Chapter: Fundamentals of Database Systems - Transaction Processing, Concurrency Control, and Recovery - Introduction to Transaction Processing Concepts and Theory

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Transaction Support in SQL

In this section, we give a brief introduction to transaction support in SQL.

Transaction Support in SQL


In this section, we give a brief introduction to transaction support in SQL. There are many more details, and the newer standards have more commands for transaction processing. The basic definition of an SQL transaction is similar to our already defined concept of a transaction. That is, it is a logical unit of work and is guaran-teed to be atomic. A single SQL statement is always considered to be atomic—either it completes execution without an error or it fails and leaves the database unchanged.


With SQL, there is no explicit Begin_Transaction statement. Transaction initiation is done implicitly when particular SQL statements are encountered. However, every transaction must have an explicit end statement, which is either a COMMIT or a ROLLBACK. Every transaction has certain characteristics attributed to it. These characteristics are specified by a SET TRANSACTION statement in SQL. The charac-teristics are the access mode, the diagnostic area size, and the isolation level.


The access mode can be specified as READ ONLY or READ WRITE. The default is READ WRITE, unless the isolation level of READ UNCOMMITTED is specified (see below), in which case READ ONLY is assumed. A mode of READ WRITE allows select, update, insert, delete, and create commands to be executed. A mode of READ ONLY, as the name implies, is simply for data retrieval.


The diagnostic area size option, DIAGNOSTIC SIZE n, specifies an integer value n, which indicates the number of conditions that can be held simultaneously in the diagnostic area. These conditions supply feedback information (errors or excep-tions) to the user or program on the n most recently executed SQL statement.


The isolation level option is specified using the statement


<isolation>, where the value for <isolation> can be READ UNCOMMITTED, READ COMMITTED, REPEATABLE READ, or SERIALIZABLE.15 The default isolation level is


SERIALIZABLE, although some systems use READ COMMITTED as their default. The use of the term SERIALIZABLE here is based on not allowing violations that cause dirty read, unrepeatable read, and phantoms,16 and it is thus not identical to the way serializability was defined earlier in Section 21.5. If a transaction executes at a lower isolation level than SERIALIZABLE, then one or more of the following three viola-tions may occur:


Dirty read. A transaction T1 may read the update of a transaction T2, which has not yet committed. If T2 fails and is aborted, then T1 would have read a value that does not exist and is incorrect.

        Nonrepeatable read. A transaction T1 may read a given value from a table. If another transaction T2 later updates that value and T1 reads that value again, T1 will see a different value.


        Phantoms. A transaction T1 may read a set of rows from a table, perhaps based on some condition specified in the SQL WHERE-clause. Now suppose that a transaction T2 inserts a new row that also satisfies the WHERE-clause condition used in T1, into the table used by T1. If T1 is repeated, then T1 will see a phantom, a row that previously did not exist.


Table 21.1 summarizes the possible violations for the different isolation levels. An entry of Yes indicates that a violation is possible and an entry of No indicates that it is not possible. READ UNCOMMITTED is the most forgiving, and SERIALIZABLE is the most restrictive in that it avoids all three of the problems mentioned above.


A sample SQL transaction might look like the following:












EXEC SQL INSERT INTO EMPLOYEE (Fname, Lname, Ssn, Dno, Salary) VALUES ('Robert', 'Smith', '991004321', 2, 35000);



SET Salary = Salary * 1.1 WHERE Dno = 2;








The above transaction consists of first inserting a new row in the EMPLOYEE table and then updating the salary of all employees who work in department 2. If an error occurs on any of the SQL statements, the entire transaction is rolled back. This implies that any updated salary (by this transaction) would be restored to its previ-ous value and that the newly inserted row would be removed.


As we have seen, SQL provides a number of transaction-oriented features. The DBA or database programmers can take advantage of these options to try improving



Table 21.1 Possible Violations Based on Isolation Levels as Defined in SQL

transaction performance by relaxing serializability if that is acceptable for their applications.

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