macOS - Full Database Encryption with SQLCipher

Commercial & Enterprise Edition Feature

These SQLCipher Static Library package provides full database encryption for macOS applications. The pre-compiled binary is easily imported into an Xcode project to be statically linked to an application. This provides the quickest integration and fastest application builds:

  • The macOS library is built for arm64 (M1) and x86_64 architectures

SQLCipher static library for macOS is "commercial edition" software that can be purchased directly from the Zetetic Store. Licensed software is delivered immediately upon payment.

Buy SQLCipher for macOS Now » 

Important Note: SQLCipher can also be integrated with macOS applications using the free Community Edition software. This approach is described in a separate tutorial. However, the commercial edition static libraries have some significant advantages:

  1. easier to setup, saving many steps in project configuration
  2. pre-built, avoiding another external project dependency
  3. faster for each build cycle because the library doesn't need to be built from scratch

The remainder of this document provides a practical example of how to integrate SQLCipher in an Xcode project.

This tutorial assumes that Xcode is already installed and that a basic application is already setup.

First, unzip the binary distribution. In Finder, navigate to the file you received and unzip it by double-clicking on the zip file. Next, open up your macOS project's directory in Finder and manually copy the unzipped resources from the sqlcipher-macos-VERSION folder into it.

Next, we'll add the static library file itself to your project's References. Open up your project in Xcode, and once it's loaded, right-click (or control-click) on your project's icon in the Project Navigator (Command+1) and select 'Add Files to ""...'

Navigate to and select the sqlcipher-macos-VERSION/libsqlcipher.a file. The file should now appear in the Project Navigator:

To ensure that Xcode uses the sqlite3.h file from our distribution, you will modify the Header Search Paths setting on your Application Target. Click on your Project icon to bring up the Project-level settings, then select your Application Target listed under Targets in the left hand pane of your project settings. Select the Build Settings pane. In the search field, type in "Header Search Paths". Double-click on the field under the target column and add the following path: $(PROJECT_DIR)/sqlcipher-macos-VERSION/include:

Next, add a setting to ensure that SQLCipher is the first library linked with your application in the "Other Linker Flags" setting. Start typing "Other Linker Flags" into the search field until the setting appears, double click to edit it, and add the following value: $(PROJECT_DIR)/sqlcipher-macos-VERSION/libsqlcipher.a

You will next edit one other setting on your Application Target to ensure the SQLCipher builds correctly—"Other C Flags." Start typing "Other C Flags" into the search field until the setting appears, double click to edit it, and in the pop-up add the following value: -DSQLITE_HAS_CODEC

If your project is Swift, there's one additional setting you need to edit to ensure SQLCipher builds correctly — "Preprocessor Macros". Start typing "Preprocessor Macros" into the search field until the setting appears. Add SQLITE_HAS_CODEC=1 for both the Debug and Release settings.

Finally, still within the Application Target Settings, switch to the Build Phases tab. Under Link With Libraries, add Security.framework.

Now that the SQLCipher library is incorporated into the project you can start using the library immediately. Telling SQLCipher to encrypt a database is easy:

  • Open the database
  • Use the sqlite3_key function to provide key material. In most cases this should occur as the first operation after opening the database.
  • Run a query to verify the database can be opened (i.e. by querying the schema)
  • As a precautionary measure, run a query to ensure that the application is using SQLCipher on the active connection
#import "sqlite3.h";

NSString *databasePath = [[NSSearchPathForDirectoriesInDomains(NSDocumentDirectory, NSUserDomainMask, YES) objectAtIndex:0]
                          stringByAppendingPathComponent: @"sqlcipher.db"];
sqlite3 *db;
sqlite3_stmt *stmt;
bool sqlcipher_valid = NO;

if (sqlite3_open([databasePath UTF8String], &db) == SQLITE_OK) {
    const char* key = [@"BIGSecret" UTF8String];
    sqlite3_key(db, key, (int)strlen(key));
    NSString *licenseQuery = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"PRAGMA cipher_license='%@';", @"ENTER_LICENSE_KEY_HERE"];
    sqlite3_exec(db, [licenseQuery UTF8String], NULL, NULL, NULL);
    int rc = sqlite3_exec(db, (const char*) "SELECT count(*) FROM sqlite_master;", NULL, NULL, NULL);
    if (rc == SQLITE_OK) {
      if(sqlite3_prepare_v2(db, "PRAGMA cipher_version;", -1, &stmt, NULL) == SQLITE_OK) {
        if(sqlite3_step(stmt)== SQLITE_ROW) {
          const unsigned char *ver = sqlite3_column_text(stmt, 0);
          if(ver != NULL) {
            sqlcipher_valid = YES;

            // password is correct (or database initialize), and verified to be using sqlcipher


Using SQLCipher with Swift in Xcode requires that you set up a bridging header to make the library available in your code. In the bridging header add #import "sqlite3.h".

