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2023-01-05 12:00:00

SQLitePCLRaw and open source sustainability


SQLite is an extremely popular database library used by almost everything. It is written in C, so many languages require some sort of wrapper library.

SQLitePCLRaw is an open source library (which I maintain) that provides a low-level .NET wrapper for SQLite.

Hopefully we can agree that there is no open source library with a worse name than "SQLitePCLRaw", but there are historical reasons for the name and its 3 components:

SQLitePCLRaw is not user friendly. It is intended to be a low-level core upon which other libraries can be built. For example, it is used by the popular nuget package sqlite-net, by Frank Krueger aka @praeclarum.

And, perhaps most relevant here, SQLitePCLRaw is a dependency of Microsoft.Data.Sqlite, which is used for Entity Framework Core, developed and maintained by Microsoft.


SQLitePCLRaw is widely used.

The core package has about 125 million nuget downloads.

There are 7 copies of SQLitePCLRaw inside Visual Studio.

As far as I can tell, in one way or another, nearly all current .NET usage of SQLite is based on my work. (Edit: Am I correct here? I'm not sure about System.Data.SQLite.)

I've never been to Nebraska, but the classic xkcd comic hits home for me:


I have never received any financial compensation for maintaining SQLitePCLRaw.

It has been interesting to watch various other popular open source projects wrestle with sustainability issues, including IdentityServer, ImageSharp, etc. To be clear, I intend no criticism here of any decisions made by these projects, or of Microsoft's handling of such situations. I mention them simply because they have made me think.

I don't actually see much appeal in being the person who triggers the next wave of "drama" in the .NET ecosystem. But I'll confess that every year on April Fools Day, I consider posting an absurd and farcical announcement of a change to a proprietary license, just to see how much trouble I could stir up.

Anyway, I sometimes find myself reflecting on why I do maintain this library, and in the interest of transparency, I am sharing some of those thoughts here. I am making no announcements or changes. This is simply my attempt at an honest and completely objective discussion of the issues.

The status quo is apparently okay

The situation with SQLitePCLRaw has been about the same for quite a few years. I must therefore conclude that the status quo "kinda works" for everyone involved.

Sometimes it seems like this isn't working. But it apparently is. Nobody is forcing me to maintain this package. Nobody is forcing people to use it. I mean, if this weren't basically okay, somebody would opt out, right?.

So this (kinda) works. But why? If the xkcd comic is relevant here, it is not usually interpreted to have healthy connotations.

I'll limit my conjecture about the motivation of others and speak for myself. Why do I do this? I suppose people do things because the positives outweigh the negatives.

In terms of positives, even though I get no money for this, I am aware that there are certain non-monetary benefits. I'll mention those in a bit.

But I suspect the real key for me is limiting the negatives (stress, time investment, etc).


The most important way that I limit the negatives is to carefully keep my commitments to a minimum. I usually describe this as an effort to "underpromise and overdeliver".

And when I say "underpromise", what I mean is that I promise basically nothing at all.

Somebody asked me recently if I had a written security policy for SQLitePCLRaw. I said no. And I have no intention of creating one.

Isn't that kind of unprofessional? Darn right. The word "professional" implies payment. As maintainer of this library, I have amateur status.

Nobody is entitled to my time or attention, even if I choose to give them some.

I also have complete control over how and when I spend time working on this library. I tend to do my maintenance work in bursts. Some weeks this gig is full time. Some weeks I do nothing at all.

SQLitePCLRaw lives in a piece of my life with a big fence around it. Those boundaries are important.

Intangible Benefits

And then there are the positives.

My work on SQLitePCLRaw is connected to my role as one of the owners of SourceGear, and to some extent, these intangibles indirectly benefit my company as well. Nonetheless, I am accountable to my business partner and my coworkers. Whether the situation makes sense for SourceGear is an important and ongoing consideration.

(Some might observe that most of "my" 125 M downloads came through Microsoft. Just how much right do I have to brag about them? I will happily concede that I am like a basketball player who can't get his own shot, but I score 30 pts a game because the point guard keeps feeding me assists.)

Possible changes

So, what if I wanted something better than the status quo? How might I change things to get fewer negatives or more positives? There are a few ideas that keep coming up for consideration.

Should I try to recruit other maintainers?

Some would look at my situation and suggest that I try to recruit other maintainers to share the load. But I tend to think that would make things harder, not easier.

Joining the .NET Foundation is another idea in the same bucket. I support the Foundation and its goals, and I very much appreciate the efforts of those who serve there. But in my case, I think joining would likely increase the time I have to "work and play well with others".

