libsqlfs 1.3

libsqlfs 1.3

LangLanguage CC
License Custom
ReleasedLast Release Jan 2015

Maintained by Chris Ballinger, Chris Ballinger.


Copyright 2011-2013, various developers for Guardian Project Copyright 2006, Palmsource, Inc., an ACCESS company.

Libsqlfs is free/open source software distributed under the GNU Lesser General Public License, version 2 or later versions as published by the Free Software Foundation. See the file COPYING for the complete licensing terms.


The libsqlfs library implements a POSIX style file system on top of an SQLite database. It allows applications to have access to a full read/write file system in a single file, complete with its own file hierarchy and name space. This is useful for applications which needs structured storage, such as embedding documents within documents, or management of configuration data or preferences. Libsqlfs can be used as an shared library, or it can be built as a FUSE (Linux File System in User Space) module to allow a libsqlfs database to be accessed via OS level file system interfaces by normal applications.


PalmSource software developers originally created libsqlfs. This library is an adjunct to the very popular open source SQLite database software. Libsqlfs was created as part of PalmSource's ALP mobile phone platform, but it is useful in many other applications too.

Guardian Project adopted libsqlfs to use in conjunction with SQLCipher, a custom version of SQLite3 that includes support for encrypting the database contents. This makes it into a self-contained, encrypted filesystem. IOCipher is a project based on top of libsqlfs that provides a virtual encrypted file system using the API.

The libsqlfs library provides an easy way for applications to put an entire read/write file system into a relational database as a single file in the host file system. Such a file system can easily be moved around, backed up or restored as a single file. But the file system can also be accessed as individual files. This provides great flexibility and convenience.

We concluded that a simpler way to meet our needs was to write a library that supported the POSIX file system semantics on an SQL database. This brings the benefits of a real database, such as transactions and concurrency control, and allows us to have complete control over the schema of the preferences, so we can allow additional metadata such as value types, permissions and access control lists. Our libsqlfs registry can accommodate small preference values such as a number, and large binary objects such as an video clip. The library provides a generic file system layer that maps a file system onto a SQLite database, and supports a POSIX file system semantics.

To speed development, we built our file system mapping layer as a File System In User Space (FUSE) module. FUSE is another open source project. It is a kernel module that supports user-level implementations of file systems. Our design allows libsqlfs to implement a real file system at the OS level, and apply real file system operations on it. We tested the complete build process of gcc and the Linux kernel on top of libsqlfs, and we successfully executed fsx.c, the Apple file system test tool, against libsqlfs.

Today the ALP Global Settings component uses libsqlfs as the storage back-end. Libsqlfs provides an easy way for applications to support a read/write file system totally contained in a relational database as a single file in the host file system, without using SQL statements. Libsqlfs provides a superset of the storage features of GConf, and can be used as the storage back end of other desktop preference services. Libsqlfs is also useful wherever developers need to organize data, and sometimes treat it as one file, and at other times treat it as a collection of individually writable files.


  • As a Library

Libsqlfs provides a GNU autoconf/automake based build system for building as an application library. To build, please follow the normal GNU configure conventions. Normally, the following command is all what's needed:

./configure --prefix= make && make install

defaults to /usr/local if not specified.

You have to be root for installing into system directories such as /usr/local.

Both a static library and a shared library are built, unless you specify otherwise via options to configure.

  • As an FUSE module

If you want to build it as a FUSE module, you need to have libfuse installed on your system. This is less tested than the direct API.

After running the script you shall have an executable called fuse_sqlfs. Run it as root to start a FUSE session on top of libsqlfs:


then you shall see the libsqlfs file space exposed, and can be accessed by normal applications, via the .


fuse_sqlfs /mnt/sqlfs &

ls /mnt/sqlfs

The location of the SQLite database is hard-coded in fuse_main.c. Change the argument to sqlfs_init() to suit your needs.

The database file that it opens is currently hard-coded in fuse_sqlfs.c as /tmp/fsdata. If you want to use a different database file, or provide a key to an encrypted file, then just edit fuse_sqlfs.c and rebuild.

For a sample application showing the usage of libsqlfs, see the test programs in the tests/ directory.

Operating Modes

There are two modes of operation for libsqlfs: "init/destroy" and "open/close". "init/destroy" requires sqlfs_init() to be called before any operations, then each thread dynamically allocates a sqlfs_t based on need. This is the mode used by FUSE. sqlfs_destroy() must be called after all operation is over to clean things up.

