Should SQLite users be setting barrier=1?

Dan Kennedy danielk1977 at
Wed Jul 14 11:20:29 UTC 2010

On Jul 14, 2010, at 3:35 PM, Ted Ts'o wrote:

> On Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 11:56:24PM +0700, Dan Kennedy wrote:
>> Richard put a paragraph with a link to your answer in
>> our documentation here:
>> Please let us know if this misrepresents the situation.
>> Or if there is something else we should add to clarify
>> it.
> Something else that might be useful to put in the FAQ is some
> suggestions to application programmers about methods to get no more
> than the safety needed for their application.  For example, firefox's
> "awesome bar" (myself, I don't think it's so awesome) at one point was
> doing an SQL COMMIT after every single time a user visited a page
> (either by clicking on a link or entering a URL in the "awesome bar").
> Worse yet, they were doing this in the main UI loop of their
> application.  Not only was this a performance disaster, if you had an
> SSD it was doing you no favors, the firefox/SQLite combination was
> also doing a third of a megabyte of disk writes for every single page
> that you visited.
> Did they really need that level of safety?  Probably not.  It probably
> would have been better if they had used a memory-only SQLite database
> for immediate history, and then every 50 pages or so, in a background
> thread, contents of the in-memory SQLite database could be flushed to
> the disk-resident SQLite database.  After all, if someone exits a 3D
> game and their crappy proprietary ATI or Nvidia driver crashes their
> laptop, remember the last or 10 pages they web browser history might
> not be the most important thing in the world....

Hi Ted,

Good points. Thanks.

Recent versions of Firefox are doing pretty much as you suggest. One
of the problems is that applications have to jump through some
fairly involved hoops to get SQLite to do this. Usually, if an app
needs to commit data to an SQLite database (so that other SQL
applications can see it), you have two choices: (a) update the database
safely, with all the fsync() calls that involves, or (b) omit the
fsync() calls, and risk corrupting entire database tables if an
inopportune power failure occurs.

Folks who didn't care so much about the last 10 seconds of data
were balking at the idea of corrupting an entire history log.

The upcoming 3.7.0 has a new mode that allows applications to safely
write data to databases without calling fsync() so that other
applications can read it. If a power failure occurs after data is
written in this mode, you only risk losing the new unsynced data.
Hopefully people can start to use this to reduce the number of
fsync() calls made to sync non-critical data.

Off the top of your head is there anything else related to ext2 or
ext4 mount options that we could mention on webpage? Or anything
else that we should be emphasizing to do with ext3?

Quite a few SQLite users like to run these power-failure/hard-reset
tests to see if they can manage to corrupt an SQLite database file.
The SQLite code assumes that:

   * once an fsync() call has returned, all previous writes to the
     file have made it all the way to the persistent media and are
     safe even if a power failure occurs, and that

   * if a power failure occurs before an fsync() call has returned
     successfully, any blocks written to since the previous fsync()
     may contain the new data, the old data or garbage data following
     system recovery. i.e. they cannot be trusted when reconstructing
     the database.

in other words, we want an fsync() that behaves the way one who
knows nothing about hardware might optimistically assume it behaves. :)

Assuming they are using regular disks with volatile write-caches,
how should we tell people to configure ext3 to get as close as
possible to this ideal? Do they have to use any particular "data="

With ext2, is the only option to disable the disks write-cache, or
is there an equivalent to the barrier=1 parameter?

Thanks very much,

> So putting in some text to help application programmers think about
> performance issues as well as robustness issues, and creative ways of
> trading off between them, I think would be a good idea.  It's a rare
> application programmer these days who think at the XML and HTML and
> Java/Python level, and then understand what SQLite is doing, and then
> understand the implications at the level of the kernel, the hard disk,
> SSD, write wear issues, and barriers.
> Thanks, regards,
> 						- Ted

More information about the Ext3-users mailing list