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Multiple Active Result Sets (MARS) in SQL Server 2005

SQL Server 2005
 

Christian Kleinerman
Microsoft Corporation

April 2005
Updated June 2005

Applies to:
   Microsoft SQL Server 2005
   Multiple Active Result Sets (MARS)

Summary: All Microsoft SQL Server data access application programming interfaces (APIs) provide an abstraction to represent sessions and requests within those sessions. SQL Server 2000 and earlier restricted the programming model such that at any point in time there would be at most one pending request on a given session. SQL Server 2005 implements Multiple Active Result Sets (MARS), which removes this constraint. This document explains the design, architecture, and semantic changes in MARS and what considerations must be taken into account by applications to get the maximum benefit out of these improvements. (15 printed pages)

Contents

Introduction
SQL Server 2000 Data Access Recap
"Connection Busy"
"I Already Have MARS"
How Do I Do It Then?
Transactions and Execution Environment Recap
Multiple Active Result Sets - MARS
Interleaved Execution
MARS Performance and Cost Considerations
Transaction Semantics
Savepoints
Execution Environment
MARS Deadlocks
Monitoring and Diagnostics
Conclusion

Introduction

All Microsoft SQL Server data access APIs provide an abstraction to represent sessions and requests within those sessions. SQL Server 2000 and earlier restricted the programming model such that at any point in time there would be at most one pending request on a given session. Several alternatives have been implemented to work around this limitation, of which the use of server-side cursors is probably the most common. SQL Server 2005 implements Multiple Active ResultSets (MARS), which removes this constraint. This document explains the design, architecture, and semantic changes in MARS and what considerations must be taken into account by applications to get maximum benefit out of these improvements.

SQL Server 2000 Data Access Recap

The main data access APIs currently supported to build applications against SQL Server are ODBC, OLEDB, ADO, and the SqlClient .NET Provider1. All of them provide an abstraction to represent a connection established to the server and another one to represent a request executed under that connection. For example SqlClient has SqlConnection and SqlCommand objects while ODBC uses handles, with SQL_HANDLE_DBC and SQL_HANDLE_STMT types, respectively.

An execution request sent to SQL Server can be, for the most part, in one of two forms: 1) a set of T-SQL statements commonly known as a batch, or 2) the name of a stored procedure or function accompanied by parameter values if appropriate. Note that submitting a single SELECT or DML statement to the server is simply a single statement batch, a special case of the first type of the request.

In either case, SQL Server iterates over the statements contained in the batch or stored procedure and sequentially executes them. Statements may or may not produce results, and statements may or may not return additional information to the caller.

Results are primarily produced by SELECT and FETCH statements. SQL Server executes a SELECT statement by streaming the results back to the caller. This means that as rows are produced by the query execution engine, they are written to the network. More precisely, rows produced are copied into pre-reserved network buffers, which are sent to the caller. Network write operations will succeed and free up used buffers as long as the client driver is reading from the network. If the client is not consuming results, at some point network write operations will block, network buffers will fill up in the server, and execution must be suspended, holding onto state and execution thread until the client driver catches up reading. This mode of producing and retrieving results is what is commonly referred to as "default resultsets," also more informally referred to as "firehose cursors."

Additional information may be returned to the caller in other ways that may not be as obvious as the case for results. Errors, warnings, and informational messages are types of one such case, either returned explicitly by PRINT and RAISERROR statements or implicitly by warnings and errors produced during statement execution. Similarly, when a NOCOUNT set option is set to OFF, SQL Server sends a "done row count" token for each statement executed. This additional information can also potentially lead to network write buffers filling up and a suspension of execution.

This background enables us to understand some of the programming model restrictions observed on SQL Server 2000 and earlier versions in terms of supporting more than one pending request per connection.

