INF: Causes of SQL Transaction Log Filling Up

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The SQL Server transaction log can become full, which prevents further UPDATE, DELETE, or INSERT activity in the database, including CHECKPOINT. This is usually seen as error 1105:
Can't allocate space for object syslogs in database dbname because the logsegment is full. If you ran out of space in syslogs, dump the transaction log. Otherwise use ALTER DATABASE or sp_extendsegment to increase the size of the segment.
This can happen on any database, including master or tempdb. This article discusses possible causes and solutions for those problems that led to the error 1105. If your transaction log has filled and you are currently receiving error 1105, you need to empty the log by using the DUMP TRANSACTION statement. For more information about using DUMP TRANSACTION, see your SQL Server documentation.

More Information

A fundamental characteristic of true relational databases, such as Microsoft SQL Server, is that of transactional integrity. Any transaction must be completely atomic (that is, functionally indivisible) in that all changes must be either applied or not applied, even in the event of a system failure. In a user-defined transaction, all statements bracketed by the BEGIN TRANSACTION and COMMIT TRANSACTION statements are either applied or not applied. In an implicit transaction, each single SQL statement is considered an atomic unit.

This capability enables SQL Server to experience a power failure, operating system crash, and so forth when in production and after restarting, thus automatically recovering the database to a consistent state, with no human interaction required. This contrasts with non-relational systems which often require lengthy manual procedures to inspect the database for consistency problems following a system failure.

The transaction log mechanism is what provides this capability. Since transactional integrity is considered a fundamental, intrinsic characteristic of SQL Server, logging cannot be disabled. Certain utility or maintenance operations, such as fast BCP and SELECT INTO, do minimal logging, but even these log extent allocations so that rollback is possible.

The space requirements for logging can be considerable. For example, in most cases the before and after image of each updated data row must be recorded, plus that of any affected index rows. Since a certain fixed amount of transaction record overhead must be recorded for each logged row, the ratio of updated data to log space consumption will vary depending on the row width. For a narrow row, the amount of log space consumed for a particular UPDATE, DELETE or INSERT could be ten times the data space consumed. For wider rows, the amount of log space consumed will be proportionately less. Log space consumption is an unavoidable consequence of providing transactional integrity. The Database Administrator must provide sufficient log space for his or her particular installation.

The amount of log space required can vary depending on many factors and is very difficult to predict accurately beforehand. While general rule-of- thumb figures, such as 15 to 30 percent of the database size, are sometimes mentioned as a starting point for sizing the log, in actuality this varies widely. Successful SQL Server installations often do some simple empirical tests to roughly assess the log space requirements for their particular data and applications, and then size their log based on this. Attempting to size the log based solely on calculations and without tests is difficult and often inaccurate.

Several difficult-to-predict factors can account for variation in log space consumption. One factor is the query optimizer. For a given SQL data modification statement, the access plan can vary over time depending on statistical distribution of the data. Different access plans can consume different amounts of log space. Another factor is inevitable internal database fragmentation, which can affect the number of page splits performed. There is nothing that can be done or should be done to examine or affect this process, as SQL Server automatically manages data for the user.

An example of a simple test would be to run DBCC CHECKTABLE(syslogs), which returns the number of 2048-byte data pages in the log, both before and after executing a representative sample of your data modification queries. This can give an approximate idea of the log space requirement for these types of queries. It is usually best to err on the side of excess when providing either log or data disk space for relational databases such as SQL Server.

For SQL Server 7.0 and 2000 class servers, the transaction log has the capability to expand as needed. The amount of growth can be governed by the user or allowed to utilize all available disk capacity. A log file is composed of a number of Virtual Log files. The number and size of these virtual log files are determined by SQL Server and cannot be configured. When a database is first created, each physical log file has a minimum of 2 Virtual Log files. Sometimes the database administrator will enable the "truncate log on checkpoint" option of a database in an effort to avoid log space exhaustion. The intent of this option is to provide an automatic method of truncating the log, mainly for development or test databases which do not rely on log dumps for backup. This option does not disable logging or transactional integrity. It merely causes the checkpoint handler to attempt a log truncation approximately every 60 seconds. Note that the log will not be truncated when issuing a manual checkpoint command in a database with "truncate log on checkpoint" on. This option is always on for the tempdb database, even though this is not indicated in the status column of the sp_help stored procedure output.

