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Concurrency … the path to success and the path the failure

Let’s face it. Concurrency is a good thing when it comes to database applications. After all, if there is only a single user of your application, then chances are, it is not a successful application Smile.  Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but by and large, most of the applications we build are going to be used by large populations of users.  And given the recent publicity of users data and privacy, we can also be pretty confident that we want the data in our applications to be correct at all times.

As a developer, it is absolutely critical to keep concurrency in mind when building applications.  Here is a simple demonstration to thrust home the point. 

The task assigned to the developer here is simple – transfer move all of the rows satisfying a particular condition from table T1 to table T2.  Let’s create our database objects first:


SQL> create table t1 ( x int, y int, z int );

Table created.

SQL> create table t2 as select * from t1 where 1=0;

Table created.

SQL>
SQL> insert into t1
  2  select rownum, rownum, rownum
  3  from dual connect by level <= 10000;

10000 rows created.

SQL> commit;

Commit complete.

So table T1 has 10,000 rows and T2 is empty, and our condition to determine which rows to transfer will be X being non-zero.  That happens to be all of the rows, but of course, it could be any filtering rule on the existing data. I’ve chosen all of the rows so I can keep the numbers easy to digest in the upcoming examples.

There is no such thing as a MOVE command in SQL, so we can implement this with two statements: 

  • INSERT-SELECT to copy the rows from T1 to T2
  • DELETE to remove the rows we just copied.

Here is the simple PLSQL routine to do that, and a first test run of the code.


SQL>
SQL> set serverout on
SQL> begin
  2      insert into t2 select * from t1 where x != 0;
  3      delete from t1 where x != 0;
  4      commit;
  5  end;
  6  /

PL/SQL procedure successfully completed.

SQL>
SQL> select count(*) from t1;

  COUNT(*)
----------
         0

1 row selected.

SQL> select count(*) from t2;

  COUNT(*)
----------
     10000

1 row selected.

SQL>

Everything looks fine doesn’t it? But it’s not.  In fact, I’ll do what any good developer should be doing, and add some instrumentation to the code to get more information about its operations.


SQL> create table t1 ( x int, y int, z int );

Table created.

SQL> create table t2 as select * from t1 where 1=0;

Table created.

SQL>
SQL> insert into t1
  2  select rownum, rownum, rownum
  3  from dual connect by level <= 10000;

10000 rows created.

SQL> commit;

Commit complete.

SQL>
SQL> set serverout on
SQL> begin
  2      insert into t2 select * from t1 where x != 0;
  3      dbms_output.put_line(sql%rowcount);           
  4      delete from t1 where x != 0;
  5      dbms_output.put_line(sql%rowcount);
  6      commit;
  7  end;
  8  /
10000
10100      <=========== !!!!!

PL/SQL procedure successfully completed.

SQL>
SQL> select count(*) from t1;

  COUNT(*)
----------
         0

1 row selected.

SQL> select count(*) from t2;

  COUNT(*)
----------
     10000

1 row selected.

SQL>
SQL>

Look at the output from the PL/SQL block.  I copied(inserted ) 10,000 rows from T1 to T2, but the deletion phase removed more than 10,000 rows. How was that possible?  It is because databases are about concurrency.  In another session, I had a simple script running that just adds new rows to the table continuously.  As a developer, it is vital that you do not assume that you are the only person accessing or manipulating a table.  My code in its existing form has corrupted the database, because 100 rows have been deleted that were never copied to T2.  They’re gone forever!

So….onto some potential solutions.  Lets try locking the rows first


SQL> create table t1 ( x int, y int, z int );

Table created.

SQL> create table t2 as select * from t1 where 1=0;

Table created.

SQL>
SQL> insert into t1
  2  select rownum, rownum, rownum
  3  from dual connect by level <= 10000;

10000 rows created.

SQL> commit;

Commit complete.

SQL> set serverout on
SQL> declare
  2    cursor c is select * from t1 where x != 0 FOR UPDATE;
  3  begin
  4    open c;
  5    insert into t2 select * from t1 where x != 0;
  6    dbms_output.put_line(sql%rowcount);               
  7    delete from t1 where x != 0;
  8    dbms_output.put_line(sql%rowcount);
  9    commit;
 10    close c;
 11  end;
 12  /
10000
10100

PL/SQL procedure successfully completed.

SQL>
SQL> select count(*) from t1;

  COUNT(*)
----------
         0

1 row selected.

SQL> select count(*) from t2;

  COUNT(*)
----------
     10000

1 row selected.

As you can see, that has not yielded any benefit because locking is only of benefit for locking existing rows.  The new rows arriving from a separate session are unhindered, and hence my DELETE statement still picks up the new rows when it should not. I could workaround this by locking the entire table, but what if my filtering condition was only a small percentage of the rows?  It seems overly aggressive to lock everyone out of the table just to copy a small subset of rows.  In this case, I can use PL/SQL to help me out. Using the BULK COLLECT / BULK BIND facilities, I can restrict my DML operations to just the ROWIDs of the rows I am copying. 


SQL> create table t1 ( x int, y int, z int );

Table created.

SQL> create table t2 as select * from t1 where 1=0;

Table created.

SQL>
SQL> insert into t1
  2  select rownum, rownum, rownum
  3  from dual connect by level <= 10000;

10000 rows created.

SQL> commit;

Commit complete.

SQL> set serverout on
SQL> declare
  2    cursor c is select rowid rid, t1.* from t1 where x != 0 for update;
  3    type array is table of c%rowtype index by pls_integer;
  4    l_rows array;
  5    l_idx int;
  6  begin
  7    open c;
  8    loop
  9      fetch c bulk collect into l_rows limit 20000;
 10      exit when l_rows.count = 0;
 11
 12      forall i in 1 .. l_rows.count
 13         insert into t2 values (
 14            l_rows(i).x,
 15            l_rows(i).y,
 16            l_rows(i).z );
 17      dbms_output.put_line(sql%rowcount);       
 18      forall i in 1 .. l_rows.count
 19        delete from t1
 20        where rowid = l_rows(i).rid;
 21      dbms_output.put_line(sql%rowcount);
 22    end loop;
 23  end;
 24  /
10000
10000

PL/SQL procedure successfully completed.

SQL>
SQL>
SQL> select count(*) from t1;

  COUNT(*)
----------
       147

1 row selected.

SQL> select count(*) from t2;

  COUNT(*)
----------
     10000

1 row selected.

I am collecting the 10000 ROWID’s of interest into an array, and then deleting only those rows.  So even though new rows are arriving, I will never see them because they will not be in the set of ROWIDs that I am moving to table T2.  We can see that during the operation, 147 new rows arrived in T1 from other sessions.

(Note:  Normally you would choose a bulk collect size of perhaps 1000 or similar, and loop around repeated to avoid excessive PGA use.  I bulk collected the entire set to show the rowcounts more intuitively)

You might be thinking that perhaps we no longer need the “FOR UPDATE” clause on the cursor, but it is still a required element.  Without it, it is possible that a different session could update a row from the candidate data set, and that updated row would still be deleted.  Or a different session could even delete, commit, and insert a fresh row that happens to pick up the same ROWID as one from the original set.

Bottom Line – keep concurrency front and foremost in your mind when you are writing code to manipulate data.