Mastering Multi-Table Updates in SQLite: Subqueries, Separate Statements, Triggers, and Temporary Tables

sqlite join sql update

Here's a breakdown of the key concepts:

  1. SQLite: It's a lightweight and popular database management system that stores data in self-contained files.

  2. Join: In SQL, a JOIN clause combines rows from two or more tables based on a shared column value. This creates a temporary result set for querying or manipulating data.

  3. SQL UPDATE: The UPDATE statement modifies existing data in a table. It specifies which table to update, the columns to change, and a condition to determine which rows are affected.

While SQLite doesn't allow JOINs in UPDATE statements, there's a workaround using a subquery:

  • Subquery: This is a query nested within another query. It retrieves data that can be used in the outer query.

Here's the idea:

  1. The subquery acts like a JOIN, fetching data based on the relationship between tables.
  2. The outer UPDATE statement uses the results from the subquery to identify the rows to update in the target table.

For example, imagine updating a "checked" status in a "closure" table based on a condition in an "item" table. You can't directly JOIN them in the UPDATE. But, you can use a subquery to find item IDs meeting the condition and then update the "checked" status in the "closure" table for those IDs.

This approach achieves the desired update outcome even though SQLite doesn't support JOINs within UPDATE statements.

Example 1: Setting a flag based on a condition in another table:

UPDATE closure
SET checked = 0
WHERE item_id IN (
    SELECT id
    FROM item
    WHERE ancestor_id = 1


  1. The outer UPDATE statement targets the closure table.
  2. The SET clause sets the checked column to 0.
  3. The WHERE clause uses a subquery to find relevant item_id values.
  4. The subquery selects id from item where ancestor_id is 1.
  5. The outer UPDATE only affects rows in closure that have item_id values matching the results of the subquery.

Example 2: Updating a column based on values from another table:

UPDATE customers
SET email = (
    SELECT new_email
    FROM updated_emails
    WHERE customers.customer_id = updated_emails.customer_id


  1. The UPDATE statement targets the customers table.
  2. The SET clause updates the email column with values from updated_emails.
  3. The subquery selects new_email from updated_emails.
  4. The WHERE clause joins the subquery with customers based on customer_id.
  5. Each row in customers gets its email updated with the corresponding value from new_email in updated_emails.


  • Carefully construct subqueries to ensure accurate results and avoid unexpected updates.
  • Consider using aliases for clarity if multiple tables are involved.
  • Test your queries in a development environment before applying them to production data.

  1. Separate UPDATE Statements:

This method involves writing multiple UPDATE statements, one for each table you need to update. Each statement would use a WHERE clause with conditions based on the relevant data from other tables.


-- Update item table first
SET status = 'shipped'
WHERE id IN (SELECT order_id FROM orders WHERE shipped = 1);

-- Then update inventory table based on the item update
UPDATE inventory
SET stock_level = stock_level - 1
WHERE item_id IN (SELECT id FROM item WHERE status = 'shipped');

This approach can be easier to understand but might be less efficient for complex updates involving many tables.

  1. Triggers:

SQLite supports triggers, which are database objects that automatically execute specific actions (like INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE) when certain events occur in a table. You can define a trigger on a table to update related data in another table whenever the first table is modified.

Example (simplified):

CREATE TRIGGER update_inventory AFTER UPDATE ON orders
  UPDATE inventory
  SET stock_level = stock_level - NEW.quantity
  WHERE item_id = OLD.item_id;


  • This trigger fires after an UPDATE on the orders table.
  • It updates the inventory table for the specific item (item_id) involved in the order update.
  • NEW and OLD represent the new and old values after and before the update in the orders table.

Triggers can automate data consistency across tables but require careful design and testing to avoid unintended consequences.

  1. Temporary Tables:

You can create a temporary table to hold the combined data from your main tables and then use a single UPDATE statement based on that temporary table. This approach can be efficient for complex updates involving multiple joins.

Example (simplified):

SELECT o.id AS order_id, i.id AS item_id, i.price
FROM orders o
INNER JOIN item i ON o.item_id = i.id;

UPDATE order_details
SET total_price = order_id * price;

UPDATE orders
SET total_amount = (SELECT total_price FROM order_details WHERE order_id = orders.id);

DROP TABLE order_details;


  1. A temporary table order_details is created to hold joined data from orders and item.
  2. The first UPDATE calculates the total price for each order detail in the temporary table.
  3. The second UPDATE uses a subquery to update the total amount in the orders table based on the calculated total price from the temporary table.
  4. Finally, the temporary table is dropped.

This method can be efficient but requires additional steps to manage the temporary table.

The best method for your scenario depends on the complexity of your updates, the number of tables involved, and your preference for readability or efficiency. Consider these alternatives along with subqueries to find the approach that best suits your needs.

sqlite join sql-update

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