Retrieving Column Names from SQLite Tables: PRAGMA vs. Cursor Description



SQLite offers a special command called PRAGMA. This command lets you access internal information about the database. One specific PRAGMA instruction, PRAGMA table_info(table_name), provides details about a particular table.

Here's how it works:

  • Replace table_name with the actual name of the table you're interested in.
  • Execute this PRAGMA statement.
  • The output will be a table itself, containing information about the table's columns. Each row represents a column, and one of the columns in this result set will be named "name". This "name" column holds the actual name of the column in your table.

Using cursor description (programming languages):

If you're working with SQLite through a programming language like Python, you can leverage the cursor.description property. Here's the general idea:

  • Connect to your SQLite database using the programming language's libraries.
  • Create a cursor object, which allows you to execute SQL statements.
  • Execute a simple query like SELECT * FROM table_name (this retrieves all columns from the table).
  • Even though you might not be interested in the data itself, executing this query helps the cursor discover the structure of the table.
  • After the query execution, access the cursor.description property. This property is a list of tuples, where each tuple represents a column. Within each tuple, the first element is the column name.

Which method to choose?

  • If you're working directly with the SQLite shell, use PRAGMA table_info.
  • If you're working with SQLite through a programming language, use cursor.description after executing a simple query. This approach is more integrated with your program flow.

Using PRAGMA in SQLite shell:

-- Replace 'my_table' with your actual table name
PRAGMA table_info(my_table);

This code snippet executes the PRAGMA table_info statement for the table named my_table. The output will show details about each column, including the "name" column which holds the actual column name.

Using cursor.description in Python:

import sqlite3

# Replace 'my_database.db' with your database filename
conn = sqlite3.connect('my_database.db')
cursor = conn.cursor()

# Execute a simple query to discover table structure
cursor.execute("SELECT * FROM my_table")

# Get column names from cursor description
column_names = [desc[0] for desc in cursor.description]

print("Column Names:", column_names)


This Python code connects to a database, creates a cursor, and executes a simple SELECT * query on the table my_table. Even though we don't fetch any data, this helps the cursor identify the table structure. Then, it retrieves the cursor.description which holds information about the columns. We use a list comprehension to extract the first element (column name) from each tuple in the description list and print the column names.

  1. Using the .schema command (SQLite shell):

The .schema command in the SQLite shell displays the CREATE TABLE statement for a particular table. This statement itself includes the column names along with their data types.

Here's how to use it:

-- Replace 'my_table' with your actual table name
.schema my_table

This will print the CREATE TABLE statement for my_table, where you can find the column names within the parentheses defining the columns.

Note: This method shows the entire CREATE TABLE statement, which might include additional information besides column names. You'll need to parse the output to extract just the column names if needed.

  1. Using GUI tools (if applicable):

If you're using a graphical user interface (GUI) tool to manage your SQLite database, it might offer functionalities to view table structure. These tools often have dedicated sections or functionalities to display column names for each table.


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