SQLite With Swift Tutorial: Getting Started

In this SQLite with Swift tutorial, you’ll learn to use a SQLite database with Swift projects by creating tables and inserting, updating and deleting rows. By Adam Rush.

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Update note: Adam Rush updated this tutorial to Xcode 11, iOS 13 and Swift 5. Chris Wagner wrote the original.

In software development, it doesn’t take long before you need to persist app data. Often, this comes in the form of data structures. But how do you store those structures efficiently?

Fortunately, some great minds have developed solutions for storing structured data in databases and writing language features to access that data. SQLite is available by default on iOS.

In fact, if you’ve used Core Data before, you’ve already used SQLite. Core Data is just a layer on top of SQLite that provides a more convenient API.

In this SQLite with Swift tutorial, you’ll learn how to perform the following database operations:

  • Create and connect to a database.
  • Create a table.
  • Insert, update, and delete rows.
  • Query the database.
  • Handle SQLite errors.

After learning how to perform these fundamental operations, you’ll see how to wrap them in a Swift-like manner. This will let you write abstraction APIs for your apps and avoid working with the more complicated SQLite C APIs. :]

Finally, you’ll briefly learn about the popular open-source Swift wrapper SQLite.swift. This will give you a basic understanding of how underlying frameworks work within a wrapper.

Note: Databases like SQLite are massive topics to cover, and covering how to use them is out of scope for this tutorial. This tutorial assumes that you have a basic understanding of relational databases and that you’re primarily here to learn to use SQLite with Swift.

Getting Started

Start by using the Download Materials button at the top or bottom of this tutorial, then open SQLiteTutorial.xcworkspace from the starter folder. Next, open the Tutorial playground from the Project navigator.

Note: The project is in an Xcode workspace because it uses the SQLite3 dependency as an embedded binary. This binary contains all the functionality for the SQLite code you’ll write in this tutorial.

Long-click the Play button at the bottom and notice that your playground runs manually instead of automatically:

Manual Run drop-down menu

This means it will only execute when you explicitly invoke the execution by clicking the Play button.

You might also see a destroyPart1Database() call at the top of the page. You can safely ignore this since the database file self-destructs each time the playground runs. This ensures all statements execute successfully as you move through this SQLite with Swift tutorial.

Why Should You Choose SQLite?

SQLite isn’t the only way to persist data on iOS. Besides Core Data, there are many other alternatives for data persistence including Realm, Couchbase Lite, Firebase and NSCoding.

Each of these has its own pros and cons — including SQLite itself. There’s no silver bullet for data persistence. As the developer, it’s up to you to determine which option surpasses the others based on your app’s requirements.

SQLite has some advantages:

  • Shipped with iOS, it adds no overhead to your app’s bundle.
  • SQLite released version 1.0 in August 2000, so it’s tried and tested.
  • It’s well-maintained with frequent releases.
  • Open-source.
  • It uses a query language that’s familiar to database developers and administrators.
  • Cross-platform.

The cons of SQLite are subjective and opinionated, so that research is up to you! :]

Now that you’ve committed to finding out how SQLite works with Swift, it’s time to get to know some of the most basic SQLite APIs.


This part of the SQLite with Swift tutorial walks you through the most common SQLite APIs. Wrapping the C API in Swift methods is ideal, but work through the C code first. You’ll wrap your C code in the second part of this tutorial.

Opening a Connection

Before doing anything, create a database connection.

Add the following function in your playground:

func openDatabase() -> OpaquePointer? {
  var db: OpaquePointer?
  guard let part1DbPath = part1DbPath else {
    print("part1DbPath is nil.")
    return nil
  if sqlite3_open(part1DbPath, &db) == SQLITE_OK {
    print("Successfully opened connection to database at \(part1DbPath)")
    return db
  } else {
    print("Unable to open database.")

This function calls sqlite3_open(), which opens or creates a new database file. If it’s successful, it returns an OpaquePointer, which is a Swift type for C pointers. When you call this function, you’ll have to capture the returned pointer to interact with the database.

Many of the SQLite functions return an Int32 result code, which is usually a constant in the SQLite library. For example, SQLITE_OK represents the result code 0. Find a list of result codes on the official SQLite site.

Add the following to open the database:

let db = openDatabase()

Click the Play button to run the playground and watch the console output. If the console isn’t open, click the Show the Debug area button to the left of the Play button:

Showing the Debug area

If openDatabase() succeeds, you’ll see some output similar to that below:

Successfully opened connection to database at /Users/username/Library/Developer/XCPGDevices/A1EF655D-E318-4CDC-A35A-54349AFE1E62/data/Containers/Data/Application/43A00877-DF24-4E86-8682-22876DEEAFE4/Documents/Part1.sqlite

Creating a Table

Now that you have a connection to a database file, you can create a table. You’ll work with a very simple table to store contacts.

The table consists of two columns: Id, which is an INT and a PRIMARY KEY, and Name, which is a CHAR(255).

The table with ID and Name headers and filled-out rows

Add the following statement, which contains an SQL statement to create the table. Note you’re using Swift’s multi-line syntax:

let createTableString = """
Name CHAR(255));

Next, add this function:

func createTable() {
  // 1
  var createTableStatement: OpaquePointer?
  // 2
  if sqlite3_prepare_v2(db, createTableString, -1, &createTableStatement, nil) == 
      SQLITE_OK {
    // 3
    if sqlite3_step(createTableStatement) == SQLITE_DONE {
      print("\nContact table created.")
    } else {
      print("\nContact table is not created.")
  } else {
    print("\nCREATE TABLE statement is not prepared.")
  // 4

Going over this, step-by-step:

Next, you check the returned status code to ensure the statement compiled successfully. If so, the process moves to step 3. Otherwise, you print a message noting the statement didn’t compile.

  1. First, you create a pointer to reference in the next step.
  2. sqlite3_prepare_v2() compiles the SQL statement into byte code and returns a status code — an important step before executing arbitrary statements against your database.
  3. sqlite3_step() runs the compiled statement. In this case, you only step once because this statement has a single result. Later in this tutorial, you’ll see when it’s necessary to step multiple times for a single statement.
  4. You must always call sqlite3_finalize() on your compiled statement to delete it and avoid resource leaks. Once a statement finalizes, you should never use it again.
Note: If you want to learn more about what happened in step 2, check out the SQLite documentation about compiling an SQL statement.

Now, add the following function call:


Run your playground. You’ll see the following in your console output:

Contact table created.

Now that you have a table, it’s time to add some data to it. You’re going to add a single row with an Id of 1 and Name of Ray.