Here's an example of using the API SQLCipher provides in Swift 4:

    var rc: Int32
    var db: OpaquePointer? = nil
    var stmt: OpaquePointer? = nil
    let password: String = "correct horse battery staple"
    rc = sqlite3_open(":memory:", &db)
    if (rc != SQLITE_OK) {
        let errmsg = String(cString: sqlite3_errmsg(db))
        NSLog("Error opening database: \(errmsg)")
    rc = sqlite3_key(db, password, Int32(password.utf8CString.count))
    if (rc != SQLITE_OK) {
        let errmsg = String(cString: sqlite3_errmsg(db))
        NSLog("Error setting key: \(errmsg)")
    let licensePragma = ("PRAGMA cipher_license = 'ENTER_LICENSE_KEY_HERE';" as NSString).utf8String
    rc = sqlite3_exec(db, licensePragma, nil, nil, nil)
    if (rc != SQLITE_OK) {
        let errmsg = String(cString: sqlite3_errmsg(db))
        NSLog("Error with cipher_license: \(errmsg)")
    rc = sqlite3_prepare(db, "PRAGMA cipher_version;", -1, &stmt, nil)
    if (rc != SQLITE_OK) {
        let errmsg = String(cString: sqlite3_errmsg(db))
        NSLog("Error preparing SQL: \(errmsg)")
    rc = sqlite3_step(stmt)
    if (rc == SQLITE_ROW) {
        NSLog("cipher_version: %s", sqlite3_column_text(stmt, 0))
    } else {
        let errmsg = String(cString: sqlite3_errmsg(db))
        NSLog("Error retrieiving cipher_version: \(errmsg)")

In most cases SQLCipher uses PBKDF2, a salted and iterated key derivation function, to obtain the encryption key. Alternately, an application can tell SQLCipher to use a specific binary key in blob notation (note that SQLCipher requires exactly 256 bits of key material), i.e.

PRAGMA key = "x'2DD29CA851E7B56E4697B0E1F08507293D761A05CE4D1B628663F411A8086D99'";

Once the key is set SQLCipher will automatically encrypt all data in the database! Note that if you don't set a key then SQLCipher will operate identically to a standard SQLite database.

There are a number of ways that you can verify SQLCipher is working as expected in your applications before its release to users.

After the application is wired up to use SQLCipher, take a peek at the resulting data files to make sure everything is in order. An ordinary SQLite database will look something like the following under hexdump. Note that the file type, schema, and data are clearly readable.

% hexdump -C plaintext.db
00000000  53 51 4c 69 74 65 20 66  6f 72 6d 61 74 20 33 00  |SQLite format 3.|
00000010  04 00 01 01 00 40 20 20  00 00 00 04 00 00 00 00  |.....@  ........|
000003b0  00 00 00 00 24 02 06 17  11 11 01 35 74 61 62 6c  |....$......5tabl|
000003c0  65 74 32 74 32 03 43 52  45 41 54 45 20 54 41 42  |et2t2.CREATE TAB|
000003d0  4c 45 20 74 32 28 61 2c  62 29 24 01 06 17 11 11  |LE t2(a,b)$.....|
000003e0  01 35 74 61 62 6c 65 74  31 74 31 02 43 52 45 41  |.5tablet1t1.CREA|
000003f0  54 45 20 54 41 42 4c 45  20 74 31 28 61 2c 62 29  |TE TABLE t1(a,b)|
000007d0  00 00 00 14 02 03 01 2d  02 74 77 6f 20 66 6f 72  |.......-.two for|
000007e0  20 74 68 65 20 73 68 6f  77 15 01 03 01 2f 01 6f  | the show..../.o|
000007f0  6e 65 20 66 6f 72 20 74  68 65 20 6d 6f 6e 65 79  |ne for the money|

Locate the sqlcipher data base file under /Users/[username]/Documents/sqlcipher.db. Try running hexdump on the application database. With SQLCipher the output should looks completely random, with no discerning characteristics at all.

% hexdump -C sqlcipher.db
00000000  1b 31 3c e3 aa 71 ae 39  6d 06 f6 21 63 85 a6 ae  |.1<..q.9m..!c...|
00000010  ca 70 91 3e f5 a5 03 e5  b3 32 67 2e 82 18 97 5a  |.p.>.....2g....Z|
00000020  34 d8 65 95 eb 17 10 47  a7 5e 23 20 21 21 d4 d1  |4.e....G.^# !!..|
000007d0  af e8 21 ea 0d 4f 44 fe  15 b7 c2 94 7b ee ca 0b  |..!..OD.....{...|
000007e0  29 8b 72 93 1d 21 e9 91  d4 3c 99 fc aa 64 d2 55  |).r..!...<...d.U|
000007f0  d5 e9 3f 91 18 a9 c5 4b  25 cb 84 86 82 0a 08 7f  |..?....K%.......|

Other sensible testing steps include:

  • Attempt to open a database with a correct key and verify that the operation succeeds
  • Attempt to open a database with an incorrect key and verify that the operation fails
  • Attempt to open a database without any key, and verify the operation fails
  • Programmatically inspect the first 16 bytes of the database file and ensure that it contains random data (i.e. not the string 'SQLite Format 3\0')

Get SQLCipher Binary for macOS

This package can be purchased directly from the Zetetic Store and licensed software is delivered immediately upon payment.

Buy SQLCipher for macOS Now »