1. About
  2. Installing SQLite3
    1. Manual Installation (portable)
    2. Automatic installation
      1. macOS
      2. Linux (debian-based distros such as Ubuntu and derivatives)
  3. Installing the Graphical User Interface
    1. MacOS
    2. Linux
  4. Starting SQLite
    1. In a FEUP machine
    2. In your own computer
  5. Useful commands
  6. Creating your first database
    1. Executing SQL statements
    2. Reading from a file
  7. Saving to a file
  8. Keeping the Database state in a file
  9. Pragma Statements
    1. Syntax
    2. PRAGMA foreign_keys
  10. References and Tutorials
    1. Miscellaneous scripts


SQLite is a lightweight Database Management System (DBMS) which allows its users to implement a relational schema and run SQL queries over it, without the need for a standalone database server. This is convenient because the setup is minimal and the database can be easily bundled with application files.

SQlite is portable, which means that you can install it on any computer, even when you do not have Administration privileges. It is also quite interesting for mobile development in platforms such as Android or iOS.

SQLite implements ACID (Atomic, Consistent, Isolated, and Durable) transactions. This makes it possible to rollback all changes made during transactions in the event of a system crash or power loss.

SQLite does not, however, implement the SQL Standard.

For our classes we will be using SQLite3.

Installing SQLite3

All FEUP computers have sqlite3 already installed, so you should not need to carry out this step in those machines. If you want to install it in your personal laptop for home work or study, read on.

Manual Installation (portable)

  1. Download the precompiled binaries for sqlite-tools from the website and unzip them to a folder in your computer. Please choose the appropriate file depending on your operating system (Windows, Linux or macOS).
    • For Windows, I recommend you unzip the download into C:\sqlite3. For other OS’s you should use your home folder, like ~/sqlite3.
  2. Navigate to the folder where you extracted your download
  3. You should see 3 files:

SQLite Files

Automatic installation


  1. Install HomeBrew
  2. Open Terminal
  3. Type brew install sqlite3 and press Enter.

Linux (debian-based distros such as Ubuntu and derivatives)

  1. Open Terminal emulator
  2. Type sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install sqlite3 and press Enter.

Installing the Graphical User Interface

We will also be using a GUI (Graphical User Interface) to manipulate our SQLite databases. SQLiteStudio is free and runs on every Operating System. Detailed installation instructions for Windows, Mac and Linux are available here.



For macOS you can use homebrew. Just run the following command: brew cask install sqlitestudio.


For Linux, unzip the installer in the downloads page. Open the Terminal, cd to the Downloads folder and make the installer executable by running the command chmod +x ./InstallSQLiteStudio-3.2.1. Then run it: ./InstallSQLiteStudio-3.2.1. The installer should start up.

Starting SQLite

In a FEUP machine

  1. Press the Windows Key + R. A small window will pop up.
  2. Type cmd.exe and press Enter.
  3. A command line window will pop up.
  4. Type sqlite3 and press Enter.
  5. You will now be in the SQLite3 command line.

SQLite Open

In your own computer

To create a database you must first navigate to the folder where sqlite3 is installed. Assuming that you unzipped the downloaded files to C:\sqlite as previously explained, do this:

  1. Press the Windows Key + R. A small window will pop up.
  2. Type cmd.exe and press Enter.
  3. A command line window will pop up.
  4. Type C:
  5. Type cd C:\sqlite3
  6. Type sqlite3.exe and press Enter.
  7. You will now be in the SQLite3 command line.

Useful commands

Command Description
.databases List names and files of attached databases
.dump Dump the database or a specific table in an SQL text format
.exit / .quit Exit the SQLite shell
.headers Turn display of headers on or off, when displaying output of SQL
.help Show available commands
.import Import data from a file into a table
.mode Set output mode
.open Open a database from a file
.output Redirect the output to a file
.read Execute SQL statements from a file
.save Write in-memory database into a file
.schema Show the CREATE statements used for the whole database or for a specific table
.show Show current values for various settings
.show List names of tables

Creating your first database

When you first run sqlite3, any changes will be saved in memory only. This means that if you close the window, all changes will be lost.

