SQLite Create Index: Improving Query Performance

With an index, the SQLite engine can quickly locate the rows matching specific criteria without scanning the table.

Before we dive into indexes, let’s start with a basic SQLite table. Imagine we are working with sales data for an e-commerce company. The sales table contains information about each sale:

  product TEXT,
  quantity INTEGER,
  price REAL,
  order_date TEXT

Let’s populate it with some sample data:

INSERT INTO sales (product, quantity, price, order_date) 
  ('Widget A', 10, 19.99, '2023-01-01'),
  ('Gadget B', 5, 29.99, '2023-01-02'),  
  ('Widget A', 20, 19.99, '2023-01-03'),
  ('Gizmo C', 8, 14.99, '2023-01-04'),
  ('Widget A', 15, 19.99, '2023-01-05');

Why do we Need SQLite Indexes?

Now, suppose we frequently need to look up sales by product name like this:

SELECT * FROM sales WHERE product = 'Widget A';

SQLite must perform a full table scan without an index, examining every row to find the ones matching the condition. This is inefficient, especially as the table grows larger.

Creating an SQLite Index

We can significantly speed up this query by creating an index on the product column:

CREATE INDEX idx_product ON sales (product);

This creates a separate data structure that maps product names to the rows containing those products. Now, when we run our query, SQLite can use the index to quickly find the relevant rows without scanning the entire table.

Composite Indexes in SQLite

Indexes can also span multiple columns. Suppose we often query for sales on a specific date and product:

SELECT * FROM sales 
WHERE order_date = '2023-01-01' AND product = 'Widget A';

We can optimize this with a composite index:

CREATE INDEX idx_date_product ON sales (order_date, product);

This index is sorted first by order_date, then by product. Queries that specify both columns (or just the first column) in the index condition can use this index effectively.

Unique SQLite Indexes

Indexes can also enforce uniqueness. If we want to ensure no duplicate products are inserted:

CREATE UNIQUE INDEX idx_unique_product ON sales (product);

Attempting to insert a duplicate product will now result in an error.

When to Use Database Indexes

Indexes are most beneficial when:

  • The table is large, and queries are slow.
  • Queries are frequently filtered or sorted by specific columns.
  • Certain columns have a high number of unique values.

However, indexes also have costs:

  • They consume additional storage space.
  • They slow down insert, update, and delete operations as the index must be updated.

Therefore, it’s important to create indexes judiciously. Analyze your query patterns to determine which columns are frequently used in WHERE, ORDER BY, and JOIN clauses, and create indexes to support these queries.

Analyzing Query Performance

To see if a query is using an index, we can use EXPLAIN:

SELECT * FROM sales WHERE product = 'Widget A';

The output might look like:

SEARCH TABLE sales USING INDEX idx_product (product=?)

This indicates that the query is using our idx_product index.


Indexes are a powerful tool for optimizing query performance in SQLite. Understanding your data and query patterns allows you to create indexes that dramatically speed up your most common and essential queries. This enables your application to scale smoothly as your data grows, providing a better user experience and enabling data-driven decision-making.

Remember, indexes are not a silver bullet. They have costs and should be used strategically. But when used effectively, they can turn slow, unresponsive databases into snappy, high-performance systems. Happy indexing!