# SQLite, 64-bit integers, and the impossible number

We recently tackled an issue that seemed rather impossible – an unsigned 64-bit value was greater than the maximum value that a 64-bit value can hold. What unfolded was a dark, gritty look at the underbelly of everything we hold dear (or a normal debugging session, as we like to call them).

## SQLite3 and 64-bit integers

First off, lets create a table with some big numbers:

Let’s sanity check our data to make sure it looks like what we would expect:

Huh. We definitely were not expecting most of those floating point numbers, so let’s see what types are being returned:

Sure enough, the numeric types in the second row are all reals. Let’s do a nice simple addition operation on our data:

Woah, what happened here? Those familiar with signed and unsigned integers are already nodding and going “Mmm-hmm”. For everyone else, I suggest brushing up on two’s compliment notation. Suffice it to say that integers are usually represented by a fixed number of bits, and once you run out of bits you roll over back to the beginning, in this case a large negative number.

As it turns out, SQLite is pretty straight-forward about this. From the datatype reference in SQLite (emphasis mine):

INTEGER. The value is a signed integer, stored in 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, or 8 bytes depending on the magnitude of the value.

That is, you can only store values from -2**63 to (2**63-1). What does SQLite do for a value outside of this range? As we saw earlier, it switches over into floating point. Again, quoting from the SQLite reference:

REAL. The value is a floating point value, stored as an 8-byte IEEE floating point number.

Many programmers are familiar with this type under the name double.

## Are you smarter than a SQLite engineer?

In our case, we are trying to store an unsigned 64-bit integer. For reasons now lost to the past, we marshall native C types to strings ourselves before handing them off to SQLite, rather than using the appropriate SQLite API functions.

An unrelated issue elsewhere caused this value to go negative. Similar to the issue above when we overflow a integer type, when you underflow you get a very large positive number. Since we have an unsigned number, the resultant number is far over the maximum of a signed 64-bit integer. This causes SQLite to switch into floating-point mode when the value is saved to the database.

Of course, our particular tale of woe doesn’t end there. Indeed, we need to report this value in a status response. As an example of what I can only assume is premature optimization, we simply grab the string value from SQLite and report that. This causes another part of the application to choke when trying to parse the value, as it can no longer fit within a 64-bit type.

## Wait, what?

How did we go from simply over- or under-flowing a 64-bit value to exceeding the range of the datatype? It shouldn’t even be possible to have a 64-bit value that is larger than a 64-bit value, by definition! As a coworker said: “It would violate the logic of the reality of the number”. The answer stems from how the value is converted into a double by SQLite.

Here is a simple example that shows what happens when you mess around with 64-bit integer types and doubles the wrong way:

``````#!C
``````

On Windows (Microsoft ® C/C++ Optimizing Compiler Version 14.00.50727.762 for x64), we see:

``````18446744073709551615
18446744073709552000
18446744073709551615
``````

On Linux (gcc (Gentoo 4.4.4-r2 p1.2, pie-0.4.5) 4.4.4), we get different but equally surprising output:

``````18446744073709551615
18446744073709551616
0
``````

In both cases, the intermediate double representation is greater than the original integral representation. The double value is much greater than the original on Windows, but the cast back to an integer has the same value as the original. On Linux, the double value is just a little bit greater, but casting back rolls all the way back to zero. Floating point numbers are hard, and we programmers far too often forget exactly how hard they are.

When we grabbed the string value directly from the database, there was no cast back to a 64-bit type to truncate the value. This causes the rest of the dominoes to fall like a house of cards.

## Lessons learned

Be careful when you need to store large numbers in SQLite. If you really need to support unsigned 64-bit numbers, you could always shift your numbers down by 2**63. Of course, this means that you will need to massage any access to that column to correct for the offset. If you don’t need to perform any calculations or sorting on that column inside of SQLite, it’s possible that you could give the column a text affinity, preventing SQLite from messing with the data.

Don’t write your own marshaling code unless you really need it. If we had used the actual SQLite C API for storing and retrieving our values, I assume (but have not verified) that this wouldn’t have happened, not to mention we would have likely realized that SQLite only natively supports signed 64-bit integers. This would have led us to test the edge cases that were more obvious.

Test maximal and minimal values. This is such a basic testing strategy that it is surprising that we forget it so much. I’mdefinitely in the camp of people that don’t do this kind of testing as much as I should.