SQLite Transient Database

You can see the list of all commands by typing .help:

SQLite Help

Executing SQL statements

There are two main ways of running SQL in the prompt; the first is to write code directly, the other is to create a .sql file and read it in the prompt.

Here is a piece of code to get you started:

--will present the results in a neat organized table, but will take more horizontal space. Default mode is 'list', which is more compact but harder to read
.mode columns
--shows headers at the top of the columns when running queries
.headers on 
-- delete table T if it exists (good for testing purposes)
drop table if exists T;
--create table T
create table T (A text, B text);
-- Insert Hello World into table T
insert into T values ('Hello,', 'world!');
-- Get all rows of table T
select * from T;

You should see this result:

SQLite Hello World

Reading from a file

Another, more powerful way is to save the sequence of commands and statements in a text file (say, “helloworld.sql”), thus creating a script that you can run via .read. This works as long as you have the sql file in the same folder as you are running sqlite3:

.read helloworld.sql

SQLite Read Command Result

Saving to a file

In any case, you can later save the SQL statements that you’ve used both to create the database (CREATE TABLE statements) and to populate its tables (INSERT INTO statements). For that, you can use the .schema (for the schema creation statements only) or the .dump` (for both creation and insertion statements) commands:


SQLite Dump Command Result


SQLite Dump Command Result

If you want to save these statements into a file you can later read from (using the .read command as shown above), all you need to do is to use the .output command to redirect any output to a file:

.output helloworld.sql

The contents of the “helloworld.sql” file should be the statements listed above.

Keeping the Database state in a file

The state of the database can be maintained persistently in a file, avoiding the need to store SQL statements that can be later read (using .read as shown above). In order to do that, you simply need to add an argument to the sqlite3 application: the name of the database to use.

sqlite hw.db

If the file provided as an argument to sqlite3 does not exist, SQLite will create it automatically. Any changes made in the database are persistently stored in that file, without the need for specific save commands (such as .dump). The following example illustrates the creation and use of a persistent database:

SQLite Persisted Database

An alternative to using the database file name as an argument to sqlite3 is to use the .open command within SQLite. This still ensures that any changes to the database are automatically stored in the persistent file. Similarly, if no file was provided as an argument to sqlite3 you can use the .save command to save the database to a file. Notice however that this does not trigger automatic saves of any additional changes that are made in the database.

Pragma Statements

The PRAGMA statement is an SQL extension specific to SQLite and used to modify the operation of the SQLite library or to query the SQLite library for internal (non-table) data.


A PRAGMA statement is formed by the keyword PRAGMA followed by the actual “pragma” that is being defined. A pragma has a name and can take one argument. The argument may be in parentheses or separated from the pragma name by an equal sign. The two syntaxes yield identical results. In many pragmas, the argument is a Boolean and can be one of: 1/yes/true/on; 0/no/false/off.

PRAGMA foreign_keys

This is a very important pragma, as it may be used to set the enforcement of foreign key constraints.

Consider the following SQL statements, which violate a foreign key constraint:

create table T1 (
create table T2 (

insert into T2 values (111);
insert into T2 values (222);
insert into T1 values (1,111);
insert into T1 values (2,333);

Since in the current version of SQLite foreign key constraint enforcement is disabled by default, loading these statements from a file, say fk.sql, does not raise any error:

SQLite Disabled Foreign Key Result

If we turn on foreign key constraint enforcement, we get an error detecting the constraint violation:

SQLite Enabled Foreign Key Result

References and Tutorials

Miscellaneous scripts

Running all .sql files in the current directory (only Mac or Linux):

for i in $(ls *.sql); do echo $i; cat $i | sqlite3; done