Litestream v0.3.4 Released
Posted April 28, 2021 by Ben Johnson ‐ 9 min read
Over the last month, we’ve been focused on stability & quality-of-life changes to Litestream. We now have an official Litestream Docker image so you can run your backups as a sidecar to your existing Docker image. We’ve also provided an example Dockerfile for those wanting to bundle their application with Litestream into a single Docker container using s6.
Our license has changed as well! We’ve move from a restrictive, copyleft GPLv3 license to a permissive Apache 2 license.
Finally, we’ve significantly improved the recovery performance and fixed up a handful of bugs. Thanks to everyone who reported bugs, gave feedback, and helped with testing!
The most frequent question asked about Litestream since the project started has been, “how do I run this on Docker?" Whether you like Docker or not, the fact is that much of the tech world has moved to containerized deployments.
In traditional applications, developers deploy their stateless, single-process application within a Docker container and it connects to a stateful database. However, with Litestream, not only is the container stateful but Litestream also runs as a separate process.
There are a couple ways to Dockerize your application depending on your needs. Let’s take a look at some common use cases.
Shared volume, sidecar replication
The first use case is to keep your application as a single-process container and mount a persistent volume for your database. You can then use the official Litestream Docker image (#156) to mount the same volume and replicate from there.
Single container, multiple processes
Not all deployments support a sidecar container. For example, fly.io provides an excellent, simple platform for deploying applications but the caveat is that those applications need to be in a single container.
Fortunately, there’s a great solution called s6-overlay for running your application as well as Litestream in a single container. It uses a simple init system called s6 that forwards signals, restarts background processes, and allows you to teardown the container when your main application finishes.
You can run this setup with a mounted volume to persist your database between deployments or you can run this ephemerally so that your database is restored from S3 on each deploy. Personally, I recommend using a persistent disk as it will minimize downtime during deployments. However, if you have a small, low-write database then an ephemeral disk can work just fine. You can find an example of this ephemeral method on Michael Lynch’s logpaste project.
You can find an example application & walkthrough on the litestream-s6-example repository.
Making Docker sing
Building a Dockerfile for Litestream was pretty straightforward, however, making it something developers want to use is an entirely different story. We’ve added a bunch of small improvements that make deploying much simpler.
First, we’ve added a
-if-replica-exists flag to the
(#131). This will cause Litestream to exit successfully if there are no
replicas available to restore from. This simple change makes it easy to create
an initialization script that will restore if a database replica is available
but otherwise will let the application create a new database on the first run.
Next, we fixed up the shutdown process for Litestream so that it will flush all
outstanding writes (#132) and it will correctly catch
These two fixes allow users to run an empheral disk to help ensure recent writes
get backed up.
In the Docker world, environment variables work better than configuration files, however, Litestream needs configuration files for complex configuration options. To support both of these options, we’ve added environment variable expansion in configuration files (#157). This means you can bundle a config into your container and define your own environment variables that will be evaluated before your configuration file is read.
Finally, we’ve shrunk down the binary sizes on the release builds (#159) and have included static builds in our releases (#130). Docker container sizes can easily explode into the hundreds of megabytes or even gigabytes. The Linux amd64 binary for Litestream is now 17.4MB.
SQLite is sometimes called an “edge database” in that it can be run on small ARM devices far away from data centers. Not only do these devices have limited resources but can also have intermittent internet connections.
We’ve added release builds for 32-bit ARM (
arm7) and 64-bit ARM
arm64) (#148, #151). The 32-bit ARM processors are typically found in
smaller or older devices like the Raspberry Pi Zero while the 64-bit
processors are gaining popularity in data centers such as AWS' new Graviton
Apple recently released their Apple Silicon M1 chip and we do not have a release build for it yet but we are planning to add it in the future. If you are interested in using Litestream with the new Macs, please add a comment or add a reaction on issue #175 and that’ll help us prioritize it.
Open & permissive licensing
When Litestream first started, it used GPLv3. The GPL is known for what’s called a “copyleft” provision which means that anyone who changes the code or creates a derivative work needs to release their code as open source as well. I’ve always used very permissive licenses (e.g. MIT) in other projects but I felt that I could try using GPL for Litestream because it’s a standalone library.
