Compiling SQLite for use with Python Applications

The upcoming SQLite 3.25.0 release adds support for one of my favorite SQL language features: window functions. Over the past few years SQLite has released many changes to improve the efficiency of the query planner and virtual machine, plus many extension modules which can provide additional functionality. For example:

Unfortunately, many distributions and operating systems include very old versions of SQLite. When they do include a newer release, typically many of these additional modules are not compiled and are therefore unavailable for use in your Python applications.

In this post I'll walk through obtaining the latest version of SQLite's source code and how to compile it so it includes these exciting features. We'll be doing all of this with the goal of being able to use these features in our Python applications, so we'll also be discussing how to integrate Python with our custom SQLite library.

Determining which features we want to enable

Some features, like window functions are enabled by default. Others, like full-text search and JSON, need to be enabled at compile-time. You can view the full list of SQLite compile-time options but for simplicity I'll provide a list that should be a good starting point:

These options give a good mix of features and performance.

Getting the latest SQLite

To get started with this feature, we'll need to have the latest version of SQLite installed. We can pull down the source code and compile it directly from SQLite's version control:

$ wget
$ tar xzf sqlite.tar.gz
$ cd sqlite/

At this point we now have a directory containing the most up-to-date SQLite source code. Now we should decide how we want to compile this. I'll present two options:

  1. System-wide install, replacing the system SQLite. Python's sqlite3 module will then use this new libsqlite3 that we compile and we're all set.
  2. Installation into a virtualenv, which is accomplished by compiling a standalone Python sqlite3 driver and statically-linking the latest SQLite code.

If you're not sure, go with option two.

System-wide install

Installing SQLite system-wide will allow all your Python projects to utilize the latest SQLite, since the standard library sqlite3 module typically links against the system SQLite. Installing the latest SQLite system-wide is pretty straightforward. We'll be using the compile-time options described above.

    -O2 \
$ export PREFIX="/usr/local"
$ LIBS="-lm" ./configure --disable-tcl --enable-shared --enable-tempstore=always --prefix="$PREFIX"
$ make
$ sudo make install  # Install system-wide.

We can verify that our Python sqlite3 driver is using the new version by running the following:

>>> import sqlite3
>>> sqlite3.sqlite_version

Standalone install to virtual environment

Rather than overwrite our system libsqlite3, we can create a virtual environment with a completely self-contained, statically-linked Python SQLite driver. We'll use pysqlite3, which is essentially the standard library sqlite3 packaged as a standalone library.

To build a standalone pysqlite3, we'll need to create an amalgamation of the SQLite source code. This simply means we need to produce a single C source file that contains all the relevant SQLite code, and it's associated header file. The SQLite Makefile provides a target for just that, so it's quite easy to do:

$ ./configure  # Run the configure script in the SQLite source directory.
$ make sqlite3.c  # Generate source amalgamation and header file.

Now we'll leave that for a moment and go set-up our virtual environment for our Python project. We'll use Python 3.6 and create a virtualenv named "sqlite325":

$ virtualenv -p /usr/bin/python3.6 sqlite325  # Create virtualenv for testing.
$ cd sqlite325 && source bin/activate  # Activate the virtualenv.

We have our virtualenv set up, so we'll now obtain a copy of the pysqlite3 source code so we can build the pysqlite3 module and compile it with the latest SQLite source code.

The following steps should be done with the virtualenv activated:

$ git clone
$ cd pysqlite3
$ cp /path/to/sqlite/sqlite3.[ch] .  # Copy source and header into dir.
$ python build_static  # Compile self-contained C extension.
$ python install  # Install into virtualenv.

Congratulations! You now have a virtualenv with a self-contained pysqlite3. We can test the installation and verify that our SQLite driver is using the latest version of SQLite:

>>> from pysqlite3 import dbapi2 as sqlite3  # Just like "import sqlite3".
>>> sqlite3.sqlite_version

Quick note on LSM1

If you're curious about the LSM1 extension and how to use that in your project, check out my post LSM Key-Value Storage in SQLite3, which contains additional, brief, instructions for compiling the lsm1 extension as a loadable module and then using it from Python.

Thanks for reading

I hope you found this post helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions about compiling SQLite or run into problems with the instructions.

Further reading:

Comments (3)

Karl Bartel | jul 18 2018, at 10:27am

Thanks, works great, now! I've put my results at , that I can pip install a full featured pysqlite3 whenever I need it.

Charles | jul 15 2018, at 12:34pm

You need python 3.6.

Karl Bartel | jul 15 2018, at 12:19pm

Great post! I've been looking for a good way to get a recent, featureful pysqlite for a while. Unfortunately, the final result for option two does not work for me, yet. Do you have any idea what might cause the following error?

Python 3.5.3 (default, Jan 19 2017, 14:11:04) 
[GCC 6.3.0 20170118] on linux
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> from pysqlite3 import dbapi2 as sqlite3
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
  File "/home/karl/gdrive/code/sqlite/sqlite325/lib/python3.5/site-packages/pysqlite3-0.2.0-py3.5-linux-x86_64.egg/pysqlite3/", line 23, in <module>
    from pysqlite3.dbapi2 import *
  File "/home/karl/gdrive/code/sqlite/sqlite325/lib/python3.5/site-packages/pysqlite3-0.2.0-py3.5-linux-x86_64.egg/pysqlite3/", line 28, in <module>
    from pysqlite3._sqlite3 import *
ImportError: /home/karl/gdrive/code/sqlite/sqlite325/lib/python3.5/site-packages/pysqlite3-0.2.0-py3.5-linux-x86_64.egg/pysqlite3/ undefined symbol: _PyObject_CallNoArg

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