Statistical maintenance functionality (autostats) in SQL Server


The newly-introduced statistical maintenance functionality, AutoStat, may generate unwanted overhead on a production system by performing one of the following actions:
  • Initiating statistical updates during heavy production periods.

  • Initiating an excessively high number of UPDATE STATISTICS processes at a given point in time.
The purpose of this article is to detail the conditions under which you can expect to see autostats generated and UPDATE STATISTICS being run against tables in a database.

For information about autostats in SQL Server 2000, see "Statistics Used by the Query Optimizer in Microsoft SQL Server 2000" at the following MSDN Web site:

Note If you are using Microsoft SQL Server 2005, see the following Microsoft white paper for information about how statistics are used by the query optimizer in SQL Server 2005:

More Information

General information

SQL Server makes use of a cost-based optimizer that can be extremely sensitive to statistical information that is provided on tables and indexes. Without correct and up-to-date statistical information, SQL Server can be challenged to determine the best execution plan for a particular query.

Statistics maintained on each table in SQL Server to aid the optimizer in cost-based decision making include the:
  • Number of rows in the table.
  • Number of pages used by the table.
  • Number of modifications made to the keys of the table since the last update to the statistics.
Additional information is stored for indexes, including (for each index):
  • An equi-height histogram on the first column.
  • Densities on all column prefixes.
  • Average key length.
Statistics on indexes are automatically created whenever a new index is built. In addition, it is now possible to create and maintain statistics on other columns as well.

To maintain the statistical information in an as up-to-date fashion as possible, SQL Server introduces AutoStat, which, through SQL Server's monitoring of table modifications, is capable of automatically updating the statistics for a table when a certain change threshold has been reached. Additionally, SQL Server introduces auto-create-statistics, which causes the server to automatically generate all statistics required for the accurate optimization of a specific query.

Determining when AutoStat generation is imminent

As mentioned above, AutoStat will automatically update the statistics for a particular table when a "change threshold" has been reached. The sysindexes.rowmodctr column maintains a running total of all modifications to a table that, over time, can adversely affect the query processor's decision making process. This counter is updated each time any of the following events occurs:
  • A single row insert is made.
  • A single row delete is made.
  • An update to an indexed column is made.
NOTE: TRUNCATE TABLE does not update rowmodctr.

After table statistics have been updated, the rowmodctr value is reset to 0 and the table's statistics schema version is updated.

Further, in situations in which a stored procedure's execution plan is taken from cache and that plan is sensitive to statistics, the statistics schema version will be compared to the current version. If there are new statistics available, the plan for the stored procedure will be recompiled.

The basic algorithm for auto update statistics is:
  • If the cardinality for a table is less than six and the table is in the tempdb database, auto update with every six modifications to the table.
  • If the cardinality for a table is greater than 6, but less than or equal to 500, update status every 500 modifications.
  • If the cardinality for a table is greater than 500, update statistics when (500 + 20 percent of the table) changes have occurred.
  • For table variables, cardinality changes does not trigger auto update statistics.
NOTE: In this strictest sense, SQL Server counts cardinality as the number of rows in the table.

NOTE: In addition to cardinality, the selectivity of the predicate also affects AutoStats generation. This means that statistics may not be updated afer every 500 modifications if cardinality were < 500 or for every 20% of changes if cardinality were > 500. A scale up factor (value ranges from 1 to 4, 1 and 4 inclusive) is generated depending on the selectivity and a product of this factor and the number of changes as obtained from the algorithm would be the actual number of modifications required for AutoStats generation.

The above algorithm can be summarised in the form of a table:

Table Type | Empty Condition | Threshold When Empty |Threshold When Not Empty
Permanent | < 500 rows | # of Changes >= 500 | # of Changes >= 500 + (20% of Cardinality)
Temporary | < 6 rows | # of Changes >= 6 | # of Changes >= 500 + (20% of Cardinality)
Variables | Change in cardinality does not affect AutoStats generation.
The following are two examples to help demonstrate this concept:

Example 1

Consider the authors table in the pubs database, which contains 23 rows and has two indexes. The unique clustered index, UPKCL_auidind, is indexed on one column, au_id, and a composite nonclustered index, aunmind, has been created on the au_lname and au_fname columns. Because this table contains fewer than 500 rows, AutoStat will begin after 500 changes to the table data have occurred. The changes can be one of 500 or more inserts, deletes, changes to an indexed column such as au_lname, or any combination thereof.

You can, therefore, predict when UPDATE STATISTICS will be initiated by monitoring the sysindexes.rowmodctr value, which will be incremented upon each update. When it reaches or exceeds 500, you can expect UPDATE STATISTICS to be started.

