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Learning about the SQLite Command Line Interface.

SQLite provides a Command Line Interface (CLI) program named sqlite3. And it’s already installed on most operating systems.

Basic usage

The CLI can be run with or without command line options (flags).

When a flag is provided, it must be prefixed with - or --. For example, -version and --version do the same thing:

sqlite3 -version

When sqlite3 is run without flags, it will connect to a temporary in-memory database (which will be deleted on exit) in interactive mode:

SQLite version 3.37.0 2021-12-09 01:34:53
Enter ".help" for usage hints.
Connected to a transient in-memory database.
Use ".open FILENAME" to reopen on a persistent database.

When in interactive mode, the prompt is sqlite> and it reads text input from the keyboard:

  • SQL statements.
  • Dot commands like .open (where some dot commands also accept flags).

But it’s also possible to redirect sqlite3 I/O (input/output) to:


To see how to use the CLI (and print all available CLI flags):

sqlite3 -help

To print all available dot commands (in interactive mode):

sqlite> .help

To see how to use a dot command (in interactive mode), and print available dot command flags, run .help DOT_COMMAND. For example:

sqlite> .help .import

Open a database

When a filename is provided to the sqlite3 command, it will either create a new database or open an existing database in interactive mode:

sqlite3 mydb

In interactive mode, a connection to a new or existing database can always be created via the .open dot command. And to connect to a temporary in-memory database, use :memory: as the database file name.

To destroy any data in an existing database run .open -new FILENAME. For example:

sqlite> .open -new existingdb

To open a database in read-only mode use the -readonly flag:

sqlite3 -readonly mydb

This also works in interactive mode:

sqlite> .open -readonly myotherdb

Databases and schemas

To see all databases in interactive mode:

sqlite> .databases

To see all tables (including attached databases) in interactive mode:

sqlite> .tables

To see all indexes in interactive mode:

sqlite> .indexes
sqlite> .indexes tablename

To see the complete schema of the database (including attached databases) in interactive mode:

sqlite> .schema
sqlite> .schema tablename

Read SQL statements from a file

In interactive mode the .read dot command can be used to read SQL statements (and dot commands) from a file:

sqlite> .read script.sql

Pipe input

If the argument to .read begins with the pipe symbol (|), then instead of opening the argument as a file, it runs the argument as a command, and uses the output of that command as its input. This can be useful to run scripts that generate SQL.

Write results to a file

By default sqlite3 sends all output to “standard output”, but this can be changed via the .output and .once dot commands in interactive mode.

To output all query results to a file:

sqlite> .mode list
sqlite> .separator ,
sqlite> .output books_and_authors.txt
sqlite> SELECT * FROM books;
sqlite> SELECT * FROM authors;
sqlite> .exit

To do the above just once, use the .once dot command instead.

Pipe results

If the argument to .output or .once begins with the pipe symbol (|), then it runs the argument as a command, and the output is sent to that command.

For example:

sqlite> .once | open -f
sqlite> SELECT * FROM books;

Load file content into a table column

The readfile() function loads file content as a BLOB in interactive mode. For example:

sqlite> CREATE TABLE images(
sqlite> name TEXT,
sqlite> type TEXT,
sqlite> img BLOB
sqlite> );
sqlite> INSERT INTO images(name,type,img)
sqlite> VALUES('icon','png',readfile('icon.png'));

Write a table column to a file

The writefile() function writes a column value to a file in interactive mode. For example:

sqlite> SELECT writefile('icon.png',img) FROM images WHERE name='icon';

Import CSV into table

To import a CSV file into a table in interactive mode:

sqlite> .import -csv file.csv tablename

And to import into a table not part of the “main” database the -schema flag can be used. This specifies that the table is part of another “schema” (useful for attached databases or to import into a temporary table).

Export results to CSV

To export results to a CSV file in interactive mode:

sqlite> .headers on
sqlite> .mode csv
sqlite> .once ~/data.csv
sqlite> SELECT * FROM table;
sqlite> .exit

Dump and restore a database

Dump (converts entire database content into a single UTF-8 text file):

sqlite3 mydb .dump | gzip -c > mydb.dump.gz


zcat mydb.dump.gz | sqlite3 mydb


An .sqliterc resource file can be created in the “home directory” to configure dot command settings. For example to change the output format for all queries:

.mode box

After creating the .sqliterc file, it will be loaded on startup:

sqlite3 mydb
-- Loading resources from /Users/daniel/.sqliterc
SQLite version 3.37.0 2021-12-09 01:34:53
Enter ".help" for usage hints.

One-line commands

It’s possible to “bypass” interactive mode and run SQL statements directly when using the sqlite3 command via the last argument:

sqlite3 mydb "SELECT * FROM table;"

And by using CLI flags like -cmd it’s possible to shorten certain actions.

One-line import and query CSV

sqlite3 -csv -cmd ".import ~/data.csv data" :memory: "SELECT * FROM data;"

One-line export results to CSV

sqlite3 -csv -header mydb "SELECT * FROM books;" > ~/books.csv

Thanks for reading!
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