(The Curious Case of… used to be part of our bi-weekly newsletter but we decided to make it a regular blog post instead so it can sometimes be more frequent. It covers something interesting one of us encountered when working with a client, doing some testing, or were asked in a random question from the community.)

I had a question in email last week on why a minimally-logged operation doesn’t make a log backup smaller.

The clue to the answer is in the description of the operation: minimally-logged.

When you perform one of a few operations in the bulk-logged or simple recovery models (e.g. offline index build/rebuild, or bulk load where all requirements for minimal logging have been met – see this whitepaper) then SQL Server vastly reduces the amount of transaction log that’s generated. It does this by only logging the allocation of pages and extents for that operation, and not the contents of the pages themselves.

Now imagine that a log backup after such an operation backed up *only* the transaction log produced. On restoration of that database, including that log backup, the result would be a table or index comprised of empty pages – which is not allowed in SQL Server.

Bottom line: a log backup after a minimally-logged operation has to also back up the data file pages that were populated by the operation, so they can also be restored during the restore of the log backup. This is why a minimally-logged operation does not result in the next log backup being a lot smaller (but it may be a little bit smaller, because of difference in size of 8K data pages vs. log records containing pages).

PS As a corollary question, you may wonder how the log backup gets those data pages, because a log backup does not start with a checkpoint, and so surely those dirty pages are still just in memory and not on disk? No – because for minimally-logged operations, data file pages are written to disk immediately. This mechanism is called ‘eager writing’ and guarantees that the results of a minimally-logged operation are persisted on disk when the operation completes.