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Esphi - an Erlang dirty-NIF-based interface to Sophia embeddable database

Sophia database on github: Sophia home page:

The library is loosely based on eleveldb.

The library uses experimental dirty NIF feature from the latest Erlang. In order to build it and use it you need to have recent Erlang distribution compiled with the --enable-dirty-schedulers configuration flag. It is likely possible to use these nifs with standard schedulers too, as the Sophia in most cases should be quite fast. To do this, edit the esphi.c file and remove all references to ERL_NIF_DIRTY_JOB_IO_BOUND.

The library should be thread-safe. Pay attention: at the moment the *_close() functions won't delete or dispose pointers in any way, they just would set a flag which prevents the object from being used any more (this behaviour is going to be changed in future versions). All destructors are called only when Erlang garbage collects references to the allocated structures, which contain disposable pointers. So in order to avoid memory leaks ensure that the garbage collector can actually collect old references, just like with binaries. It is better to use short-lived processes for cursors and transactions, which are usually created and destroyed very often. Cursors are not thread safe. Iterating over cursors from multiple erlang processes simultaneously won't crash the VM but you will get stop errors instead of data. Also be careful with transactions, don't commit/rollback the same transaction from multiple processes simultaneously.


The esphi and sophia docs have different names for objects, so pay attention to it when you read the docs:

|   Sophia    |   Esphi  |
| environment | database |
| database    | table    |

What works (in Sophia terms):

  • Multiple environments, each with multiple databases
  • All string and int configuration parameters
  • Databases with string and int64 keys
  • Transactions
  • Cursors with prefix, order and seek
  • Get/Put/Delete operations, with keys and values of int or string type
  • Upsert, for counters only (new_value = old_value + increment)
  • Async backups

What is not implemented yet:

  • Point-in-Time Views
  • Multikeys
  • Function and object configuration parameters
  • Anything async
  • Sync backups
  • More types of upserts, besides counters. It should be easy to add more though
  • Other features which I'm not avare of yet

Some things to know:

  • !!!! Seems like reopening databases and tables is not safe at the moment, as the the shutdown itself is initiated by erlang garbage collector, which for long-running proceses is quite unpredictable. As the result, data corruption is probably possible. So after you opened a DB keep it opened until you restart the VM. Or ensure somehow that the garbage collector collected all references to the DB and all it's dependent objects, and Sophia itself has completed all its background operations.
  • All references, including cursors, are freed only when erlang garbage collects the reference. Table and DB references won't get garbage collected until all the objects which reference them get garbage collected. This behaviour might change in future versions with deterministic close.
  • Please don't serialize references to the Sophia objects in any way, including attempts to send them to other Erlang nodes. In the best case it just won't work.
  • Sophia does not store DB schema. You need to supply schema and configuration parameters each time you open the database.
  • Many operations, such as dropping a table, doing a backup etc are async. You may encounter multiple issues doing this in concurrent mode. For example, if you initiate backup when another backup is still running, the new backup will be just silently ignored.
  • Typechecking is weak. For example, when you Get as integer some value, which contains random binary, you will get either {error, type} or some int value if the data fits in any of int types, which is probably not what you would want too.
  • There's race between error and returning its' description with the get_last_error.
  • Check return codes. Many params can be set only with the esphi_db_open call, and if you set anything manually, check if the operation was actually successful or not.


$ make && erl -pa ebin

Open database in /tmp/db1, with three tables, t1, t2, t3. The t2 table has integer key; the t3 table is used for counters. Pay attention to the "db.t3.index.upsert" => "__COUNTER__" construction - it is the only parameter which is preprocessed before getting sent to the Sophia, the __COUNTER__ special value is replaced with a pointer to the merge function with Val = OldVal + NewVal semantics. The full list of parameters can be found in the Sophia documentation.

{ok, Db} = esphi:esphi_db_open(
                ["t1", "t2", "t3"], 
                #{"db.t2.index.key" => "u64", "db.t3.index.upsert" => "__COUNTER__", "backup.path" => "/tmp/backup"}

Open tables

{ok, T1} = esphi:esphi_table_open(Db, "t1").
{ok, T2} = esphi:esphi_table_open(Db, "t2").
{ok, T3} = esphi:esphi_table_open(Db, "t3").
{error, {-1, ErrMsg}} = esphi:esphi_table_open(Db, "t4").
ok = esphi:esphi_table_create(Db, "t4", #{}).   
{ok, T4} = esphi:esphi_table_open(Db, "t4").

Some CRUD, without transactions

Both keys and values can be of either of iolist() or integer() types. iolist() will be converted to binary(). The last parameter in the esphi_get fuction can be either 0 - return binary or 1 - return int.

ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, <<"k1">>, <<"v1">>).
ok =  esphi:esphi_put(T1, 10, <<"v2">>).       
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, <<"k2">>, 1000).     
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, 10, <<"v2">>).     
<<"v1">> = esphi:esphi_get(T1, <<"k1">>, 0).
{error,type} = esphi:esphi_get(T1, <<"k1">>, 1).
<<"v2">> = esphi:esphi_get(T1, 10, 0).  
<<232,3,0,0,0,0,0,0>> = esphi:esphi_get(T1, <<"k2">>, 0).
1000 = esphi:esphi_get(T1, <<"k2">>, 1).
ok = esphi:esphi_delete(T1, 10).   
not_found = esphi:esphi_get(T1, 10, 0).    


Unlike in Mnesia, it is impossible to get the result of increment immediatelly, without doing an explicit read. Moreover, if you think about using transactions to do update_counter and then read - don't. You will get a lot of automatic rollbacks under the load, as transactions use optimistic locking and will refuse to commit if value has been changed by another transaction. So use these counters for counting likes, not for generating sequences of unique IDs. For sequences serialize it with a gen_server.
Under the hood the counters are implemented with Upsert feature of the Sophia. Don't forget to configure the table, which is going to be used to store counters, with the "db.[table].index.upsert" => "__COUNTER__" parameter.

ok = esphi:esphi_update_counter(T3, "cnt", 1000).
ok = esphi:esphi_update_counter(T3, "cnt", 1).   
1001 = esphi:esphi_get(T3, "cnt", 1).  

You may also use counters with transactions.


Transactions can span multiple tables. Optimistic locking, so if there are two tranactions updating the same keys, the second one will be automatically rolled back on commit.
Possible errors of commit:
{error, disposed} - Transaction has been already disposed;
{error, rolled_back} - Transaction rolled back because of conflict with another transaction;
{error, lock} - Deadlocked with another transaction. You can manually roll back some of the locked transactions and repeat commit again;
{error, busy} - The transaction is about to get commited by another process

{ok, A1} = esphi:esphi_transaction_begin(Db).
{ok, A2} = esphi:esphi_transaction_begin(Db).
{ok, A3} = esphi:esphi_transaction_begin(Db).
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, A1, <<"tk">>, <<"vk">>).
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, A2, <<"tk">>, <<"vk2">>).
ok = esphi:esphi_update_counter(T3, A1, "cnt", 1).  
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, A3, <<"tk">>, <<"vk3">>).
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T2, A1, <<"k2">>, <<"v2">>).  
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T2, A2, <<"k2">>, 10).
ok = esphi:esphi_transaction_commit(A1).
ok = esphi:esphi_transaction_rollback(A3).
{error, rolled_back} = esphi:esphi_transaction_commit(A2).
<<"vk">> = esphi:esphi_get_s(T1, <<"tk">>).


One way only, ascending and descending order, with optional prefix filter for key (for binary keys only).
Allowed orders:
>= - traverse with increasing order
> - traverse with increasing order, skip first key for prefix
<= - traverse with decreasing order
< - traverse with decreasing order, skip first key for prefix
The second parameter in the esphi_cursor_next: 0 to return just key, 1 to return both key and value. The third and fourth parameters have the same meaning as the last parameter in esphi_get function, for key (former) and for value (latter).
Put 0 in the second parameter of the esphi_cursor_open if you don't want to do prefix filter (for example for the tables with int keys you can't do prefix seek even if you want so). Put "" in the last parameter if you don't want to do seek.

ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, <<"sa1">>, <<"v1">>).
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, <<"sa2">>, <<"v2">>).
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, <<"sa3">>, <<"v3">>).
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, <<"z0">>, <<"vz0">>).
ok = esphi:esphi_put(T1, <<"sa4">>, <<"v4">>). 
{ok, C2} = esphi:esphi_cursor_open(T1, "s", '>=', "sa2").
{<<"sa2">>,<<"v2">>} = esphi:esphi_cursor_next(C2, 1, 0, 0).
<<"sa3">> = esphi:esphi_cursor_next(C2, 0, 0, 0).
{<<"sa4">>,<<"v4">>} = esphi:esphi_cursor_next(C2, 1, 0, 0).
stop = esphi:esphi_cursor_next(C2, 1, 0, 0).


Backups are async. Wait for the previous backup to finish its' job before running the next one. See and
You must set "backup.path" parameter in esphi_db_open, else backups won't work at all.

ok = esphi:esphi_backup(Db).
0 = esphi:esphi_param_get(Db, "", 1). %%or 1
1 = esphi:esphi_param_get(Db, "backup.last", 1).
1 = esphi:esphi_param_get(Db, "backup.last_complete", 1).


Erlang bindings for Sophia DB




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