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An Interview with Bert Scalzo and Dan Hotka on Toad for Oracle

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Data expert Phyllis Helton talks to Bert Scalzo and Dan Hotka, co-authors of Toad for Oracle Unleashed, about some of their favorite features in Toad, their thoughts on GUI tools, and advice for people new to developing using Oracle and Toad.
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Phyllis Helton: What are some of your favorite features in Toad, and why?

Bert Scalzo: The trace file browser, since there is no other tool on the market making these rather large and obtuse text files meaningful and useful.

Dan Hotka: Well, I gotta say, the SQL tuning features. Toad really does have some nice options when it comes to explain plans and SQL trace processing. I like how well Toad works with PL/SQL as well. I like being able to easily add my own coding short cuts and templates.

Phyllis: Many DBAs seem to consider it a badge of honor that they don’t use GUI tools to administer their databases. What are your thoughts on this mind set?

Bert: Managers consider efficiency and effectiveness (i.e. productivity) to be the most important factor--and the one they assign merit and raises upon. Toad makes anyone work faster and better, hence it really is an enabler.

Dan: Sure, the tools that comes from the vendors are good, but if you are already a Toad user, many of these same tasks are available, in wizard format, in Toad. I like the Trace File Browser that the DBAs or anyone reviewing Oracle trace files should find of HUGE interest. It organizes the SQL within the trace file in wait event order...a nice feature to quickly find the offending SQL for a particular problem.

Phyllis: What advice do you have for someone who is new to developing using Oracle and Toad as the best way to get started?

Bert: Create a Windows virtual machine (VM) running Oracle Express edition and Toad freeware or commercial and use this “sandbox” to experiment and learn. Also keep it handy long after mastering those features you use most, as at some time you may need to learn other aspects of Toad.

Dan: Really, just start using the tool. This book will be of great assistance with both key strokes and customizing the interface to their individual needs and likes.

Phyllis: What is one feature of TOAD that you consider sets it apart from other tools for developers? For DBAs?

Bert: The Schema Browser and Editor are developers’ mainstay - much like the file explorer and notepad in Windows. Developers spend most of their time in just these two screens. DBAs should really learn the database browser, a somewhat underutilized screen since it came along later. It’s basically the multi-database level browser and a frontend to the Schema Browser.

Dan: For developers, the ability to easily customize and the sheer volume of coding assistance that comes with Toad. Toad is full of PL/SQL templates and code snippets, more than I've seen in any other tool. For DBAs, I'll bring up the Trace File Browser again. This is huge how this feature organizes the content of SQL trace files into a format that easily identifies problems. DBAs should like the session browser as well because of the ability to easily see who is doing what. This browser also helps diagnose current performance issues. Toad is full of database monitors, health checks, and other similar reporting features not found in other tools.

Phyllis: Toad is extremely customizable. Are there any best practices regarding customizing it or any configurations you would recommend for various users (developers, DBAs, data analysts)?

Bert: Master the Toad Options screen. Most user questions looking for a new feature or way to modify the behavior of an existing one are answered as “It’s already in there and set via the Options screen.” Spend the time to learn the Options screen to be far more successful and productive.

Dan: Absolutely. I'll turn to the book here. Bert and I loaded the book with our best practices for Toad and Oracle work in general.

Phyllis: Toad does not allow users to do anything that they do not have permissions to do in the Oracle database itself. However, there are a number of businesses that use application-level security with the application connecting to the database using a single account. What would be a best practice for those companies for allowing developers and power users to use TOAD in addition to their applications?

Bert: Toad offers multiple ways to control what features either specific users or groups of users can perform. The most common way is to leverage the Toad Security feature.

Dan: I'd say for someone to set up Toad for these users, customizing the interface, removing buttons they do not need. Also, companies need to be vigilant with who has access to the data, and what they can do to the data. This protects the data from wandering eyes and accidental deletion/corruption of data (changes) from Toad or ANY tool that is being used. 

Phyllis: You have both written other books on Toad in the past. How is Toad for Oracle Unleashed different from the others?

Bert: This book is current for the most recent Toad version and flies under the highly popular and successful “Unleashed” moniker. We also removed much of the introductory materials to focus far more on intermediate and expert users, who are already familiar with Toad.

Dan: This book is both updated and different as it contains more walk throughs and content than the other versions. For example, I've included a nice chapter on using Toad for SQL tuning tasks...chapter 10 is Toad as a SQL Tuning Tool...the other books do not have this kind of detail organized in a single chapter as this book does.

Phyllis: Who would you consider to be the ideal audience Toad for Oracle Unleashed?

Bert: Any SQL or PL/SQL application developer, application DBA or operations DBA needing to leverage Toad to enhance their effectiveness and productivity. Toad is now so mature a product that it has more features than any one person can master. So having a good reference like Toad for Oracle Unleashed is a must.

Dan: Really anyone with a need to know more about Toad. I'd say anyone who uses Toad for either data query/analysis to the heads-down developers should buy this book. Even the DBA staff should find this book of interest.

Phyllis: Toad is an extremely feature-rich program and is designed to be used by a wide variety of users. What challenges did this present to you as you set out to write this book?

Bert: This book uniquely focuses on the task at hand rather than just specific features. Thus it should better match the real world way people leverage Toad to attack their work.

Dan: Really...it was more of a matter of the best coverage of the Toad tool and to keep the page count down so it is an affordable book.

Phyllis: Chapter 6 discusses PL/SQL tools in Toad. One of the tools mentioned is the PL/SQL Profiler. What is the advantage to profiling code? Should every bit of PL/SQL code be profiled?

Bert: I learned profiling of C and Fortran code back in the early 1980s. That practice allowed me to both more quickly find bugs or bottlenecks, plus optimize my code for the highest overall performance. I cannot code without profiling. So it’s just automatic that I expect a good profiler like that in Toad when developing application code.

Dan: That is my chapter. I find the PL/SQL profiler of use for those routines that need to be more performant. The profiler instantly tells you, by line of code, how long each line of code took to execute and also how long each routine/sub-routine took to execute. Not all code needs to be profiled, but this would be a good practice to do during the development process.

Phyllis: How is a Code Road Map different from the results of PL/SQL Profiling? When would you use one as opposed to the other?

Bert: The Toad Profiler exposes the PL/SQL code while in motion, whereas the Code Road Map is a static diagram of the code interdependencies with both data and other PL/SQL coding units. Plus it’s the only tool which exposes dependencies hidden within triggers that even the Oracle dependencies tables do not cover.

Dan: Code Road Map/Code Analysis really supplements the profiling process. These features help document program difficulty, identify dead code, and more. The profiling process is line by line and module execution times. I'd say they complement each other. If a problem shows up in Code Road Map for example, I'd profile that routine to get to the exact line of code causing the issue.

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