Chapter 5. Secondary Databases

Table of Contents

Opening and Closing Secondary Databases
Implementing Key Extractors
Working with Multiple Keys
Reading Secondary Databases
Deleting Secondary Database Records
Using Cursors with Secondary Databases
Database Joins
Using Join Cursors
Secondary Database Example
Secondary Databases with example_database_load
Secondary Databases with example_database_read

Usually you find database records by means of the record's key. However, the key that you use for your record will not always contain the information required to provide you with rapid access to the data that you want to retrieve. For example, suppose your database contains records related to users. The key might be a string that is some unique identifier for the person, such as a user ID. Each record's data, however, would likely contain a complex object containing details about people such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and so forth. While your application may frequently want to query a person by user ID (that is, by the information stored in the key), it may also on occasion want to locate people by, say, their name.

Rather than iterate through all of the records in your database, examining each in turn for a given person's name, you create indexes based on names and then just search that index for the name that you want. You can do this using secondary databases. In DB, the database that contains your data is called a primary database. A database that provides an alternative set of keys to access that data is called a secondary database. In a secondary database, the keys are your alternative (or secondary) index, and the data corresponds to a primary record's key.

You create a secondary database by creating the database, opening it, and then associating the database with the primary database (that is, the database for which you are creating the index). As a part of associating the secondary database to the primary, you must provide a callback that is used to create the secondary database keys. Typically this callback creates a key based on data found in the primary database record's key or data.

Once opened, DB manages secondary databases for you. Adding or deleting records in your primary database causes DB to update the secondary as necessary. Further, changing a record's data in the primary database may cause DB to modify a record in the secondary, depending on whether the change forces a modification of a key in the secondary database.

Note that you can not write directly to a secondary database. Any attempt to write to a secondary database results in a non-zero status return. To change the data referenced by a secondary record, modify the primary database instead. The exception to this rule is that delete operations are allowed on the secondary database. See Deleting Secondary Database Records for more information.


Secondary database records are updated/created by DB only if the key creator callback function returns 0. If a value other than 0 is returned, then DB will not add the key to the secondary database, and in the event of a record update it will remove any existing key. Note that the callback can use either DB_DONOTINDEX or some error code outside of DB's name space to indicate that the entry should not be indexed.

See Implementing Key Extractors for more information.

When you read a record from a secondary database, DB automatically returns the data and optionally the key from the corresponding record in the primary database.

Opening and Closing Secondary Databases

You manage secondary database opens and closes in the same way as you would any normal database. The only difference is that:

  • You must associate the secondary to a primary database using DB->associate().

  • When closing your databases, it is a good idea to make sure you close your secondaries before closing your primaries. This is particularly true if your database closes are not single threaded.

When you associate a secondary to a primary database, you must provide a callback that is used to generate the secondary's keys. These callbacks are described in the next section.

For example, to open a secondary database and associate it to a primary database:

#include <db.h>


DB *dbp, *sdbp;    /* Primary and secondary DB handles */
u_int32_t flags;   /* Primary database open flags */
int ret;           /* Function return value */

/* Primary */
ret = db_create(&dbp, NULL, 0);
if (ret != 0) {
  /* Error handling goes here */

/* Secondary */
ret = db_create(&sdbp, NULL, 0);
if (ret != 0) {
  /* Error handling goes here */

/* Usually we want to support duplicates for secondary databases */
ret = sdbp->set_flags(sdbp, DB_DUPSORT);
if (ret != 0) {
  /* Error handling goes here */

/* Database open flags */
flags = DB_CREATE;    /* If the database does not exist,
                       * create it.*/

/* open the primary database */
ret = dbp->open(dbp,        /* DB structure pointer */
                NULL,       /* Transaction pointer */
                "my_db.db", /* On-disk file that holds the database. */
                NULL,       /* Optional logical database name */
                DB_BTREE,   /* Database access method */
                flags,      /* Open flags */
                0);         /* File mode (using defaults) */
if (ret != 0) {
  /* Error handling goes here */

/* open the secondary database */
ret = sdbp->open(sdbp,          /* DB structure pointer */
                 NULL,          /* Transaction pointer */
                 "my_secdb.db", /* On-disk file that holds the 
                                   database. */
                 NULL,          /* Optional logical database name */
                 DB_BTREE,      /* Database access method */
                 flags,         /* Open flags */
                 0);            /* File mode (using defaults) */
if (ret != 0) {
  /* Error handling goes here */

/* Now associate the secondary to the primary */
dbp->associate(dbp,            /* Primary database */
               NULL,           /* TXN id */
               sdbp,           /* Secondary database */
               get_sales_rep,  /* Callback used for key creation. Not
                                * defined in this example. See the next
                                * section. */
               0);              /* Flags */

Closing the primary and secondary databases is accomplished exactly as you would for any database:

/* Close the secondary before the primary */
if (sdbp != NULL)
    sdbp->close(sdbp, 0);
if (dbp != NULL)
    dbp->close(dbp, 0);