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<title>Isolation In SQLite</title>
<tcl>hd_keywords isolation</tcl>

<h1 align="center">
Isolation In SQLite
</h1>

<p>
The "isolation" property of a database determines when changes made to 
the database by one operation become visible to other concurrent operations.
</p>

<h2>Isolation Between Database Connections</h2>

<p>
If the same database is being read and written using two different
[database connections] (two different [sqlite3] objects returned by
separate calls to [sqlite3_open()]) and the two database connections
do not have a [shared cache], then the reader is only able to
see complete committed transactions from the writer.  Partial changes
by the writer that have not been committed are invisible to the reader.
This is true regardless of whether the two database connections are in
the same thread, in different threads of the same process, or in
different processes.  This
is the usual and expected behavior for SQL database systems.
</p>

<p>
The previous paragraph is also true (separate database connections are
isolated from one another) in [shared cache mode] as long as the
[read_uncommitted pragma] remains turned off.  The [read_uncommitted pragma]
is off by default and so if the application does nothing to turn it on, 
it will remain off.  Hence, unless the [read_uncommitted pragma] is used
to change the default behavior, changes made by one database connection
are invisible to readers on a different database connection sharing the
same cache until the writer commits its transaction.
</p>

<p>
If two database connections shared the same cache and the reader has 
enabled the [read_uncommitted pragma], then the reader will be able to
see changes made by the writer before the writer transaction commits.
The combined use of [shared cache mode] and the [read_uncommitted pragma] 
is the only way that one database connection can see uncommitted changes
on a different database connection.  In all other circumstances, separate
database connections are completely isolated from one another.
</p>

<p>Except in the case of [shared cache] database connections with
[PRAGMA read_uncommitted] turned on, all transactions in SQLite show
"serializable" isolation.  SQLite implements serializable transactions
by actually serializing the writes.  There can only be a single writer
at a time to an SQLite database.  There can be multiple database connections
open at the same time, and all of those database connections can write
to the database file, but they have to take turns.  SQLite uses locks
to serialization of the writes automatically; this is not something that
the applications using SQLite need to worry with.</p>


<h2>Isolation And Concurrency</h2>

<p>
SQLite implements isolation and concurrency control (and atomicity) using
transient
journal files that appear in the same directory in as the database file.
There are two major "journal modes".
The older "rollback mode" corresponds to using the "DELETE", "PERSIST",
or "TRUNCATE" options to the [journal_mode pragma].  In rollback mode,
changes are written directly into the database file, while simultaneously
a separate rollback journal file is constructed that is able to restore
the database to its original state if the transaction rolls back.
Rollback mode (specifically DELETE mode, meaning that the rollback journal
is deleted from disk at the conclusion of each transaction) is the current
default behavior.
</p>

<p>Since [version 3.7.0] ([dateof:3.7.0]), 
SQLite also supports "[WAL mode]".  In WAL mode,
changes are not written to the original database file.  Instead, changes
go into a separate "write-ahead log" or "WAL" file.  
Later, after the transaction
commits, those changes will be moved from the WAL file back into the
original database in an operation called "checkpoint".  WAL mode is
enabled by running "[PRAGMA journal_mode|PRAGMA journal_mode=WAL]".
</p>

<p>
In rollback mode, SQLite implements isolation by locking the database
file and preventing any reads by other database connections
while each write transaction is underway.
Readers can be be active at the beginning of a write, before any content
is flushed to disk and while all changes are still held in the writer's
private memory space.  But before any changes are made to the database file
on disk, all readers must be (temporally) expelled in order to give the writer
exclusive access to the database file.  
Hence, readers are prohibited from seeing incomplete
transactions by virtue of being locked out of the database while the
transaction is being written to disk.  Only after the transaction is
completely written and synced to disk and commits are the readers allowed
back into the database.  Hence readers never get a chance to see partially
written changes.
</p>

<p>
WAL mode permits simultaneous readers and writers.  It can do this because
changes do not overwrite the original database file, but rather go
into the separate write-ahead log file.  That means that readers can continue
to read the old, original, unaltered content from the original database file
at the same time that the writer is appending to the write-ahead log.
In [WAL mode], SQLite exhibits "snapshot isolation".  When a read transaction
starts, that reader continues to see an unchanging "snapshot" of the database
file as it existed at the moment in time when the read transaction started.
Any write transactions that commit while the read transaction is
active are still invisible to the read transaction, because the reader is
seeing a snapshot of database file from a prior moment in time.
</p>

<p>
An example:  Suppose there are two database connections X and Y.  X starts
a read transaction using [BEGIN] followed by one or more [SELECT] statements.
Then Y comes along and runs an [UPDATE] statement to modify the database.
X can subsequently do a [SELECT] against the records that Y modified but
X will see the older unmodified entries because Y's changes are all
invisible to X while X is holding a read transaction.  If X wants to see
the changes that Y made, then X must ends its read transaction and
start a new one (by running [COMMIT] followed by another [BEGIN].)
</p>

