The new Any.DO version was released to beta testers this week. It’s been a long journey..

On the last couple of months I was working hard on that version. Lots of infrastructure changes, Some of them are Database changes, which I hate because then I have to support upgrading from older DB version. It’s irritating to write it, and even more irritating to test it afterwards (no matter how many useful scripts I wrote to make it easier).

In Android we use SQLite Database, and even though it supports many SQL commands as the more functional Databases around (MySql, Oracle…) it lacks a few useful commands. The ALTER TABLE DROP COLUMN is one of the things I miss the most. There were times where I considered leaving a redundant column in the table, just to avoid the whole process of removing it while upgrading :).

The Internet is full with with people asking about alternatives, and some got useful answers in the shape of pseudo code to get the table on its way to salvation. I got myself into a situation where I needed to drop 4 column on 3 different tables. Damn.

That’s it, no more excuses! I’m dealing with this once and for all!

From the SQlite’s FAQ page, one must follow these steps to get this done:

INSERT INTO t1_backup SELECT a,b FROM t1;
INSERT INTO t1 SELECT a,b FROM t1_backup;
DROP TABLE t1_backup;

The main problem here – not a generic solution. I need to know the list of column I want to keep, instead of just the columns I want to remove. I solved this problem by using the following SQL command:

PRAGMA table_info(table_name);

This will query the list of columns this table has, among with their properties (type, default value etc.). Using this, I wrote a function to get all the columns of a certain table:

public List<String> getTableColumns(String tableName) {
    ArrayList<String> columns = new ArrayList<String>();
    String cmd = "pragma table_info(" + tableName + ");";
    Cursor cur = getDB().rawQuery(cmd, null);

    while (cur.moveToNext()) {

    return columns;

Now we can proceed to the the dropColumn() implementation:

private void dropColumn(SQLiteDatabase db,
		ConnectionSource connectionSource,
		String createTableCmd,
		String tableName,
		String[] colsToRemove) throws java.sql.SQLException {

	List<String> updatedTableColumns = getTableColumns(tableName);
	// Remove the columns we don't want anymore from the table's list of columns

	String columnsSeperated = TextUtils.join(",", updatedTableColumns);

	db.execSQL("ALTER TABLE " + tableName + " RENAME TO " + tableName + "_old;");

	// Creating the table on its new format (no redundant columns)

	// Populating the table with the data
	db.execSQL("INSERT INTO " + tableName + "(" + columnsSeperated + ") SELECT "
			+ columnsSeperated + " FROM " + tableName + "_old;");
	db.execSQL("DROP TABLE " + tableName + "_old;");

So what do we have here?

This function is receiving the db and the connectionSource as arguments, as for the onUpgrade() method, which is the main entry point for the whole Database upgrading process. The createTableCmd is the “CREATE TABLE… “ command to create the new table. You must have that command in order to create the table on a new installation of the app. The tableName is…well…the name of the table. The colsToRemove is an array of columns we want to remove from the table. We can also easily create a convenient function to receive only a String of one column name.

That’s it! Let the columns’ dropping frenzy begin! You can also use this method to support the missing RENAME COLUMN command. The badly-named columns days are over, no more columns like “task_title_which_is_shared_via_email”. Just rename them!

On my next posts I’ll publish some of my useful scripts to help me develop and test more efficiently.

Written by Udi Cohen