This is a late answer. Starting from SQLIte 3.24.0, released on June 4, 2018, there is finally a support for UPSERT clause following PostgreSQL syntax.

INSERT INTO players (user_name, age)
  VALUES('steven', 32) 
  ON CONFLICT(user_name) 
  DO UPDATE SET age=excluded.age;

Note: For those having to use a version of SQLite earlier than 3.24.0, please reference this answer below (posted by me, @MarqueIV).

However if you do have the option to upgrade, you are strongly encouraged to do so as unlike my solution, the one posted here achieves the desired behavior in a single statement. Plus you get all the other features, improvements and bug fixes that usually come with a more recent release.

Q&A Style

Well, after researching and fighting with the problem for hours, I found out that there are two ways to accomplish this, depending on the structure of your table and if you have foreign keys restrictions activated to maintain integrity. I'd like to share this in a clean format to save some time to the people that may be in my situation.

Option 1: You can afford deleting the row

In other words, you don't have foreign key, or if you have them, your SQLite engine is configured so that there no are integrity exceptions. The way to go is INSERT OR REPLACE. If you are trying to insert/update a player whose ID already exists, the SQLite engine will delete that row and insert the data you are providing. Now the question comes: what to do to keep the old ID associated?

Let's say we want to UPSERT with the data user_name='steven' and age=32.

Look at this code:

INSERT INTO players (id, name, age)

    coalesce((select id from players where user_name='steven'),
             (select max(id) from drawings) + 1),

The trick is in coalesce. It returns the id of the user 'steven' if any, and otherwise, it returns a new fresh id.

Option 2: You cannot afford deleting the row

After monkeying around with the previous solution, I realized that in my case that could end up destroying data, since this ID works as a foreign key for other table. Besides, I created the table with the clause ON DELETE CASCADE, which would mean that it'd delete data silently. Dangerous.

So, I first thought of a IF clause, but SQLite only has CASE. And this CASE can't be used (or at least I did not manage it) to perform one UPDATE query if EXISTS(select id from players where user_name='steven'), and INSERT if it didn't. No go.

And then, finally I used the brute force, with success. The logic is, for each UPSERT that you want to perform, first execute a INSERT OR IGNORE to make sure there is a row with our user, and then execute an UPDATE query with exactly the same data you tried to insert.

Same data as before: user_name='steven' and age=32.

-- make sure it exists
INSERT OR IGNORE INTO players (user_name, age) VALUES ('steven', 32); 

-- make sure it has the right data
UPDATE players SET user_name='steven', age=32 WHERE user_name='steven'; 

And that's all!


As Andy has commented, trying to insert first and then update may lead to firing triggers more often than expected. This is not in my opinion a data safety issue, but it is true that firing unnecessary events makes little sense. Therefore, a improved solution would be:

-- Try to update any existing row
UPDATE players SET age=32 WHERE user_name='steven';

-- Make sure it exists
INSERT OR IGNORE INTO players (user_name, age) VALUES ('steven', 32); 

Here's an approach that doesn't require the brute-force 'ignore' which would only work if there was a key violation. This way works based on any conditions you specify in the update.

Try this...

-- Try to update any existing row
UPDATE players
SET age=32
WHERE user_name='steven';

-- If no update happened (i.e. the row didn't exist) then insert one
INSERT INTO players (user_name, age)
SELECT 'steven', 32
WHERE (Select Changes() = 0);

How It Works

The 'magic sauce' here is using Changes() in the Where clause. Changes() represents the number of rows affected by the last operation, which in this case is the update.

In the above example, if there are no changes from the update (i.e. the record doesn't exist) then Changes() = 0 so the Where clause in the Insert statement evaluates to true and a new row is inserted with the specified data.

If the Update did update an existing row, then Changes() = 1 (or more accurately, not zero if more than one row was updated), so the 'Where' clause in the Insert now evaluates to false and thus no insert will take place.

The beauty of this is there's no brute-force needed, nor unnecessarily deleting, then re-inserting data which may result in messing up downstream keys in foreign-key relationships.

Additionally, since it's just a standard Where clause, it can be based on anything you define, not just key violations. Likewise, you can use Changes() in combination with anything else you want/need anywhere expressions are allowed.