How to analyse SQL Server performance

February 24th, 2014

So you have this SQL Server database that your application uses and it somehow seems to be slow. How do you troubleshoot this problem? Where do you look? What do you measure? I hope this article will answer enough questions to get you started so that you can identify the bottlenecks yourself, or know what to search for to further extend your arsenal and knowledge.

Understanding how SQL Server executes a query

August 1st, 2013

If you are a developer writing applications that use SQL Server and you are wondering what exactly happens when you ‘run’ a query from your application, I hope this article will help you write better database code and will help you get started when you have to investigate performance problems.


SQL Server is a client-server platform. The only way to interact with the back-end database is by sending requests that contain commands for the database. The protocol used to communicate between your application and the database is called TDS (Tabular Data Sream) and is described on MSDN in the Technical Document [MS-TDS]: Tabular Data Stream Protocol. The application can use one of the several client-side implementations of the protocol: the CLR managed SqlClient, OleDB, ODBC, JDBC, PHP Driver for SQL Server or the open source FreeTDS implementation. The gist of it is that when your application whats the database to do anything it will send a request over the TDS protocol. The request itself can take several forms:

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SQL Server table columns under the hood

October 20th, 2011

You probably can easily answer a question like ‘What columns does this table have?’. Whether you use the SSMS object explorer, or sp_help, or you query sys.column, the answer is fairly easy to find. But what is I ask ‘What are the physical columns of this table?’. Huh? Is there any difference? Lets see.

At the logical layer tables have exactly the structure you declare it in your CREATE TABLE statement, and perhaps modifications from ALTER TABLE statements. This is the layer at which you can look into sys.columns and see the table structure, or look at the table in SSMS object explorer and so on and so forth. But there is also a lower layer, the physical layer of the storage engine where the table might have surprisingly different structure from what you expect.

Inspecting the physical table structure

To view the physical table structure you must use the undocumented system internals views: sys.system_internals_partitions and sys.system_internals_partition_columns:

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Online Index Operations for indexes containing LOB columns

August 5th, 2011

SQL Server supports online index and table rebuild operations which allow for maintenance operations to occur w/o significant downtime. While a table is being rebuild, or a new index is being built on it, the table is fully utilizable. It can be queried and any updates done to the table while the online rebuild operation is occurring will be contained in the final rebuilt table. A detailed explanation on how these online rebuild operations work can be found in the Online Indexing Operations in SQL Server 2005 white paper. But Online Index Build operations in SQL Server 2005, 2008 and 2008 R2 do not support tables that contain LOB columns, attempting to do so would trigger an error:

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How to Multicast messages with SQL Server Service Broker

July 20th, 2011

Starting with SQL Server 11 the the SEND verb has a new syntax and accepts multiple dialogs handles to send on:

   ON CONVERSATION [(]conversation_handle [,.. @conversation_handle_n][)]
   [ MESSAGE TYPE message_type_name ]
   [ ( message_body_expression ) ]
[ ; ]

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Online non-NULL with values column add in SQL Server 2012

July 13th, 2011

Prior to SQL Server 2012 when you add a new non-NULLable column with default values to an existing table a size-of data operation occurs: every row in the table is updated to add the default value of the new column. For small tables this is insignificant, but for large tables this can be so problematic as to completely prohibit the operation. But starting with SQL Server 2012 the operation is, in most cases, instantaneous: only the table metadata is changed, no rows are being updated.

Lets look at a simple example, we’ll create a table with some rows and then add a non-NULL column with default values. First create and populate the table:

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How to update a table with a columnstore index

July 13th, 2011

In my previous article How to use columnstore indexes in SQL Server we’ve seen how to create a columnstore index on a table and how certain queries can significantly reduce the IO needed and thus increase in performance by leveraging this new feature. But once a columnstore index is added to a table the table becomes read-only as it cannot be updated. Trying to insert a new row in the table will result in an error:

insert into sales ([date],itemid, price, quantity) values ('20110713', 1,1.0,1);

Msg 35330, Level 15, State 1, Line 1
INSERT statement failed because data cannot be updated in a table with a columnstore index. Consider disabling the columnstore index before issuing the INSERT statement, then rebuilding the columnstore index after INSERT is complete.

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How to use columnstore indexes in SQL Server

July 13th, 2011

Column oriented storage is the data storage of choice for data warehouse and business analysis applications. Column oriented storage allows for a high data compression rate and as such it can increase processing speed primarily by reducing the IO needs. Now SQL Server allows for creating column oriented indexes (called COLUMNSTORE indexes) and thus brings the benefits of this highly efficient BI oriented indexes in the same engine that runs the OLTP workload. The syntax for creating columnstore indexes is described on MSDN at CREATE COLUMNSTORE INDEX. Lets walk trough a very simple example of how to create and use a columnstore index. First lets have a dummy sales table:

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FILESTREAM MVC: Download and Upload images from SQL Server

February 6th, 2011

In a previous article I have shown how it is possible to use efficient streaming semantics when Download and Upload images from SQL Server via ASP.Net MVC. In this article I will go over an alternative approach that relies on the FILESTREAM column types introduced in SQL Server 2008.


FILESTREAM storage is a new option available in SQL Server 2008 and later that allows for BLOB columns to be stored directly on the file system as individual files. As files, the data is accessible through the Win32 file access API like ReadFile and WriteFile. But at the same time the same data is available through the normal T-SQL operations like SELECT or UPDATE. Not only that, but the data is contained logically in the database so it will be contained in a database backup, it is subject to ordinary transaction commit and rollback behavior, it is searched by SQL Server FullText indexes and it follows the normal SQL Server security access rules: if you are granted SELECT permission on the table, then you can open the file to read. There are some restrictions, eg. a database with FILESTREAM cannot be mirrored. For a full list of restrictions and limitations, see Using FILESTREAM with Other SQL Server Features. Note that SQL Server Express edition does support FILESTREAM storage.

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How to pass a NULL value in a message to a queue in SQL Server

January 15th, 2011

The SEND Transact-SQL verb does not allow to send a NULL message body, attempting to do so will result in error:

Msg 8433, Level 16, State 1, Line 11
The message body may not be NULL.  A zero-length UNICODE or binary string is allowed.

But there are ways to send a NULL message body. One way is to completely omit the message body argument:

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