by Markus Winand.

SQLite Execution Plan Operations

A short reference of the most common SQLite execution plan operations. The respective product documentation is here.

Index and Table Access


Reads the entire table.


Traverses an index tree, follows the leaf node list and fetches the corresponding data from the table.


Traverses an index tree and follows the leaf node list to fetch all matching rows (aka. Index Only Scan).


Generally join operations process only two tables at a time. In case a query has more joins, they are executed sequentially: first two tables, then the intermediate result with the next table. In the context of joins, the term “table” could therefore also mean “intermediate result”.

SQLite supports only nested loops joins. The query plan starts by showing the outermost table access, followed by each nested access (similar to MySQL/MariaDB).

Nesting in the query plan output doesn’t indicated joins but nested queries (including union, except, intersect).

Sorting and Grouping

SQLite always needs an index for order by, group by and distinct. If no suitable index exists in the system prior to query evaluation, a temporary index is created.


Indicates that a temporary index was created to perform the specified operation.

Top-N Queries

The effect of a limit clause is not visible in the explain query plan output. In the raw explain output, you can see a LIMIT counter.

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