Even with the "truncate log on checkpoint" option enabled, a number of factors can cause log space exhaustion. These are listed below:
  1. A large atomic transaction, especially a bulk UPDATE, INSERT, or DELETE: Each single SQL statement is considered an atomic unit that must be applied or not applied in its entirety. For this reason, all row alterations must be logged, and the transaction cannot be truncated over its duration. For example, if a large bulk INSERT was issued that had a running time of five minutes, the log consumed by this transaction cannot be truncated for this period. The database administrator must provide sufficient log space for the largest bulk operation expected or must perform the bulk operation in smaller groups.
  2. An uncommitted transaction: The log can only be truncated prior to the oldest uncommitted transaction. There are several possible causes of an uncommitted transaction, most of which are application errors. These include:
    1. A bulk transaction: As considered above, for the duration of a large bulk transaction the log records generated by it cannot be truncated. However, such a transaction also precludes log truncation of other shorter transactions which do commit over the same period.

      For example, say the database administrator has sized the log such that it is sufficient for the largest envisioned bulk transaction. Yet while this transaction runs, other shorter data modification statements may also be consuming log space. This log space cannot be truncated since the large bulk transaction started first and hence becomes the oldest uncommitted transaction. The administrator must be aware of the concurrency and log impact of a large bulk transaction, and size the log appropriately.
    2. A poorly-designed application which allows for user input or other lengthy activity within a user-defined transaction. For example, after issuing a BEGIN TRANSACTION, an application might prompt the user for input which could take a long time, depending on user behavior. Until the user responds and the application issues a COMMIT, log truncation will not be possible.
    3. An application error in which a transaction is not committed: A common cause of this is incorrect handling of the DB-Library call dbcancel() within a user-defined transaction. When a query is canceled with dbcancel(), the currently executing SQL statement is aborted and rolled back, but the outer transaction is not. The application must be aware of this and issue the necessary ROLLBACK TRANSACTION or COMMIT TRANSACTION statement to close the transaction. Failure to do so can often result in error 3902:
      The commit transaction has no corresponding BEGIN TRANSACTION.
      It may be useful for the application to send a SELECT @@TRANCOUNT to determine what transaction nesting level exists. However, the application should not blindly do this and then issue COMMIT/ROLLBACK to achieve @@TRANCOUNT=0. This is because if @@TRANCOUNT is ever different from what the application expects, this indicates the application has lost track of the transaction nesting level, which is an application design error. Issuing COMMIT/ROLLBACK at this point could result in applying or aborting unintended transactions, since the application does not know which transactions resulted in the unintended transaction level. Instead, the programmer should debug the application and any stored procedures involved to determine the cause of the unintended transaction level.
    4. A network error which does not inform SQL Server of a broken network connection: If the client workstation hangs, reboots, or shuts down within a user-defined transaction, the network layer should inform SQL Server of this. If the network does not properly do this, from the perspective of SQL Server the client will appear to be present, and the open transaction from that client will be maintained. This is a network problem and must be pursued as such. As a workaround, the administrator may be able to determine though using sp_who, sp_lock, or a network utility which client session still exists and manually kill it.
    5. Transaction not committed due to blocking: In a multi-user environment it is possible for an open transaction to become blocked on locks held by another process. In this case, the transaction will nevertheless remain open, preventing log truncation. To detect this, the programmer or database administrator will need to use sp_who, sp_lock, or other tools to analyze the concurrency environment. In most cases blocking problems can be reduced or eliminated through proper query, index, and database design.
    6. Failed attempt to cancel a data modification query: If the application issues a dbcancel() and the query is not canceled due to either a network or SQL problem, the query will continue to run and the transaction will remain open. If you suspect a problem here, use sp_who to see if the query is cancelled. If attempting to cancel from a TCP/IP sockets client, try the test from a named pipes client, or run the client application on the server computer using local pipes. This will help discern whether a network or SQL problem is preventing the cancel.
  3. Checkpoint handler truncation bandwidth exceeded: Although the log is truncated every 60 seconds, the rate at which this truncation takes place is finite. This scenario is uncommon and the other possible causes of log overflow should be considered and ruled out first before inspecting this possibility. However, it is possible to exceed the maximum truncation rate if many clients are simultaneously issuing large updates. This is similar to a funnel which can only drain fluid at a certain rate, and can be overfilled even while draining. In this scenario the application can be restructured to reduce the number of rows being updated, which should always be a primary design goal for any relational database anyway.