However, I found the license to be overly restrictive. While Litestream started as a separate standalone tool, I would like to release it as an embeddable library in the future. A GPL license would require anyone who includes Litestream in their application to also release their code as open source which seemed unreasonable. Even an LGPL license would be restrictive as Go uses static compilation.
I’ve had many people theorize why I open sourced Litestream—some think I want to make it into a business, others think I want acclaim. The reason I open sourced Litestream is actually quite simple—I think the best software is software that gets used. Open source is a fantastic means of distribution and the more people that use Litestream, give feedback, & share ideas, the better it will be.
The GPL is antithetical to my goal. It restricts usage rather than encourages it. Because of that, I’ve changed Litestream to an Apache 2 license (#168). After researching and asking around, I found it to be the best choice for a permissive license. While the MIT & BSD licenses are wonderful in their simplicity, the Apache 2 license seems to be more friendly to lawyers who, at the end of the day, are really who licenses are for.
Improved restore performance
Hopefully you don’t ever need to restore your database because of a catastrophic event but, when you do, you want it to be fast. Litestream’s recovery process involves downloading a snapshot of your database and then replaying all subsequent WAL files into that database.
Previously, Litestream would download a WAL file and then apply it, download another file and apply it, etc. The download time would typically dominate the restore time because applying the WAL file may only take a couple milliseconds. The constant switching also meant that there wasn’t always a file being downloaded so the network device would not be saturated.
The latest version of Litestream now downloads WAL files in parallel and queues
them up on disk to be processed (#167). By default, it will download 8 files
in parallel. This change has improved recovery time by 3-4x. You can increase
the number of parallel downloads by setting the
$ litestream restore -parallelism 16 /path/to/db
If you need faster recovery, you should also consider setting the
snapshot-interval for your replica to a lower duration (e.g.
There was also an poor usability when recovering by index. Previously, the
-index flag in the
restore command would accept a decimal number, however,
Litestream reports the index as a hexadecimal number everywhere else. We’ve
fixed it so that
-index now accepts the hex-formatted number (#165):
$ litestream restore -generation xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx -index 000002bc /path/to/db
We’ve also improved logging for restores to help identify bottlenecks (#162,
#164), removed the
-dry-run flag as it complicated the code (#163),
and fixed a bug around snapshot selection when recovering by index (#166).
Reduced lock contention
Litestream is able to run as a separate process because SQLite is built as a
multi-process database. However, applications typically need to set a timeout on
their connection called
busy_timeout to avoid returning an error if another
process obtains a brief write lock at the same time they want a write lock. You
can read more about it in our Tips & Caveats section on our site.
Originally, Litestream would frequently obtain a very brief write lock to ensure the WAL was at the end of a transaction before copying it to Litestream’s shadow WAL. However, we later updated Litestream to validate transaction boundaries itself so this lock was no longer needed. We updated Litestream to remove this lock (#104) but found some timing issues when obtaining snapshots so we had to remove it (#108).
We’ve done more testing and have been able to successfully remove the lock again by adding some additional read locks around snapshots (#170). While there is still a write lock during checkpointing, write locks will be significantly less frequent.
Other bug fixes
First of all, thanks to everyone who reports bugs to our GitHub repo. It makes a world of difference and we prioritize those to be fixed first. In this relase, we’ve fixed the following bugs & usability issues:
skip-verifyto replicas to allow use with MinIO self-signed certificates (#141)
- Removed confusing reference to “wal” in error message when invalid databases are opened (#154)
- Omitted load extensions from static builds to avoid warning messages (#158)
- Fix flakey WAL filesystem timestamp test (#161)
We’ve also started allowing for setting
LITESTREAM_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY environment variables instead of the original
AWS prefixed versions (#169). The AWS-prefixed versions still work but
some users where confused to use those for non-AWS S3-compatible services:
export LITESTREAM_ACCESS_KEY_ID=AKIAxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx export LITESTREAM_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY=xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
We continue to focus on stability & usability with Litestream v0.3.4. We’ve expanded our deployment options to include Docker containers & ARM processors, we’ve opened up our code by switching to a permissive Apache 2 license, and we’ve significantly improved our time to restore.
Upcoming work on the next version of Litestream (v0.3.5) will include a refactor of the replica system to make it easier to add new replica types (#135). This will enable better support for major cloud vendor storage such as Azure Blob Storage (#134) & Google Cloud Storage (#69) as well as older protocols such as SFTP (#140).