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Swarmvtab Virtual Table

1. Overview

The "swarmvtab" virtual table allows the user to query a large number of tables (hereafter "component" tables) with similar schemas but distinct ranges of rowid values as if they were a single database table. The tables may be (and usually are) located in different databases. Swarmvtab tables are read-only.

Component tables must not be declared WITHOUT ROWID, and must all have the same schema, but may have different names within their databases. In this context, "the same schema" means that:

A swarmvtab table has the same schema as each of its component tables.

A swarmvtab virtual table is created as follows:

CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE temp.<name> USING swarmvtab(<sql-statement>);

Swarmvtab virtual tables must be created in the temp schema. Attempting to create a swarmvtab in the main or an attached database is an error.

The SQL statement supplied as the argument to the CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE statement is executed when the table is created. It must return either four or five columns. Each row returned describes one of the component tables. The first four columns are interpreted, from first to last, as:

The interpretation of the final column, if it is present, is described here.

For example, say the SQL statement returns the following data when executed:

Database URITable nameMinimum rowidMaximum rowid
test.db1 t1 0 10
test.db2 t2 11 20
test.db3 t1 21 30
test.db4 t1 31 40

and the user queries the swarmvtab table for the row with rowid value 25. The swarmvtab table will open database file "test.db3" and read the data to return from table "t1" (as 25 falls within the range of rowids assigned to table "t1" in "test.db3").

Swarmvtab efficiently handles range and equality constraints on the rowid (or other INTEGER PRIMARY KEY) field only. If a query does not contain such a constraint, then swarmvtab finds the results by opening each database in turn and linearly scanning the component table. Which generates a correct result, but is often slow.

There must be no overlapping rowid ranges in the rows returned by the SQL statement. It is an error if there are.

The swarmvtab implementation may open or close databases at any point. By default, it attempts to limit the maximum number of simultaneously open database files to nine. This is not a hard limit - it is possible to construct a scenario that will cause swarmvtab to exceed it.

2. Compiling and Using Swarmvtab

The code for the swarmvtab virtual table is found in the ext/misc/unionvtab.c file of the main SQLite source tree. It may be compiled into an SQLite loadable extension using a command like:

gcc -g -fPIC -shared unionvtab.c -o

Alternatively, the unionvtab.c file may be compiled into the application. In this case, the following function should be invoked to register the extension with each new database connection:

int sqlite3_unionvtab_init(sqlite3 *db, void*, void*);

The first argument passed should be the database handle to register the extension with. The second and third arguments should both be passed 0.

The source file and entry point are named for "unionvtab" instead of "swarmvtab". Unionvtab is a separately documented virtual table that is bundled with swarmvtab.

3. Advanced Usage

Most users of swarmvtab will only use the features described above. This section describes features designed for more esoteric use cases. These features all involve specifying extra optional parameters following the SQL statement as part of the CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE command. An optional parameter is specified using its name, followed by an "=" character, followed by an optionally quoted value. Whitespace may separate the name, "=" character and value. For example:

  'SELECT ...',                -- the SELECT statement
  maxopen = 20,                -- An optional parameter
  missing='missing_udf'        -- Another optional parameter

The following sections describe the supported parameters. Specifying an unrecognized parameter name is an error.

3.1. SQL Parameters

If a parameter name begins with a ":", then it is assumed to be a value to bind to the SQL statement before executing it. The value is always bound as text. It is an error if the specified SQL parameter does not exist. For example:

CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE temp.x1 USING swarmvtab (
  "SELECT :dir || local_filename, tbl, min, max FROM components",
  :dir = '/home/user/app/databases/'

When the above CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE statement is executed, swarmvtab binds the text value "/home/user/app/databases/" to the :dir parameter of the SQL statement before executing it.

A single CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE statement may contain any number of SQL parameters.

3.2. The "maxopen" Parameter

By default, swarmvtab attempts to limit the number of simultaneously open databases to nine. This parameter allows that limit to be changed. For example, to create a swarmvtab table that may hold up to 30 databases open simultaneously:

CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE temp.x1 USING swarmvtab (
  "SELECT ...",

Raising the number of open databases may improve performance in some scenarios.

3.3. The "openclose" Callback

The "openclose" parameter allows the user to specify the name of a application-defined SQL function that will be invoked just before swarmvtab opens a database, and again just after it closes one. The first argument passed to the open close function is the filename or URI identifying the database to be opened or just recently closed (the same value returned in the leftmost column of the SQL statement provided to the CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE command). The second argument is integer value 0 when the function is invoked before opening a database, and 1 when it is invoked after one is closed. For example, if:

CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE temp.x1 USING swarmvtab (
  "SELECT ...",
  openclose = 'openclose_udf'

then before each database containing a component table is opened, swarmvtab effectively executes:

SELECT openclose_udf(<database-name>, 0);

After a database is closed, swarmvtab runs the equivalent of:

SELECT openclose_udf(<database-name>, 1);

Any value returned by the openclose function is ignored. If an invocation made before opening a database returns an error, then the database file is not opened and the error returned to the user. This is the only scenario in which swarmvtab will issue an "open" invocation without also eventually issuing a corresponding "close" call. If there are still databases open, "close" calls may be issued from within the eventual sqlite3_close() call on the applications database that deletes the temp schema in which the swarmvtab table resides.

Errors returned by "close" invocations are always ignored.

3.4. The "missing" Callback

The "missing" parameter allows the user to specify the name of a application-defined SQL function that will be invoked just before swarmvtab opens a database if it finds that the required database file is not present on disk. This provides the application with an opportunity to retrieve the required database from a remote source before swarmvtab attempts to open it. The only argument passed to the "missing" function is the name or URI that identifies the database being opened. Assuming:

CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE temp.x1 USING swarmvtab (
  "SELECT ...",
  openclose = 'openclose_udf',

then the missing function is invoked as follows:

SELECT missing_udf(<database-name>);

If the missing function returns an error, then the database is not opened and the error returned to the user. If an openclose function is configured, then a "close" invocation is issued at this point to match the earlier "open". The following pseudo-code illustrates the procedure used by a swarmvtab instance with both missing and openclose functions configured when a component database is opened.

SELECT openclose_udf(<database-name>, 0);
if( error ) return error;
if( db does not exist ){
  SELECT missing_udf(<database-name>);
  if( error ){
    SELECT openclose_udf(<database-name>, 1);
    return error;
if( error ){
  SELECT openclose_udf(<database-name>, 1);
  return error;
// db successfully opened!

3.5. Component table "context" values

If the SELECT statement specified as part of the CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE command returns five columns, then the final column is used for application context only. Swarmvtab does not use this value at all, except that it is passed after <database-name> to both the openclose and missing functions, if specified. In other words, instead of invoking the functions as described above, if the "context" column is present swarmvtab instead invokes:

SELECT missing_udf(<database-name>, <context>);
SELECT openclose_udf(<database-name>, <context>, 0);
SELECT openclose_udf(<database-name>, <context>, 1);

as required.