Those past couple days, I was working on implementing multi-layer transaction support for GeoPackage datasources (for QGIS 3.4). Multi-layer transaction is an advanced functionality of QGIS (you have to enable it in project settings), initially implemented for PostgreSQL connections where several layers can be edited together so as to have atomic modifications when editing them. Modifications are automatically sent to the database, using SQL savepoints to implement undo/redo operations, instead of being queued in memory and committed at once when the user stops editing the layer.
While debugging my work during development, I stumbled upon a heisenbug. From time to time, the two auxiliary files attached to a SQLite database opened in Write Ahead Logging (WAL) mode, suffixed -wal and -shm, would suddenly disappear, whereas the file was still being opened by QGIS. As those files are absolutely required, the consequence of this was that following operations on the database failed: new readers (in the QGIS process) would be denied opening the file, and QGIS could not commit any new change to it. When the file was closed, the file returned again in a proper state (which shows the robustness of sqlite). After some time, I realized that my issue arised exactly when I observed the database being edited by QGIS with an external ogrinfo on it (another way to reproduce the issue would be to open a second QGIS instance on the same file and close it). I indeed used ogrinfo to check that the state of the database was consistent during the editing operations. Okay, so instead of a random bug, I had now a perfectly reproducable bug. Half of the way to solve it, right ?
How come ogrinfo, which involves read-only operations, could cause those -wal and -shm files to disappear ? I had some recollection of code I had written in the OGR SQLite driver regarding this. When a dataset opened in read-only mode is closed by OGR, it checks if there's a -wal file still existing (which could happen if a database had not been cleanly closed, like a killed process), and if so, it re-opens it temporarily in update mode, does a dummy operation on it, and close it. If the ogrinfo process is the only one that had a connection on the database, libsqlite would remove the -wal and -shm files automatically (OGR does not directly remove the file, it relies on libsqlite wisdom to determine if they can be removed or not). But wait, in my above situation, ogrinfo was not the exclusive process operating on the database: QGIS was still editing it.... Would that be a bug in the venerable libsqlite ??? (spoiler: no)
I tried to reproduce the situation with replacing QGIS by a plain sqlite console opening the file, and doing a ogrinfo on it. No accidental removal of the -wal and -shm files. Okay, so what is the difference between QGIS and the sqlite console (beside QGIS having like one million extra line of code;-)). Well, QGIS doesn't directly use libsqlite3 to open GeoPackage databases, but uses the OGR GPKG driver. So instead of opening with QGIS or a sqlite3 console, what if I opened with the OGR GPKG driver ? Bingo, in that situation, I could also reproduce the issue. So something in OGR was the culprit. I will save you of the other details, but at the end it turned out that if OGR was opening itself a .gpkg file using standard file API, whereas libsqlite3 was opening it, chaos would result. This situation can happen since for example when opening a dataset, OGR has to open the underlying file to at least read its header and figure out which driver would handle it. So the sequence of operation is normally:
1) the GDALOpenInfo class opens the file
2) the OGR GeoPackage driver realizes this file is for it, and use the sqlite3_open() API to open it
3) the GDALOpenInfo class closes the file it has opened in step 1 (libsqlite3 still manages its own file handle)
When modifying the above sequence, so that 3) is executed before 2), the bug would not appear. At that point, I had some recollection that sqlite3 used POSIX advisory locks to handle concurrent accesses, and that there were some issues with that POSIX API. Digging into the sqlite3.c source code revealed a very interesting 86 line long comment about how POSIX advisory locks are broken by design. The main brokenness are they are advisory and not compulsory of course, but as this is indicated in the name, one cannot really complain about that being a hidden feature. The most interesting finding was: """If you close a file descriptor that points to a file that has locks, all locks on that file that are owned by the current process are released.""" Bingo: that was just what OGR was doing.
My above workaround (to make sure the file is closed before sqlite opens it and set its locks) was OK for a single opening of a file in a process. But what if the user wants to open a second connection on the same file (which arises easily in the QGIS context) ? The rather ugly solution I came off was that the OGR GPKG driver would warn the GDALOpenInfo not to try to open a given file while it was still opened by the driver and pass it the file header it would be supposed to find if it could open the file, so that the driver identification logic can still work. Those fixes are queued for GDAL 2.3.1, whose release candidate is planned next Friday.
- never ever open (actually close) a SQLite database with regular file API while libsqlite3 is operating on it (in the same process)
- POSIX advisory locks are awful.