The Accidental DBA (Day 30 of 30): Troubleshooting: Transaction Log Growth

This month the SQLskills team is presenting a series of blog posts aimed at helping Accidental/Junior DBAs ‘keep the SQL Server lights on’. It’s a little taster to let you know what we cover in our Immersion Event for The Accidental/Junior DBA, which we present several times each year. You can find all the other posts in this series at Enjoy!

For the final post in our 30-day series I want to cover one of the most common problems for Accidental DBAs to come across – uncontrolled transaction log growth.

I remember an email we were sent a few years ago, which basically said: I’ve got a 10-GB database and a 987-GB transaction log. What happened?!?!

The number 1 cause of uncontrolled transaction log growth is the following:

  1. Someone creates a database, where the default recovery model is Full; or someone changes the recovery model of a database to Full (remember I explained about these back on day 7 of the series.)
    • Even though the recovery model is Full, the database behaves as if it’s using the Simple recovery model, where the transaction log will automatically clear (to allow reuse and help prevent growth) whenever a checkpoint occurs. This is called the pseudo-Simple recovery model. This situation continues until a database backup is performed.
  2. Someone performs a database backup, completing the transition of the database into the Full recovery model.
    • This database backup provides a basis for further log backups to be performed, and so the log will no longer clear until a log backup is performed.
  3. Nobody performs log backups.

As no-one is performing log backups, and the database is properly using the Full recovery model, the log will never clear. As the log doesn’t clear, it will eventually fill up and then require more space for more log records, and so it will automatically grow. And grow, and grow, until the disk volume runs out of space.

The trick here is simple: perform regular log backups of databases using the Full (or Bulk-Logged) recovery model.

This is all well and good as long as you know why the log cannot clear, as you may be taking log backups and the log is still growing because it cannot clear. SQL Server knows why the log can’t clear, and you can ask it using the following code:

SELECT [log_reuse_wait_desc] FROM sys.databases;

This will list the reasons why the log could not clear, for all databases, at the time the most recent log clearing was attempted. In the case I described above, the output for the database would be LOG_BACKUP, and there are a bunch of other reasons, including long-running transactions, unreplicated transactions, active data backups, and more. You can read the full list in SQL Server Books Online topic Factors That Can Delay Log Truncation.

Whatever the reason is that has made your database’s log grow, take corrective action to allow the log to clear, and then take preventative action to stop the log having to grow again. And if your log has already grown really large, you’ll want to shrink it down to a more reasonable size, and you can read more details on how to do that in Kimberly’s (old but still relevant) post here.

Apart from the log growing and potentially running out of space, log growth is problematic because:

  • Every time the log grows, the new portion of the log has to be zero initialized, which takes some time and causes the write operations on the database to pause.
  • Every time the log grows, more internal chunks are added to the log, and the more of these there are, the more performance impact there is on log operations (Kimberly’s post discusses this too).
  • As the log gets larger, the potential for more downtime during a disaster increases. If the entire database is destroyed, restoring from backups involves recreating the data and log files. The larger the log file is, the longer this takes because of zero initialization again.

Careful transaction log management is required as part of being responsible for a SQL Server instance, whether as an Accidental or experienced DBA. You can learn much more about the transaction log in my online training course SQL Server: Logging, Recovery, and the Transaction Log.

Finally, we really hope you’ve enjoyed reading our post-a-day series during June as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it, and we also hope you’ve learned a bunch of information that will help you increase your DBA skills. To continue your DBA education, make sure to follow our blogs, subscribe to our bi-weekly SQLskills Insider newsletter, check out our online training, and consider coming to one of our in-person training classes – for the ultimate learning experience!

Thanks – Paul & the SQLskills team

One thought on “The Accidental DBA (Day 30 of 30): Troubleshooting: Transaction Log Growth

  1. Nice post Paul. Reading this I am remembering an issue with t-log growth..
    On one of our environments, we have a central MDW server with a single user db (in simple recovery mode and no backup job) which receives MDW data from about 40 data collector configured instances. Sometime back, I noticed t-log on this db has grown to about 900 GB, and I was able to shrink it to as small as 800 MB!

    I am assuming the t-log has grown so big (though in simple recovery) because of many uncommitted transactions. what I don’t understand is
    1. what really made t-log to grow that big
    2. what magic happened when I shrinked? Does the T-log deleted all the uncommitted transactions?
    3. any recommendation for such scenarios for t-log ?

    Suresh Raavi.

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