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17th June 2017 — Adrian Cochrane

Integrating SQLite

I like HTML and CSS. HTML’s syntax is specifically designed to make it easy to specify the typographic meaning of text to be communicated to users, and incorporating other resources into it. CSS meanwhile is specifically designed to specify how to communicate that typographic meaning. Compared to this JavaScript is a bit of a cope-out with it’s turing complete control flow taken straight from C. However SQL is not, and that’s why I have recently integrated it into Odysseus (for it’s own use) via SQLite.

SQL, like HTML and CSS, is a domain specific language. Specifically one for summarizing data saved to disk. For this purpose it’s a very elegant language — you specify the conditions to be satisfied by all returned data, and it figures out an efficient algorithm to answer that query. In SQLite these algorithms almost exclusively use BTrees, a very versatile datastructure which can function as a map, set, and/or ordered-list. Furthermore SQL databases abstract away procedures they use to ensure updatesare fully applied or not at all. All these features make it easy to summarise data using SQL without worrying about the step-by-step procedures involved, just as CSS makes it easy to express how to present a page without worrying about computing [the exact position of everything.

As a strong “domain-specific language1 SQL complements HTML and CSS very nicely, which could explain why it underlies almost every non-trivial website you care to mention. If anything SQL, HTML, and CSS makes it too easy to build websites because many developers seem to feel a need to overcomplicate things2. The only catch with using SQL this way is that there needs to be a way to incorporate SQL output into your HTML source code.

What brings this on?

I’ve recently finished integrating SQLite into Odysseus, and using that integration to better persist Odysseus’s state. Using SQLite for this purpose allows me to specify what data I want to persist without specifying the syntax that should be used to save it to disk, and with little effort to upgrade the structure of the saved data to allow for future features.

Furthermore SQLite aims for it’s database files to outlive the applications which writes it. For Odysseus this will mean that when I save bookmarks to SQLite, you’ll always be able to read it somehow.

So far I have been using SQLite as dumb storage, but I’m sure that won’t last. The main challenge in doing this has been to differentiate closing the application from closing tabs and windows.

Technical Details

The raw SQLite library is used over GDA, with a few simple utility functions. This ensures I can access the raw SQL syntax from both Vala and eventually Prosody.

To initialize the database a sequence of SQL statements need to be executed against the database as the application starts, but none of those statements should be rerun across different application runs. To prevent these statements from being rerun, it’s useful to store a schema version and check it before potentially rerunning a statement.

This was implemented in Odysseus by storing the schema version near the start of the file using PRAGMA user_version;. Then that’s fed as input into a Prosody template, who’s output is streamed into SQLite. This all happens first thing as Odysseus starts.

@ 2017-08-17 08:52:00 +1200

Talk Page for Integrating SQLite — Odysseus Development Blog