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Troubleshooting Blocking

The first step in troubleshooting a problem is figuring out the cause and type of problem. If you have several phone calls from users whose screens just freeze when they hit the CREATE RECORD button, chances are you have some blocking issues. Fortunately, there are some tools that can help you identify the root of the problem.

Your first line of defense should be the system stored procedures sp_lock, sp_who, and sp_who2. The sp_lock procedure lets you see the type of locks acquired by one, many, or all sessions connected to the server. The syntax is as follows:

sp_lock [[@spid1 =] 'spid1'] [,[@spid2 =] 'spid2']

Executing sp_lock without any parameters shows the current locks on my server:

Spid

Dbid

Objid

Indid

Type

Resource

Mode

Status

51

6

0

0

DB

S

GRANT

51

1

85575343

0

TAB

IS

GRANT

52

2

3

2

KEY

(d000d5e60ffd)

X

GRANT

52

2

3

2

KEY

(0701e6e322ae)

X

GRANT

52

2

1

3

KEY

(0400353572f0)

X

GRANT

52

2

11

0

TAB

IX

GRANT

52

2

99

0

RID

0.094444444

X

GRANT

52

2

0

0

PAG

0.094444444

X

GRANT

52

2

0

0

PAG

0.09375

X

GRANT

52

5

0

0

DB

S

GRANT

52

2

6

0

TAB

IX

GRANT

52

2

1

0

TAB

IX

GRANT

52

2

3

0

TAB

IX

GRANT

52

2

2

0

TAB

IX

GRANT

52

2

12

0

TAB

IX

GRANT

52

2

9

0

TAB

IX

GRANT

52

2

1

1

KEY

(0400403514b4)

X

GRANT

52

2

3

1

KEY

(0500e3b8aae3)

X

GRANT

52

2

3

1

KEY

(06000d171ff1)

X

GRANT

52

2

0

0

IDX

IDX: 2:37575172:

X

GRANT

52

2

37575172

0

TAB

Sch-M

GRANT

52

2

2

1

KEY

(0400323fcaa6)

X

GRANT

52

2

1

2

KEY

(a71682514e25)

X

GRANT


Although the information returned by sp_lock is somewhat cryptic, it isn't too difficult to decipher. The following paragraph gives you the explanation of each column:

  • Spid: Tells you the system process id of the connection that has acquired a particular lock. Each end user or system process may have multiple connections, and therefore could show up several times with a single spid.

  • Dbid: The database id where the lock was acquired.

  • ObjId: The object that has been locked.

  • IndId: The index that has been used to execute the query (if appropriate, otherwise 0).

  • Type: The type of lock that has been requested: row identifier lock, page lock, table lock, file lock, index lock, key lock, or database lock.

  • Resource: The lock resource.

  • Mode: Whether the lock is shared, intent shared, update, or exclusive.

  • Status: Whether the lock request has been granted (values of GRANT, CONVERT, or WAIT).

If you want to get into the details of exactly which objects have been locked in each database, you can use functions such as db_name(database_id) and object_name(object_id). For instance, the following query shows the database and object names for the ids of 1 and 3 respectively:

SELECT    DB_NAME(1) AS Db_name_for_db_id_of_1, 
       OBJECT_NAME(3) AS object_name_for_object_id_3

Result:

Db_name_for_db_id_of_1

object_name_for_object_id_3

master

Syscolumns


More importantly, sp_lock gives you an overall picture of the locking activity on your server. If you see hundreds of locks in the output of sp_lock, with many of them having a status of WAIT, it spells trouble. To get to the bottom of your blocking problems though you really need the output of sp_who (or sp_who2).

The other two procedures (sp_who and sp_who2) are very similar in nature (as their names suggest). sp_who2 simply returns a few additional columns. sp_who returns following columns:

  • Spid: System process id that requested the lock.

  • Ecid: Execution context of the thread associated with the spid. Zero means the main thread; all other numbers mean subthreads.

  • Status: Runnable, sleeping, or background. If the status is runnable, it means that the process is actually performing work; sleeping means that the process is connected to the server, but is idle at the moment.