"open/close" is more like opening up a file. It is used when the logic of the program using this requires an "open" or "mounted" state. This is the mode that is used by IOCipher.


Libsqlfs started as an FUSE module so it implements the primitives as defined by FUSE version 2.5.3. A libsqlfs session is represented by an object of type sqlfs_t. All APIs require an explicit reference to a valid sqlfs_t. Specifically, the following file system primitives are implemented:

int sqlfs_proc_getattr(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, struct stat *stbuf); int sqlfs_proc_access(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, int mask); int sqlfs_proc_readlink(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, char *buf, size_t size); int sqlfs_proc_readdir(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, void *buf, fuse_fill_dir_t filler, off_t offset, struct fuse_file_info *fi); int sqlfs_proc_mknod(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, mode_t mode, dev_t rdev); int sqlfs_proc_mkdir(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, mode_t mode); int sqlfs_proc_unlink(sqlfs_t *, const char *path); int sqlfs_proc_rmdir(sqlfs_t *, const char *path); int sqlfs_proc_symlink(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, const char *to); int sqlfs_proc_rename(sqlfs_t *, const char *from, const char *to); int sqlfs_proc_link(sqlfs_t *, const char *from, const char *to); int sqlfs_proc_chmod(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, mode_t mode); int sqlfs_proc_chown(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, uid_t uid, gid_t gid); int sqlfs_proc_truncate(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, off_t size); int sqlfs_proc_utime(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, struct utimbuf *buf); int sqlfs_proc_open(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, struct fuse_file_info *fi); int sqlfs_proc_read(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, char *buf, size_t size, off_t offset, struct fuse_file_info *fi); int sqlfs_proc_write(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, const char *buf, size_t size, off_t offset, struct fuse_file_info *fi); int sqlfs_proc_statfs(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, struct statvfs *stbuf); int sqlfs_proc_release(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, struct fuse_file_info *fi); int sqlfs_proc_fsync(sqlfs_t *, const char *path, int isfdatasync, struct fuse_file_info *fi);

Their semantics are as defined by the FUSE documentation and the corresponding Unix file system calls. Following the FUSE conventions, all file or key paths must be absolute and start with a '/'. Applications can provide their own logic for relative paths before passing the "normalized" absolute paths to these FUSE primitive routines.

In addition, other APIs provide environment setup, support for transaction and convenience functions:

int sqlfs_init(const char *) initialize the libsqlfs library and sets the default database file name.

int sqlfs_destroy() clean up after sqlfs_init() when all operation is over.

int sqlfs_open(const char db, sqlfs_t *); creates a new connection to the libsqlfs database. The first argument, if not NULL, specifies a different database file from the default.

int sqlfs_open_key(const char db_file, const char *key, sqlfs_t *sqlfs); creates a new connection to an encrypted libsqlfs database and unlocks it using the password provided. The first argument, if not NULL, specifies a different database file from the default.

int sqlfs_close(sqlfs_t *); closes and frees a libsqlfs connection.

Low-level API

You can operate on the filesystem on a level lower than the FUSE API with these functions:

int sqlfs_del_tree(sqlfs_t *sqlfs, const char *key); deletes a whole subtree.

int sqlfs_get_value(sqlfs_t *sqlfs, const char *key, key_value *value, size_t begin, size_t end); reads contents of a file contained in a range (between offsets begin and end)

int sqlfs_set_value(sqlfs_t *sqlfs, const char *key, const key_value *value, size_t begin, size_t end); writes contents of value to a file within the specified range (between offsets begin and end)

int sqlfs_get_attr(sqlfs_t *sqlfs, const char *key, key_attr *attr); reads the metadata of a file

int sqlfs_set_attr(sqlfs_t *sqlfs, const char *key, const key_attr *attr); write the metadata of a file

int sqlfs_set_type(sqlfs_t *sqlfs, const char *key, const char *type); sets the "type" of the file content.

int sqlfs_begin_transaction(sqlfs_t *sqlfs); begins a SQLite transaction

int sqlfs_complete_transaction(sqlfs_t *sqlfs, int i); ends a SQLite transaction


The filesystem is implemented using the common pattern of blocks allocated to a file. The file system is stored in a SQLite table, with the following columns:

full key path | type | inode | uid | gid | mode | acl | attributes | atime | mtime | ctime | size | block_size text | text | integer | integer | integer | integer | text | text | integer | integer | integer | integer | integer

The key path must be an absolute path using "/" as the path separators. The path is case sensitive. The type of data associated with the key path can be one of these: "int", "double", "string", "dir", "sym link" and "blob". Generally, data is allocated as 8k blobs representing filesystem blocks. Using "int", "double" and "string" for a file's data should be avoided since its not generalizable. Each block occupies an BLOB object in database indexed by a block number which starts from 0.