<p>
Another example: X starts a read transaction using [BEGIN] and [SELECT], then
Y makes a changes to the database using [UPDATE].  Then X tries to make a
change to the database using [UPDATE].  The attempt by X to escalate its
transaction from a read transaction to a write transaction fails with an
[SQLITE_BUSY_SNAPSHOT] error because the snapshot of the database being
viewed by X is no longer the latest version of the database.  If X were
allowed to write, it would fork the history of the database file, which is
something SQLite does not support.  In order for X to write to the database,
it must first release its snapshot (using [ROLLBACK] for example) then
start a new transaction with a subsequent [BEGIN].
</p>

<p>
If X starts a transaction that will initially only read but X knows it
will eventually want to write and does not want to be troubled with
possible SQLITE_BUSY_SNAPSHOT errors that arise because another connection
jumped ahead of it in line, then X can issue [BEGIN IMMEDIATE] to start
its transaction instead of just an ordinary BEGIN.  The [BEGIN IMMEDIATE]
command goes ahead and starts a write transaction, and thus blocks all
other writers.  If the [BEGIN IMMEDIATE] operation succeeds, then no
subsequent operations in that transaction will ever fail with an
[SQLITE_BUSY] error.
</p>

<h2>No Isolation Between Operations On The Same Database Connection</h2>

<p>SQLite provides isolation between operations in separate database
connections.  However, there is no isolation between operations that
occur within the same database connection.</p>

<p>In other words, if X begins a write transaction using [BEGIN IMMEDIATE]
then issues one or more [UPDATE], [DELETE], and/or [INSERT]
statements, then those changes are visible to subsequent [SELECT] statements
that are evaluated in database connection X.  [SELECT] statements on
a different  database connection Y will show no changes until the X
transaction commits.  But [SELECT] statements in X will show the changes
prior to the commit.</p>

<p>^Within a single database connection X, a SELECT statement always sees all
changes to the database that are completed prior to the start of the SELECT
statement, whether committed or uncommitted.  And the SELECT statement
obviously does not see any changes that occur after the SELECT statement
completes.  But what about changes that occur while the SELECT statement
is running?  What if a SELECT statement is started and the [sqlite3_step()]
interface steps through roughly half of its output, then some [UPDATE]
statements are run by the application that modify the table that the
SELECT statement is reading, then more calls to [sqlite3_step()] are made
to finish out the SELECT statement?  Will the later steps of the SELECT
statement see the changes made by the UPDATE or not?  The answer is that
this behavior is undefined.  In particular, whether or not the SELECT statement
sees the concurrent changes depends on which release of SQLite is
running, the schema of the database file, whether or not [ANALYZE] has
been run, and the details of the query.  In some cases, it might depend
on the content of the database file, too.  There is no good way to know whether
or not a SELECT statement will see changes that were made to the database
by the same database connection after the SELECT statement was started.
And hence, developers should diligently avoid writing applications
that make assumptions about what will occur in that circumstance.</p>

<p>
If an application issues a SELECT statement on a single table like
"<i>SELECT rowid, * FROM table WHERE ...</i>" and starts stepping through 
the output of that statement using [sqlite3_step()] and examining each
row, then it is safe for the application to delete the current row or
any prior row using "DELETE FROM table WHERE rowid=?".  It is also safe
(in the sense that it will not harm the database) for the application to
delete a row that expected to appear later in the query but has not
appeared yet.  If a future row is deleted, however, it might happen that
the row turns up after a subsequent sqlite3_step(), even after it has
allegedly been deleted.  Or it might not.  That behavior is undefined.
The application can 
also INSERT new rows into the table while the SELECT statement is 
running, but whether or not the new rows appear
in subsequent sqlite3_step()s of the query is undefined.  And the application
can UPDATE the current row or any prior row, though doing so might cause 
that row to reappear in a subsequent sqlite3_step().  As long as the 
application is prepared to deal with these ambiguities, the operations 
themselves are safe and will not harm the database file.</p>

<p>
For the purposes of the previous two paragraphs, two database connections
that have the same [shared cache] and which have enabled
[PRAGMA read_uncommitted] are considered to be the same database connection.
</p>

<h2>Summary</h2>

<ol>
<li><p>
Transactions in SQLite are SERIALIZABLE.
</p>

<li><p>
Changes made in one database connection are invisible to all other database
connections prior to commit.
</p>

<li><p>
A query sees all changes that are completed on the same database connection
prior to the start of the query, regardless of whether or not those changes
have been committed.
</p>

<li><p>
If changes occur on the same database connection after a query 
starts running but before the query completes, then it is undefined whether 
or not the query will see those changes.
</p>

<li><p>
If changes occur on the same database connection after a query 
starts running but before the query completes, then the query might return
a changed row more than once, or it might return a row that was previously
deleted.
</p>

<li><p>
For the purposes of the previous four items, two database connections that 
use the same [shared cache] and which enable [PRAGMA read_uncommitted] are
considered to be the same database connection, not separate database
connections.
</p>
</ol>