  • Loginname: Login that has initiated the lock request.

  • Hostname: Name of the computer where the lock request was initiated.

  • Blk: The connection that is blocking the lock request from the current connection.

  • Dbname: Database name where the lock has been requested.

  • Cmd: General command type that requested the lock.

sp_who2, the newer version of sp_who, returns the following information:

  • Spid: System process id that requested the lock.

  • Status: Background, sleeping, or runnable.

  • Login: Login name that has requested the lock.

  • HostName: Computer where the lock request has been initiated.

  • BlkBy: Spid of the connection that is blocking the current connection.

  • DbName: Database name where the lock request has been generated.

  • Command: General command type that requested the lock.

  • CPUTime: Number of milliseconds the request has used.

  • DiskIO: Disk input/output that the command has used.

  • LastBatch: Date and time of the last batch executed by the connection.

  • ProgramName the Name of the application that issued the connection

  • Spid: In case you can't read the spid from the beginning of the output, it is repeated here.

The following is an output of sp_who on my server (I intentionally created some blocking issues):

spid

ecid

Status

Loginname

Hostname

blk

Dbname

cmd

1

0

background

Sa

0

NULL

LAZY WRITER

2

0

sleeping

Sa

0

NULL

LOG WRITER

3

0

background

Sa

0

Master

SIGNAL HANDLER

4

0

background

Sa

0

NULL

LOCK MONITOR

5

0

background

Sa

0

Master

TASK MANAGER

6

0

background

Sa

0

Master

TASK MANAGER

7

0

sleeping

Sa

0

NULL

CHECKPOINT SLEEP

8

0

background

Sa

0

Master

TASK MANAGER

9

0

background

Sa

0

Master

TASK MANAGER

10

0

background

Sa

0

Master

TASK MANAGER

11

0

background

Sa

0

Master

TASK MANAGER

12

0

background

Sa

0

Master

TASK MANAGER

51

0

sleeping

Sa

BP-5CHSFFH2HEJ1

52

Pubs

UPDATE

52

0

runnable

Sa

BP-5CHSFFH2HEJ1

0

Pubs

SELECT

53

0

runnable

Sa

BP-5CHSFFH2HEJ1

0

Pubs

SELECT

54

0

sleeping

Sa

BP-5CHSFFH2HEJ1

51

Pubs

UPDATE


We only really care about a few rows from this output. The system process ids of 1 through 12 are just background processes that take care of normal SQL Server operations. The ids of 51, 52, 53, and 54 are the connections that I initiated for this article. Notice that connection 54 is blocked by connection 51. However, that's not the end of the story. Connection 51 is also blocked by connection 52. So the root of the blocking problem is the statement executed on connection 52. The next step is to figure out what that statement was. To do so, use DBCC INPUTBUFFER (spid) syntax, as shown below:

DBCC INPUTBUFFER (52)

Result:

EventType

Parameters

EventInfo

Language Event

0

SELECT * FROM sales(HOLDLOCK) SET @i = @i + 1 END


The DBCC INPUTBUFFER command shows the last 128 characters of the last TRASACT-SQL statement executed from connection 52. That way, I can track down the stored procedure or the portion of the application that caused the problem.

Occasionally, DBCC INPUTBUFFER isn't very helpful—it might show RPC in the event info column. If so, you have to resort to using SQL Server Profiler. (In earlier versions of SQL Server the Profiler was referred to as SQL Trace.) The Profiler is an excellent tool for gathering information about the activity on your server. I don't have room to discuss the Profiler in this article, but for resolving blocking problems, you can try to spy on the few connections you are interested in. The Profiler will tell you exactly what statements those connections execute, and in what order. One other word of caution here: The Profiler collects much useful info, but has a tendency to overwhelm you. Be sure to select only the events and connections that you're interested in before running your trace.

If you prefer using the Enterprise Manager to execute TRANSACT-SQL statements, the output of sp_who2 and sp_lock are available from the Current Activity Window of the Enterprise Manager.

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