The table rows are created using:

CREATE TABLE meta_data(key text, type text, inode integer, uid integer, gid integer, mode integer, acl text, attribute text, atime integer, mtime integer, ctime integer, size integer, block_size integer, primary key (key), unique(key)); CREATE TABLE value_data (key text, block_no integer, data_block blob, unique(key, block_no)); CREATE INDEX meta_index ON meta_data (key); CREATE INDEX value_index ON value_data (key, block_no);

SQL transactions are used throughout the code to improve efficiency. Note the transaction supports "levels"; that is, transaction calls can be nested and libsqlfs maintains an internal level count of the current transaction level. The actual SQLite transaction are only started when the level goes above 0 and only ended when the level falls to zero.

A libsqlfs session is represented by an object of type sqlfs_t. All APIs require an explicit reference to a valid sqlfs_t. Each file is a "key" in the internal libsqlfs vocabulary. File metadata are represented as objects of the sturct key_attr. File contents are represented by the struct key_value.

File metadata are the normal POSIX file attributes as expected except an additional "type" which can not be visible via the normal file attribute functions. The "type" is used to support the specific needs of the setting registry application and can be one of the following:

Null Dir Integer (32-bit) Double (a C double) String (a C zero-terminated string) Sym_link (symbolic link) Bool (a boolean) List (a Glib list of values) Blob (a binary object)

Note all other file system primitives do not make use of the "type"; to them all files are blobs. At this point the "type" is meant for use by higher up application logic in applications using libsqlfs.

Some things are not currently implemented:

  • permission control due to the current directory
  • extended attributes

In order to fix locking issues but improve overall performance, begin_transaction obtains a reserved lock immediately. This reduces contention for write locks that were occuring with deferred transactions, and performs much better than exclusive transactions with immediate exclusive locking.

There were originally a few different locking techniques in the code, some commented out, and really only one in use: the sqlite 'begin exclusive'. There was a pthread mutex lock below that is quite large grained. Then in sqlfs_t_init, there was the sqlite3_busy_timeout(), which was there to help ensure that the call to create "/" if it doesn't exist doesn't fail.

Originally, 'begin exclusive' was only used in LIBFUSE mode, and not in standalone library mode, where 'begin' was used. But we found it too unreliable so we switched standalone mode to also use 'begin exclusive'.


There is an included test suite in the tests/ subfolder. They are a combination of C programs and bash scripts. There are a number of ways to run the tests. Here is to run them all:

make check

If you want to see all of the messages, turn on verbose mode:

make check V=1

You can also select which tests you want to run:

make check TESTS=fuse_sqlfs.test

Supported Platforms

To date, libsqlfs is tested on 32-bit i386, 64-bit amd64 and ARM (Android and Palm Treo 650 phones). It runs on GNU/Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora) and Android, and most likely any UNIX.

Currently libsqlfs, when used as a library, has been tested on GNU/Linux (Debian, Mint, Ubuntu, Red Hat, and Fedora) although it should be usable on any UNIX like platforms where SQLite runs with at most minor changes. It should also work on the Cygwin enviroment but this is not tested. Patches for different platform support are welcome.

For use at the OS level, libsqlfs only supports the FUSE on the Linux kernel. It should be possible to make it work on Mac OS X using fuse4x., and also FreeBSD or Solaris provided they have a FUSE that is compatible with the Linux FUSE.

Supported Database

To date, only SQLite and SQLCipher are supported. SQLCipher is a version of SQLite that provides page-by-page AES-256 encryption.

Notes on the Code

There is a macro INDEX used in the implementation in sqlfs.c. It is re-defined for each function that writes to the database using an index number for that particular function. This index number is then used in the macros PREPARE_STMT and DONE_PREPARE for interacting with the database.

For more information, please contact: [email protected]

The original authors are: Peter van der Linden [email protected] Andy Tai, [email protected]