I can see how users of this library might prefer that it had more than one maintainer or Foundation membership, but nobody has pushed me in that direction, and working on this as a solo endeavor is just easier.

Should I try to do even less?

"Never let it be said I didn't do the least I could do."
-- Hawkeye Pierce, M*A*S*H

There are some good possibilities here. In fact, I've taken measured steps in this direction by placing lower priority on things like support for packages.config. Sometimes I wonder when I can discontinue support for .NET Framework or Mono.

At some point I might stop providing builds of SQLCipher. I ended up accepting responsibility for that chore somewhat accidentally. In fact, my regrets there are part of the "lessons learned" that taught me to be more careful about making commitments.

Should I try to charge money?

I tend to think that most of the ideas in this bucket just wouldn't work.

If there was a way to make truckloads of cash from this project, I would probably do it. I just don't think there is. If I changed the license to something non-open-source, it would probably backfire. If I tried charging for support or special builds or features, most people wouldn't pay.

Part of what's going on here is that I'm only interested in money if it's significant.

Sometimes people offer to pay for an hour of my time to sort out their problem. I appreciate that, but frankly, it's not worth the trouble. Our company isn't well configured to deal with single-hour engagements. Keep the money, I'll probably try to help you anyway.

This is the same reason I haven't tried GitHub Sponsors. That model seems like it could end up being the worst of both worlds, increasing my obligations, but not for enough money to make a difference. I am quite willing to be convinced I am wrong about this.

I generally prefer to keep my amateur status unless there is real money on the table.

Should I try to get Microsoft to pay me?

Some would say that Microsoft should be compensating me for maintaining SQLitePCLRaw.

And to be clear, they are welcome to do so. I've told various folks at Microsoft that if they ever want more structure or assurances, just let me know. After all, SourceGear is (at least partially) in the business of selling my time and attention.

But nobody at Microsoft has ever expressed an interest in that, and I assume there are good reasons why.

Yes, if I didn't maintain this library, then somebody at Microsoft would probably have to do it, and that person would need to be paid, which means it comes out of somebody's budget.

But the other side of the coin is that dealing with budget issues might be simpler for them than dealing with an external dependency. I'm applying some conjecture here, but I think Microsoft's structure probably makes it hard to deal with a situation like mine.

For my part, my working relationship with the EF Core team is extremely positive. That's the team with whom I coordinate most closely, and they're great folks.

But on their side, I bet there is at least some awkwardness that I can't see. For example, I speculate that they get complaints from enterprise customers about their use of my library.

Similarly, Microsoft doesn't control my time, and that probably makes their project planning more difficult sometimes. Whenever they want something about SQLitePCLRaw to change, they have to ask me instead of assigning me tasks.

All I'm saying here is if we assume that my maintenance of this library is of some benefit to Microsoft (and I think it is), it is also reasonable to assume that it presents them with certain challenges as well. I tend to believe that there are interesting ways that Microsoft could use financial resources to improve the health of the .NET ecosystem, but I don't want to approach that issue from a perspective of entitlement or ignorance.

One final thought here: People often criticize Microsoft for (what they see as) a need to control everything. Their dependency on my library is a counter-example of this claim. Let's give them some credit for that.


Looking at all these possible changes I might try to make, it's just not clear that any of them would make things better, and some would make things worse.

In general, that's another reason people accept their status quo -- when they believe they are in the best (or least-bad) available option.


People who choose to take a dependency on SQLitePCLRaw are doing so voluntarily. Why would they do that when I'm making so few promises?

A dependency can be a terrible thing. In my own work, I approach every potential dependency with a degree of cynicism that is downright unfair. Every library I meet is guilty until proven innocent.

And there are risks in play when depending on a library that is maintained by one person. What if I get hit by a bus?

In the sections above, I have enumerated several ways that I am difficult and uncooperative. I mean, whether your product is free or paid, folks usually work hard to attract users, whereas I have emphasized the boundaries I use to protect myself from those users. This is not a typical recipe for a project that lots of people actually want to adopt. And yet they do. Why?

I assume the reason is that even though I promise nothing, in practice, I tend to do a little better than that.

I try to "underpromise and overdeliver".

Obviously, if I did not overdeliver, people would stop using this library. And I would lose my intangible benefits.

There is a symmetry here. Just as the benefits I receive are intangible (not monetary), the benefits I provide are intangible (not promised).

Apparently a lot of people using SQLitePCLRaw are okay with that. So far, I am too.