get back out might not be exactly what you put in. If you put garbage in, then you may not complain if you get different garbage back out.

For the purposes of this discussion, "invalid UTF" can mean any of the following circumstances:

1.1. Invalid UTF will never cause memory errors

If you insert invalid UTF into an SQLite database, then SQLite makes no guarantees about what text you might get back out. But it does promise that invalid UTF will never cause memory errors (array overruns, reads or writes of uninitialized memory, etc), at least for the built-in processing of SQLite. In other words, invalid UTF will not cause SQLite to crash.

This promise only applies to the core SQLite components, not application-provided extensions, of course. If an application adds new application-defined SQL functions or virtual tables or collating sequences or other extensions, and a database contains invalid UTF, then invalid UTF might get passed into those extensions. If the invalid UTF causes one of those extensions to crash, then that is a problem with the extension, not with SQLite.

2. No enforcement of text formatting rules

SQLite does not try to enforce UTF formatting rules. You can insert invalid UTF into a TEXT field and SQLite will not complain about this. It stores the invalid TEXT as best it can. SQLite sees its role in the world as a storage engine, not a text format validation engine.

3. Best effort to preserve text

SQLite does not promise to always preserve invalid UTF, but it does make an effort. Generally speaking, if you insert invalid UTF into SQLite, you will get the exact same byte sequence back out, as long as you do not ask SQLite to transform the text in any way.

For example, if you insert some UTF-16LE with invalid surrogates into a TEXT column of a table of a database that has PRAGMA encoding=UTF16LE, then later query that column using sqlite3_column_text16(), you will probably get back the same exact invalid UTF-16. But if you insert the same invalid UTF-16LE content in a PRAGMA encoding=UTF8 database, the content must be converted into UTF8 when it is stored, which could cause irreversible changes to the content. Or if you insert that same invalid UTF-16LE content into a PRAGMA encoding=UTF16LE database but then read it out using sqlite3_column_text(), then a UTF16 to UTF8 conversion must occur during the read-out and that conversion might introduce irreversible changes.

Or, suppose you are doing everything using UTF-8 (the most common case). Invalid UTF-8 will normally pass through the database without any change in its byte sequence. However, if you try to transform the invalid UTF-8 with SQL function like substr() or replace() or if you try to do string matching with the LIKE operator, then you might get unexpected results.

So, in other words, SQLite does not actively try to subvert your invalid text. But when you ask SQLite to make transformations of invalid UTF, there are no guarantees that those transformations will be reversible or even sensible.