Comparing SQLite and MongoDB

Data-driven mobile applications are a growing demand in the mobile application space. More and more of these applications require blazing fast speed with reliable reactive data stores as well as offline-first sync capabilities.

SQLite was initially developed to solve a local access SQL solution with minimal configuration and relational data concepts. In this article, we will show how MongoDB database compares to SQLite and discuss the use cases it comes to solve.

What is SQLite?

SQLite is a C-based library that allows applications to store and retrieve data from local files on devices via a SQL interface. SQLite was started as an open-source project in Sep 2000 and is supported on a few platforms, mostly mobile devices and mobile operating systems.

What is a MongoDB database?

MongoDB Server is a general-purpose document database which supports different platforms. MongoDB’s core concept is a NoSQL flexible schema that stores data in BSON (Binary JSON-like) documents grouped in “collections” and “databases.” MongoDB can potentially run on small devices but its main power is being a backend database for your applications. The best and most convenient way to run a MongoDB Server is with MongoDB Atlas, our Database-as-a-Service platform.

MongoDB Atlas is scalable and highly available by design cloud platform, allowing multiple clients and languages to connect and power different applications. If your frameworks of choice are C#, Java (Android), iOS, Node.js, or Python, all (and more) are supported via a native Driver.

When to use SQLite for mobile applications

SQLite is a veteran in the mobile self-contained database world and therefore, developers with preference to SQL syntax with static schemas might prefer SQLite. It lives only on the device and does not have any external backup or scaleout solutions.

If you do not require a scalable and highly concurrent solution with offline synchronization of devices, you might go for SQLite.

Having said that, frequent schema changes and agility requirements have become a wide challenge for lots of mobile applications and websites. Therefore, a majority of customers should consider the benefits of MongoDB’s modern solutions over the legacy SQLite.

When to use MongoDB for mobile applications

The real question should be why not use MongoDB’s solutions for developing local or/and offline sync databases?

MongoDB database has a flexible schema at heart, where the documents map nicely and naturally to mobile development classes. Additionally, MongoDB Atlas supports secure connections from most modern mobile development programming languages. Those together with Atlas’ scalable platform and its flexible billing models (including serverless clusters) are compelling for applications these days (start small and grow fast).

One of the emerging products by MongoDB is Realm Mobile Database, which is comparable to SQLite in terms of use cases it serves. Learn more in the Realm vs SQLite article (coming soon).

As mobile developers, you learn that application requirements might evolve quickly and so does the scale. Having Realm, a local object store with built-in edge-to-cloud sync, backed up by MongoDB Atlas, allows developer productivity to skyrocket while staying reliable and agile.

Once the data is in MongoDB Atlas, you can use the power of integrations like Charts or Data Lake to enhance your application stack.

SQLite and MongoDB comparison

The table below outlines how MongoDB compares with SQLite in key areas pertaining to mobile application development.

MongoDB AtlasSQLite
Data Model

Based on RDBMS columns and rows.

SQLite stores the entire database in a file on disk. This includes all tables, indexes, triggers, and views.

Limited schema changes permitted against an existing table.

Scalability

‘Single user’ architecture—each database file is only meant to serve one client. Multiple users can access a single file, but doing so would incur performance costs as transaction locks will occur.

TransactionsSQLite transactions are fully ACID-compliant.
Query SystemSQLite supports most of the SQL standard, but does omit some powerful features such as those related to ALTER TABLE and certain JOINs.
ConcurrencySQLite offers support for concurrent writes but requires significant developer interaction to leverage effectively.
Security

All data access control must be handled at the OS level through file system permissions.

No support for user-level access control.

Vulnerable to SQL-injection style attacks.

SQLite relies on third-party libraries for encryption.

DeploymentSQLite must be deployed manually or in conjunction with a third-party service.
Platform and Driver SupportSQLite offers limited “official” pre-compiled binaries and SDKs. Most common environments are covered, but developers interested in using other common language SDKs will need to rely on a third-party.
MongoDB Atlas
Data Model

Collections of JSON documents derived from MongoDB BSON Documents with full object and array support.

Objects mapped seamlessly between DB and code.

Scalability

MongoDB provides concurrency mechanisms for multiple clients to access and manipulate data.

Auto-scaling and sharding capabilities via Atlas.

TransactionsMongoDB is fully ACID-compliant.
Query System

MongoDB Query language is rich and powerful.

MongoDB Aggregation is a powerful framework allowing users to analyze, transform, and redesign their data.

ConcurrencyMongoDB supports thousands of concurrent users.
Security

Defining user-level permissions and authentication is a basic MongoDB security feature.

Additionally, advanced authentication, TLS, and access listing is built-in and available in MongoDB Atlas and MongoDB Server.

MongoDB provides native encryption solutions.

Deployment

Atlas (free tier and up).

Self-hosted via MongoDB Servers deployment.

Platform and Driver Support

Native Drivers for most common platforms and programming languages, with equally descriptive documentation and code examples for each.

Dedicated team of documentation engineers to continuously improve and enrich documentation and examples.

SQLite
Data Model

Based on RDBMS columns and rows.

SQLite stores the entire database in a file on disk. This includes all tables, indexes, triggers, and views.

Limited schema changes permitted against an existing table.

Scalability

‘Single user’ architecture—each database file is only meant to serve one client. Multiple users can access a single file, but doing so would incur performance costs as transaction locks will occur.

TransactionsSQLite transactions are fully ACID-compliant.
Query SystemSQLite supports most of the SQL standard, but does omit some powerful features such as those related to ALTER TABLE and certain JOINs.
ConcurrencySQLite offers support for concurrent writes but requires significant developer interaction to leverage effectively.
Security

All data access control must be handled at the OS level through file system permissions.

No support for user-level access control.

Vulnerable to SQL-injection style attacks.

SQLite relies on third-party libraries for encryption.

DeploymentSQLite must be deployed manually or in conjunction with a third-party service.
Platform and Driver SupportSQLite offers limited “official” pre-compiled binaries and SDKs. Most common environments are covered, but developers interested in using other common language SDKs will need to rely on a third-party.

Conclusion

MongoDB is a modern and robust database supporting a much larger use case variety, which is superior to SQLite in many areas. For mobile applications, MongoDB developers can leverage the Realm Mobile Database and Realm Sync to build cross platform, offline-first applications that are backed by the MongoDB Atlas cloud platform.

See the following tutorials and links for more information:

Ready to get started?

Try Atlas and Realm now to build modern mobile data driven applications.

FAQ

Is SQLite a NoSQL database?

No, SQLite at its core is a SQL database. NoSQL databases refer to databases that support not only SQL, like MongoDB.

What is the alternative for SQLite?

Realm Mobile Database (MongoDB’s mobile database) is serving a very similar use case of a local on-device database with rich query language and minimal configuration. It can be backed up by offline-first robust sync to MongoDB Atlas. MongoDB and MongoDB Atlas, at their core, are built for scale and large data volumes being best placed as a data tier for backend applications.