Resolving Blocking Problems

Many applications suffer poor performance because processes are backed up waiting to acquire locks or because of deadlocks. A smooth, fast application should minimize the time spent waiting for locks, and it should avoid deadlocks. The most important step you can take is to first understand how locking works.

A process blocks when it stalls while waiting to acquire a lock that is incompatible with a lock held by some other process. This condition is often, but erroneously, referred to as a "deadlock." As long as the process being stalled is not, in turn , stalling the offending process ”which results in a circular chain that will never work itself out without intervention ”you have a blocking problem, not a deadlock. If the blocking process is simply holding on to locks or is itself blocked by some other process, this is not a deadlock either. The process requesting the lock must wait for the other process to release the incompatible lock; when it does, all will be fine. Of course, if the process holds that lock excessively, performance still grinds to a halt and you must deal with the blocking problem. Your process will suffer from bad performance and might also hold locks that stall other processes; every system on the network will appear to hang.

The following guidelines will help you avoid or resolve blocking problems:

  • Keep transactions as short as possible. Ideally , a BEGIN TRAN COMMIT TRAN block will include only the actual DML statements that must be executed. To the extent possible, do conditional logic, variable assignment, and other "setup" work before the BEGIN TRAN. The shorter the transaction lasts, the shorter the time that locks will be held. Keep the entire transaction within one batch if possible.
  • Never add a pause within a transaction for user input. This rule is basically a part of the previous one, but it is especially important. Humans are slow and unreliable compared to computers. Do not add a pause in the middle of the transaction to ask a user for input or to confirm some action. The person might decide to get up to take a coffee break, stalling the transaction and making it hold locks that cause blocking problems for other processes. If some locks must be held until the user provides more information, you should set timers in your application so that even if the user decides to go to lunch , the transaction will be aborted and the locks will be released. Similarly, give your applications a way to cancel out of a query if such an action is necessary. Alternatively, you can use the LOCK_TIMEOUT session option to control when SQL Server automatically cancels out of a locking situation. We'll look at this option later in this chapter.
  • When you process a result set, process all rows as quickly as possible. Recall from Chapter 3 that an application that stops processing results can prevent the server from sending more results and stall the scanning process, which requires locks to be held much longer.
  • For browsing applications, consider using cursors with optimistic concurrency control. An address book application is a good example of a browsing application: users scroll around to look at data and occasionally update it. But the update activity is relatively infrequent compared to the time spent perusing the data. Using scrollable cursors with the OPTIMISTIC locking mode is a good solution for such applications. Instead of locking, the cursor's optimistic concurrency logic determines whether the row has changed from the copy that your cursor read. If the row has not changed, the update is made without holding locks during the lengthy period in which the user is perusing the data. If the row has changed, the UPDATE statement produces an error and the application can decide how to respond. Although you were strenuously cautioned in Chapter 11 about the misuse of cursors , they are ideally suited to browsing applications.
  • You can also easily implement your own optimistic locking mechanism without using cursors. Save the values of the data you selected and add a WHERE clause to your update that checks whether the values in the current data are the same as those you retrieved. Or, rather than use the values of the data, use a SQL Server timestamp column ”an ever-increasing number that's updated whenever the row is touched, unrelated to the system time. If the values or timestamp are not identical, your update will not find any qualifying row and will not affect anything. You can also detect changes with @@ROWCOUNT and decide to simply abort, or more typically, you can indicate to the user that the values have changed and then ask whether the update should still be performed. But between the time the data was initially retrieved and the time the update request was issued, shared locks are not held, so the likelihood of blocking and deadlocks is significantly reduced.

Indexes and Blocking

We've already recommended that you choose your indexes wisely, strictly for performance reasons. However, concurrency concerns are also a reason to make sure you have good indexes on your tables. (Of course, better concurrency can also lead to better performance.) We saw in Chapter 13 that SQL Server acquires row (or key) locks whenever possible. However, this does not always mean that no other rows are affected if you are updating only one row in a table. Remember that to find the row to update, SQL Server must first do a search and acquire UPDATE locks on the resources it inspects. If SQL Server does not have a useful index to help find the desired row, it uses a table scan. This means every row in the table acquires an update lock, and the row actually being updated acquires an exclusive lock, which is not released until the end of the transaction. The following shows a small example that nevertheless illustrates the crucial relationship between indexes and concurrency.

 USE pubs go DROP TABLE t1 go /* First create and populate a small table. */ CREATE TABLE t1 (a int) go INSERT INTO t1 VALUES (1) INSERT INTO t1 VALUES (3) INSERT INTO t1 VALUES (5) go BEGIN tran  UPDATE t1  SET a = 7 WHERE a = 1 EXEC sp_lock @@spid /* The output here should show you one X lock, on a RID; that is the     row that has been updated. */ /* In another query window, run this batch before rollback is     issued: */ USE pubs UPDATE t1 SET a = 10 WHERE a = 3 /* Execute the rollback in the first window. */ ROLLBACK TRAN 

You should have noticed that the second connection was unable to proceed. To find the row where a = 3, it tries to scan the table, first acquiring update locks. However, it cannot obtain an update lock on the first row, which now has a value of 7 for a , because that row is exclusively locked. Since SQL Server has no way to know whether that is a row it is looking for without being able to even look at it, this second connection blocks. When the rollback occurs in the first connection, the locks are released and the second connection can finish.

Let's see what happens if we put an index on the table. We'll run the same script again, except we'll build a nonclustered index on column a .

 USE pubs go DROP TABLE t1 go /* First create and populate a small table. */ CREATE TABLE t1 ( a int) Go CREATE INDEX idx1 ON t1(a) go INSERT INTO t1 VALUES (1) INSERT INTO t1 VALUES (3) INSERT INTO t1 VALUES (5) go BEGIN tran  UPDATE t1  SET a = 7 WHERE a = 1 EXEC sp_lock @@spid /* In this case, the output should show you three X locks (one again on  a RID) and two KEY locks. When the key column a is changed, the leaf  level of the nonclustered index is adjusted. Since the leaf level of  the index keeps all the keys in sorted order, the old key with the  value 1 is moved from the beginning of the leaf level to the end,  because now its value is 7. However, until the transaction is over, a  ghost entry is left in the original position and the key lock is  maintained. So there are two key locks: one for the old value and one  for the new. */ /* In another query window, run this batch before rollback is issued: */ USE pubs UPDATE t1 SET a = 10 WHERE a = 3 /* Execute the rollback in the first window. */ ROLLBACK TRAN 

This time the second query succeeded, even though the first query held X locks on the keys in the leaf level of the index. The second connection was able to generate the lock resource string for the keys it needed to lock, and then only request locks on those particular keys. Since the keys the second connection requested were not the same as the keys that the first connection locked, there was no conflict over locking resources and the second connection could proceed.

Inside Microsoft SQL Server 7.0
Inside Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 (Mps)
ISBN: 0735605173
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 1999
Pages: 144 © 2008-2017.
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