Example 2

Consider a second table, t2, that has a cardinality of 1,000. For tables with greater than 500 rows, SQL Server will UPDATE STATISTICS when (500 + 20 percent) changes have been made. Doing the math, 20 percent of 1,000 is 200, so you can expect to see AutoStat start after approximately 700 modifications have been made to the table.

Automating Autostats determination

To automate the determination of when AutoStat will be run, you can poll the sysindexes table and identify when table modifications are reaching the starting point. The following is a basic algorithm for doing so:

   if (sysindexes.rows > 500)
if (sysindexes.rows * 0.20 >= sysindexes.rowmodctr && production
hours) //500 change leeway
disable autostats
log autostats disable
stats ok
if (sysindexes.rowmodctr >= 425) //75 change leeway
disable autostats
log autostats disable

You could later schedule a job to do the following:
  • Run UPDATE STATISTICS against all tables for which you were forced to disable them during the day.

  • Re-enable AutoStat, because each table's modification counter will have been reset to 0 when UPDATE STATISTICS was run.

Controlling whether UPDATE STATISTICS are run against a table

The most obvious solution to this question, when AutoStat has proven to be Problematic, is to disable auto statistic generation, thereby leaving the database administrators free to schedule UPDATE STATISTICS during less intrusive times. You can do this either by using the UPDATE STATISTICS statement or the sp_autostats stored procedure. The syntax for the UPDATE STATISTICS statement is:


The syntax for the sp_autostats stored procedure is:
sp_autostats <table_name>, <stats_flag>, <index_name>
where <stats_flag> is either "on" or "off".

You can also use sp_dboption to disable the automatic occurrence of UPDATE STATISTICS or CREATE STATISTICS on a per-database level:
sp_dboption <dbname>,'auto update statistics', <on | off>


sp_dboption <dbname>,'auto create statistics', <on | off>

Controlling the number of concurrent UPDATE STATISTICS processes

Currently, short of disabling AutoStat for specific tables, it is not possible to configure the number of automatic UPDATE STATISTICS statements that are being run concurrently (DCR 51539 has been filed for this). The server does, however, limit the number of concurrent UPDATE STATISTICS processes to four per processor.

Determining when Autostats are being run

You can use trace flag 205 to report when a statistics-dependent stored procedure is being recompiled as a result of AutoStat. This trace flag will write the following messages to the error log:
1998-10-15 11:10:51.98 spid9 Recompile issued : ProcName: sp_helpindex
LineNo: 75 StmtNo: 29
When trace flag 205 is enabled, the following message will also bracket the AutoStat message from 8721 when statistics are updated. The opening message of the bracket can be distinguished by the RowModCnt value, which will be greater than 0. The closing bracket, after the UPDATE STATISTICS, will have a RowModCnt value of 0:
1998-10-15 11:38:43.68 spid8 Schema Change: Tbl Dbid: 7 Objid:
133575514 RowModCnt: 60500 RowModLimit: 60499
For this message, "RowModCnt" is the total number of modifications to the table. "RowModLimit" is the threshold which, when exceeded, results in an UPDATE STATISTICS statement execution for the table.

It is also possible to enable trace flag 8721, which will dump information into the error log when AutoStat has been run. The following is an example of the type of message that you can expect to see:
1998-10-14 16:22:13.21 spid13 AUTOSTATS: UPDATED Tbl: [authors]
Rows: 23 Mods: 501 Bound: 500 Duration: 47ms UpdCount: 2
For this message, "Mods" is the total number of modifications to the table. "Bound" is the modification threshold, "Duration" is the amount of time that the UPDATE STATISTICS statement required to complete, and "UpdCount" is the count of updated statistics.

You can also use the SQL Server Profiler to identify when UPDATE STATISTICS statements are being run. To do this, perform the following steps:
  1. On the Profiler menu, click Tools, and then click Options.
  2. On the General tab, go to Events, and then select All Event Classes.
  3. Define a new trace, and under Events, select Misc, select the Auto-Update Stats sub-event.
NOTE: If many statistics are being updated by AutoStat, a great number of messages can be written to the error log. Thoroughly experiment with these trace flags before using them on any production or otherwise critical server.

Schema locks

SQL Server employs two types of schema locks, both of which are taken when it updates the statistics for a table:

Sch-S: Schema Stability Lock
This lock ensures that a schema element, such as a table or index, will
not be dropped while any session holds a schema stability lock on the
schema element.

Sch-M-UPD-STATS: Schema Modification Lock
This is a non-blocking lock that is used by the system to ensure that
only one automatic UPDATE STATISTICS process is run against a table at
any given point in time. The sp_lock stored procedure will report this
lock has having a type = TAB, resouce = UPD-STATS and mode = SCH-M.
You can view these locks by running sp_lock or by selecting from the syslockinfo table.


Article ID: 195565 - Last Review: Jun 22, 2014 - Revision: 1

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