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Tracing Errors

This is a little lesson in trouble-shooting. It assumes you have the privilege to generate and edit trace files, and all I’m going to do is show how I worked out the answer to a fairly simple question that appeared recently on the Oracle Developer Community forum.

I have a table t1 which is reasonably large (1M rows) with a column v30, and I’ve issued the command.

rem     Script:         drop_column.sql
rem     Author:         Jonathan Lewis
rem     Dated:          Jan 2003

alter table t1 set unused column v30;

After this I’ve issued another command, pressed return, and immediately hit ctrl-C – I’ve got a brief window for this interrupt as the command is going to generate roughly 230MB of redo. If you want to try the experiment it might take a couple of attempts to get the timing right.

alter table t1
        drop unused columns
        checkpoint 1000

Then I’ve tried to drop the table with the following result:

drop table t1
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-00604: error occurred at recursive SQL level 1
ORA-12986: columns in partially dropped state. Submit ALTER TABLE DROP COLUMNS CONTINUE

This emulates the problem that appeared on the forum but the OP didn’t really want to issue the “continue” command because their table was “large” and the drop had been running for 24 hours when it was interrupted. It’s worth noting that four columns had been specified as unused, which means the drop command was probably generating roughly 1KB of redo per row. It’s also worth mentioning that the table was 600 columns wide – so there may have been a few performance side effects due to the multiple (minimum 3) row-pieces per row and row-chaining.

Ignoring any questions about the possible impact of having 600 columns, the key question in this case is:

  • Why isn’t it possible to drop the table (the manuals suggest it should be possible at this point)
  • Is there a way to bypass the problem?

This is a repeatable error – we can try to drop the table as many times as we like and we will get the same error reported in fractions of a second. so an obvious strategy is to enable tracing and see if the trace file can tell us anything about why the error is happening. This is a particularly sensible strategy to follow since error ORA-00604 is telling us that there’s something wrong in the recursive SQL, which means there’s a very good chance that we will actually find an SQL statement in the trace file that is the rescursive statement triggering the error.

So, enable sql_trace (or set event 10046), or do whatever you like to do to enable basic tracing (no need for anything above level 1 just yet); try to execute the drop; then search the trace file for the word ERROR at the start of a line (“^ERROR”). Here’s what I found as the first match in my trace file:

ERROR #139987889121800:err=12986 tim=424276176462

Note that the err= value is the 12986 that was reported as the error under the ORA-00604 error. Sometimes it’s necessary to search backwards in the trace file until you find the matching cursor number (#139987889121800), but in this case it was already visible just a few lines further up the file. So here’s the fragment of the file around that ERROR line:

PARSING IN CURSOR #139987889121800 len=72 dep=1 uid=0 oct=15 lid=0 tim=424276175961 hv=1894278903 ad='75c06e38' sqlid='4wv7gq1sfhtrr'
PARSE #139987889121800:c=2896,e=3035,p=0,cr=4,cu=0,mis=1,r=0,dep=1,og=4,plh=0,tim=424276175960
EXEC #139987889121800:c=186,e=185,p=0,cr=0,cu=0,mis=0,r=0,dep=1,og=4,plh=0,tim=424276176418
ERROR #139987889121800:err=12986 tim=424276176462
CLOSE #139987889121800:c=10,e=9,dep=1,type=0,tim=424276176712
EXEC #139987891478792:c=34686,e=35859,p=0,cr=73,cu=12,mis=0,r=0,dep=0,og=1,plh=0,tim=424276176774
ERROR #139987891478792:err=604 tim=424276176808

The error has come from an SQL statement that is trying to rename my table to some wierd and wonderful name which starts with the characters “BIN$” – that’s a “drop” command trying to move a table into the recycle bin by renaming it – and you’re not allowed to rename a table that is in a partially dropped state. So that’s why we get the error; and the obvious way to bypass it is: “drop table t1 purge;” – which works.

You’ll notice that I’ve include a couple of lines after the first ERROR. This is to show you the line that generated the ORA-00604 (err=604) error. It comes from cursor #139987891478792, and seraching backwards up the file for that cursor number I get to:

PARSING IN CURSOR #139987891478792 len=13 dep=0 uid=107 oct=12 lid=107 tim=424276140765 hv=202649412 ad='7f517dd3fe00' sqlid='d47kdkn618bu4'
drop table t1

That’s not a suprise, of course, but it is important to cross-check that you haven’t been chasing the wrong error. There are some cases where the Oracle code does something to see if an error will occur but has an exception handler that means the error doesn’t end up reaching the application, so you do need to do a check that the error you found first was the one that floated up to the top of the stack.


From Oracle you could arrange to read your own trace file – while your session is connected – through the dynamic performance view v$diag_trace_file_contents.