Note to self

by Janne Hellsten on January 4, 2013

Note to self: Don’t use SQLite3 from multiple Haskell threads – at least not with sqlite-simple.

I recently implemented a To-Do app (the “Hello World” of web apps) using AngularJS on the frontend and Snap on the backend. If you haven’t heard about AngularJS, I highly recommend you to check it out – it’s got a very clean approach to developing modern single-page web apps.

In my app, the Snap-based server was used mainly for authentication and persistence. The rest of the app runs client-side in JavaScript and talks to the server over a simple REST API. Getting all this up and running was surprisingly easy.

Anyhow.. Turns out it’s easy to write an AngularJS app that sends a lot of concurrent requests to the server, even in the single user case. As an example, you can iterate through a list of todo-items in JavaScript, persisting each item with a call to item.$save():

    $scope.archive = function() {
        var oldTodos = $scope.todos;
        $scope.todos = [];
        angular.forEach(oldTodos, function(todo) {
            if (!todo.done)


Each $save() triggers an AJAX call and the server will see these as multiple concurrent requests.

Unfortunately though, I started seeing lot of SQLITE_BUSY errors on the server side with this usage. Turns out accessing a single SQLite3 database from multiple threads, each with its own connection is not as simple as I thought. If you’re in the middle of reading rows from a SELECT and you issue an INSERT from another connection, the INSERT will fail with an SQLITE_BUSY error. Here’s Haskell code that reproduces this problem:

{-# LANGUAGE OverloadedStrings #-}

module Direct (
  ) where

import Control.Monad
import Database.SQLite3.Direct

directSqliteTest :: IO ()
directSqliteTest = do
  Right conn1 <- open "test.db"
  Right conn2 <- open "test.db"

  exec conn1 "INSERT INTO a (text) VALUES ('foo')"
  exec conn1 "INSERT INTO a (text) VALUES ('foo')"

  Right (Just sr) <- prepare conn1 "SELECT * from a"
  a <- step sr
  a <- step sr
  print a
  x <- exec conn2 "INSERT INTO a (text) VALUES ('foo')"
  -- ^^ SQLITE_BUSY is triggered
  finalize sr
  print x

  void $ close conn1
  void $ close conn2

The above code will print:

$ ./dist/build/sqlite-test/sqlite-test
Right Row
Right Row
Left (ErrorBusy,Utf8 "database is locked")

As snaplet-sqlite-simple does connection pooling, the above pattern is very likely to happen. The SQLite snaplet maintains a connection pool which is used to service connections to request handlers. Concurrent requests will each be handed their own connection instead of using a single shared connection. A request can be in the middle of reading database rows from the while another request tries to write to the database using another connection, and boom, the above SQLITE_BUSY scenario triggers.

As a quick band-aid fix, I changed snaplet-sqlite-simple to not use a connection pool but instead allocate a single database handle on init and servicing the same handle sequentially to anyone that asks (commit 3957f722). For extra safety, I also stuck the connection inside an MVar so that all SQLite operations get serialized within the Snap application.

Hopefully I’ll be able to switch to a more concurrent model in the future, but at least the current v0.4.0 release works without SQLITE_BUSY errors.