    If this is not feasible, the system can be reconfigured for increased disk I/O bandwidth though striping, additional controllers, and so forth. It is common in this case to see the checkpoint handler process spend increasing amounts of time in the DUMP TRANSACTION state, as it attempts to keep up with log truncation. Once the truncation threshold is exceeded (see below) you may not see the checkpoint handler ever attempt truncation in that database until the log is cleared.
  4. Truncation threshold exceeded: The checkpoint handler essentially does a DUMP TRANSACTION WITH TRUNCATE_ONLY. Just as if this was issued manually, it will not always succeed if the log is already full to a certain point. For example, a burst of update activity could fill the log to 95% between visits by the checkpoint handler. When the checkpoint handler attempts truncation, while the log is not completely full, it may be too full to allow truncation. This is because the truncation of the log must itself be logged. The only solution in this case is to use DUMP TRANSACTION WITH NO_LOG to manually truncate the log. Using the NO_LOG option is not recommended except when absolutely necessary, as it is a non-logged operation during which system failure could introduce database errors.
  5. Interactions between any of the above: For example, under normal conditions in an update-intensive environment, the checkpoint handler truncation rate may keep the log from filling up. If a temporarily open transaction caused by any of the above conditions (such as lock contention) causes the log to fill to say, 50%, there will be much less headroom for handling other update situations, making it much more likely to reach the truncation threshold, at which point automatic truncation will not be possible. Transactions in tempdb are logged like any other database. Since TRUNCATE LOG ON CHECKPOINT is on in tempdb, in most cases the log will be truncated and not overflow. However, any of the above circumstances can cause the tempdb log to fill up. Tempdb is usually configured for mixed log and data (sysusages.segmap=7) so data and log operations will contend for the same available space. Certain Transact-SQL constructs such as GROUP BY, ORDER BY DESC, and so forth, will automatically require tempdb for work space. This will also cause an implicit BEGIN TRANSACTION record in tempdb for the work space. This tempdb transaction will continue for the duration of the transaction in the user db, which can defer tempdb log truncation for this period. If the transaction in the user db is halted for any reason, including a blocking lock, or the application not processing dbnextrow() to completion, the transaction in tempdb will likewise be left open, preventing tempdb log truncation. The programmer must debug the application and/or resolve the concurrency issues which cause this.
  6. Truncation of the transaction log in SQL Server 7.0 and 2000 class servers is accomplished by truncating Virtual Log Files. If any portion of the active log is resident on a given VLF, that Virtual Log File cannot be truncated. If the active log is resident on all Virtual Log Files, the log cannot be truncated. If autogrowth is enabled and there is space on the volume where the transaction log resides and the maximum file size has not been reached, the transaction log grows by the amount specified in the log file properties.
The following discusses log truncation behavior at SQL startup based on whether TRUNCATE LOG ON CHECKPOINT is set.
  • If TRUNCATE LOG ON CHECKPOINT is set and the log is found to be full at startup time, it will be automatically dumped with no_log.
  • TRUNCATE LOG ON CHECKPOINT is now the default in master because its log cannot be put on a separate device, so it can never be loaded. The only viable option is to discard the log when it gets full.
  • If TRUNCATE LOG ON CHECKPOINT is not set, and the log is found to be full at startup time, recovery completes, but the final checkpoint is not written. An administrator can get into the database and dump the log with no_truncate to save the data, then dump with no_log to purge it (or just purge it).


For more information, refer to the following Microsoft Training & Certification course: For issues specific to SQL Server 7l0 and later, see the following Microsoft Knowledge Base article:
317375 INF: Transaction Log Grows Unexpectedly or Becomes Full on SQL Server

ID článku: 110139 – Posledná kontrola: 17. 6. 2014 – Revízia: 1