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Slow querying of DBA_EXTENTS, DBA_FREE_SPACE and dropping tables February 14, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in performance.
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Are you finding queries to identify free space, the size of segments or details of extents in your database are very slow? You could have a database with a very, very large number of extents. If you are on version 9 or up, I would suggest you check the extent management settings for any tablespace holding large segments (see later).

{Caveat – I’m writing this posting based on what I remember of some issues I had on two V10.2 databases 2 and 3 years ago respectively, and those systems are no longer available to me. So please treat everything I say here with some caution – I’ve not checked and verified it to the level I normally would. But I wanted to move this information from another posting I am writing on a recent experience I will verify…}

First, what this article is NOT about. It has been known for a very long time that creating tables with a large number of extents can have a negative impact on SQL performance on that table. Except it never really did and it was a myth. Way back prior to Oracle 7.3 you could only create so many extents per segment, depending on block size, but that was another issue. It used to be argued that SQL select against such tables with many extents was slower. I did some tests and it was not – unless you were in the strange situation where your extent size was less than your multi-block read count, and even then the impact was not huge, it was a slowdown of a few percent to maybe 25%.

However, dropping such tables, truncating such tables and queries against the dictionary objects that deal with extents and free space could and still can become very slow. As we have progressed through the Oracle versions from 8 ,9 and 10 this problem has become less common and the impact has become less, mostly due to Locally Managed Tablespaces (LMTs) and Automatic Segment Space Management {though that is more in respect of concurrent DML than select}.

LMTs in particular have generally removed the issue. If you do not use LMTS and have no very,very pressing reason to not {like 3rd party support for applications}, then swap to LMTs. LMTs have been the default for user defined tablespaces since oracle 9 and have two options. Uniform (Fixed) extent sizes or Automatic, where oracle uses 8 block extents for a new segment to start, then 64 block extents, then 1024 block extents as the segment grows {I might be wrong on the exact size details but don’t worry about it, I certainly don’t}. You can check the settings for tablespaces as is demonstrated below. I create two tablespaces, one with uniform extent sizes and then one with automanaged extent sizes, and check the relevant information (this is on

create tablespace mdw_uni_1m
size 100m
extent management local uniform size 1M;

create tablespace mdw_auto
size 100m
extent management local autoallocate;

select tablespace_name,initial_extent,next_extent
from dba_tablespaces where tablespace_name like 'MDW%';

------------------ -------------- ----------- ---------- ---------- ---------
MDW_UNI_1M                1048576     1048576 LOCAL         1048576 UNIFORM
MDW_AUTO                    65536             LOCAL           65536 SYSTEM

As you can see, tablespace MDW_UNI_1M uses uniform extents of 1M and MDW_AUTO has system managed allocation and starts with 64K extents – 8 blocks with my 8k block size.

As a quick demo, I’ll just create and populate two simple tables and see what extent sizes are created for them:

create table mdw_big
tablespace mdw_auto
as select rownum id,lpad('A',1000,'A') pad
from dual connect by level <10000

create table mdw_big_uni
tablespace mdw_uni_1m
as select rownum id,lpad('A',1000,'A') pad
from dual connect by level <10000

select owner,segment_name,blocks,count(*)
from dba_extents
where segment_name like 'MDW%'
group by owner,segment_name,blocks

--------------- --------------- ---------- ----------
ERIC            MDW_BIG_UNI            128         12
ERIC            MDW_BIG                  8         16
ERIC            MDW_BIG                128         11

3 rows selected.

So, how do issues with large numbers of extents still arise with modern oracle systems? Well, the two situations I’ve seen on Oracle 10 had the same cause {and, as a teaser for later this week, I’ve seen a variation of this issue on a nice, shiny Exadata X2-2 Oracle box :-) You can readabout that here }. What alerted me was slow performance querying the data dictionary, in particular my scripts for checking free space, the size of segments and how many extents they consisted of.

If you create a tablespace with fixed extent sizes of eg 64K and then create a table in there that is 100GB in size, you will get an awful lot of extents. Now make it worse and have a partitioned table that ends up being several hundreds of GB in size with all those segments in that tablespace (or similarly defined tablespaces).

Since I hit the problem twice myself, I’ve chatted to others who have had the same issue. The above usually happens because of a mistake. The tablespace(s) in question are set up to hold small tables and then get used for large tables, either by a mistake in stating the exact tablespace to use or having the tablespace default to your default tablespace – which just happens to be a tablespace with fixed but small extent sizes.

The end result is a massive number of small extents in these tablespaces, usually with extents for different objects mixed in. Some dictionary queries slow down and, in particular, anything to do with looking at extents. For one site, I was trying to use my own code to gather statistics on tables that replaced the standard automated job. It’s fairly “smart” code and chooses a sample size based on the size of the segments. Only, the data dictionary was performing so slowly for the check on segment size that it was taking over 5 seconds to get the information – longer than some of the stats gathers.

You can logically understand why dropping or truncating the table is slow. Oracle has to sort out all those extents, remove the information from the data dictionary. This is not helped by the fact that part of the data dictionary is being slowed down due to all those pesky records…

You MAY be able to get some relief from this situation by gathering fixed object statistics. I did so at one site, where the queries against free_space and segment size sped up by around 80%. I have no demonstrated proof of this, it is just what I saw in one situation, so feel free to try it but don’t sue me if it does not help. Also, it took over 3 hours to gather the fixed object stats and you only do this sort of thing, untested, on a production system if you are already in a bad place.

{update – I just tested this on a private 11.2 db that was taking 10.3 seconds to count all extents, all 12,742 of them. Gathering fixed object stats made no difference at all.}

However, the real answer is to laboriously rebuild those segments in tablespaces with correctly specified uniform extent sizes. Which we did, over several weeks, and it made a difference.

If I was doing this task today, if I could get the outage to do it, I would create COPIES of those segments that were in the wrong tablespaces, re-name and re-apply any constraints and move the other other, smaller tables and indexes to a new tablespace – and then drop the tablespaces including contents. Why? As dropping a table with lots and lots of small extents seemed to take a very long time (many minutes per partition and we had thousands of them). Again, my proof is lost in the mists of time, but that’s what I would aim to do.

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