isqlite: An improved Python interface to SQLite

Ian Fisher, 24 October 2021

In last week's post, I wrote about how to use SQLite effectively in Python. Since I use SQLite and Python in many of my personal projects, I wrote my own library that wraps Python's sqlite3 module with a better API, support for schema migrations like in Django, and a command-line interface. I call it isqlite.

Better Python API

Python's standard sqlite3 module was designed to be compliant with the DB-API 2.0 standard described in PEP 249. DB-API 2.0 is conservative in the operations it requires modules to implement. In particular, the API provides no help in constructing specific SQL statements, instead only exposing execute and executemany methods and requiring the library user to write all the SQL themselves.

I find SQL syntax difficult to remember, especially since SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE queries are all structured differently, so isqlite provides methods for common SQL operations:

with Database(":memory:") as db:
    # Create a new employee.
    db.insert("employees", {"name": "John Doe", "title": "Software Engineer"})

    # Fetch all managers.
    managers ="employees", where="title = 'Manager'")
    # Return value is a list of OrderedDict objects.

    # Set a holiday bonus for all employees with a certain tenure.
      {"holiday_bonus": 500},
      where="tenure >= :tenure",
      values={"tenure": MINIMUM_TENURE_FOR_BONUS},

Instead of requiring you to call fetchone or fetchall to get the results of your queries, isqlite returns the rows directly, as OrderedDict objects instead of tuples to make them easier to use.

isqlite also has helper methods for common patterns (get_by_pk, insert_and_get, get_or_insert) and can automatically and efficiently fetch related rows using the get_related parameter:

book = db.get_by_pk("books", 123, get_related=["author"])
# Full author row has been fetched and embedded in the book object.

If you need to drop into raw SQL, you can easily do so with the Database.sql method, which is a thin wrapper around sqlite3.execute.

Schema migrations

Where isqlite really shines is in its support for schema migrations. isqlite can take a schema written in Python, e.g.

from isqlite import Schema, Table, columns

SCHEMA = Schema(
        columns.text("country", required=False),
        columns.foreign_key("author", foreign_table="authors"),

...diff the Python schema against the actual database schema, and run the SQL commands to make the two match. Migrating your database to a new schema is as easy as running isqlite migrate path/to/db path/to/ and confirming the list of changes to be made. isqlite is able to detect renaming of columns and tables and reordering of columns within a table as well as adding and dropping columns.

There are a few reasons to write the schema in Python:

If you prefer, you can manually make schema alterations on the command-line with commands like isqlite add-column and isqlite drop-table. This does not require a Python schema.

Odds and ends

As mentioned in my previous post on SQLite, SQLite disables foreign-key constraint enforcement by default. isqlite turns it back on.

isqlite handles SQL transactions in a straightforward manner. If you connect to the database in a with statement, a transaction is automatically opened and persists for the length of the with statement. The transaction will be committed at the end or rolled back if an exception occurred.

If you need more finely-grained control of transactions, you can use Database.transaction as a context manager:

with Database(":memory:", transaction=False) as db:
    with db.transaction():

    with db.transaction():

isqlite turns on converters so that SQL values are mapped to corresponding Python values where possible, and registers a few useful converters and adapters of its own for datetime.time and decimal.Decimal values.


isqlite is designed as a replacement for the built-in sqlite3 module, not for a full-fledged ORM like SQLAlchemy. isqlite does not and will never support any database engine other than SQLite, which makes it less than suitable for, e.g., a realistic web application. However, it is a good fit for applications that use SQLite as a file format, for hobby projects that will never need a client-server database engine like Postgres, and for ad hoc database operations on the command-line.

If you'd like to try isqlite out for yourself, you can install it with pip:

$ pip3 install isqlite

Comprehensive documentation is available online at, and bug reports and feature requests can be filed at ∎

Disclaimer: I occasionally make corrections and changes to posts after I publish them. You can view the full history of this post on GitHub.