"Connection Busy"

For the examples in this document, we'll assume a simple scenario of a loosely coupled inventory-processing system that uses a table called "Operations" as a queue to receive requests from a variety of other components:

Table 1. Operations

Column NameData TypeComments
processedbit
operation_idintprimary key
operation_codechar(1)'D' - decrease inventory

'I' - increase inventory

'R' - reserve inventory

product_iduniqueidentifier
quantitybigint

Let's assume that this component manages inventory for a variety of product lines and suppliers, and the product_id determines which servers and databases to use and how to perform the requested operation. (That is, let's assume that it is not possible to write a few set-based operations that will take care of all requests in the queue).

This component sits running in a loop, processing requests inserted into the table, and marking them as processed upon successful completion of the specified operation.

In pseudo code this would look something like this:

while (1)
{
   Get all messages currently available in Operations table;
   For each message retrieved
   {
      ProcessMessage();
      Mark the message as processed;
   }
}

An initial approach using odbc would look something like this (omitting some details and error handling):

SQLAllocHandle(SQL_HANDLE_STMT, hdbc1, &hstmt1);
SQLAllocHandle(SQL_HANDLE_STMT, hdbc1, &hstmt2);
while (true)
{
   SQLExecDirect(hstmt1, (SQLTCHAR*)"select operation_id, 
      operation_code, product_id, quantity from dbo.operations 
      where processed=0", SQL_NTS);
   while (SQL_ERROR!=SQLFetch(hstmt1))
   {
      ProcessOperation(hstmt1);
      SQLPrepare(hstmt2, 
         (SQLTCHAR*)"update dbo.operations set processed=1 
         where operation_id=?", SQL_NTS);
      SQLBindParameter(hstmt2, 1, SQL_PARAM_INPUT, SQL_C_SLONG, 
         SQL_INTEGER, 0, 0, &opid, 0, 0);
      SQLExecute(hstmt2);
   }
}

However, the attempt to execute hstmt2 resulted in this:

[Microsoft][ODBC SQL Server Driver]Connection is busy with results for another hstmt.

The same logic written in Microsoft Visual C# using SqlClient would look something like this:

SqlCommand cmd = conn.CreateCommand();
SqlCommand cmd2 = conn.CreateCommand();
cmd.CommandText= "select operation_id, operation_code, product_id, quantity 
   from dbo.operations where processed=0";
cmd2.CommandText="update dbo.operations set processed=1 
   where operation_id=@operation_id";
SqlParameter opid=cmd2.Parameters.Add("@operation_id", SqlDbType.Int);
reader=cmd.ExecuteReader();
while (reader.Read())
{
   ProcessOperation();
   opid.Value=reader.GetInt32(0); // operation_id
   cmd2.ExecuteNonQuery();
}

Similarly, the attempt to execute this results in the following:

InvalidOperationException, There is already an open DataReader associated with this Connection which must be closed first.

These errors are the most direct demonstration of the lack of MARS; at any time, at most one request can be pending under a given SQL Server connection.

I intentionally left OLEDB out, given that it exposes a slightly different behavior.

"I Already Have MARS"

OLEDB deserves special treatment in regards to MARS, since previous releases of the SQLOLEDB client driver attempt to simulate MARS. However, this attempt has many pitfalls. An OLEDB snippet of the above example would look something like this (again, no error handling):

pIDBCreateCommand->CreateCommand(NULL, IID_ICommandText, (IUnknown**) &pICommandText);
pIDBCreateCommand->CreateCommand(NULL, IID_ICommandText, (IUnknown**) &pICommandText2);
pICommandText->SetCommandText(DBGUID_DBSQL,
   OLESTR("select operation_id, operation_code, product_id, quantity 
   from dbo.operations where processed=0"));
pICommandText2->SetCommandText(DBGUID_DBSQL,OLESTR("update dbo.operations 
   set processed=1 where operation_id=?"));
//Execute the command
pICommandText->Execute(NULL, IID_IRowset, NULL, &cRowsAffected, (IUnknown**) &pIRowset);
...
ProcessOperation();
...
 //Execute the command 2
pICommandText2->Execute(NULL, IID_IRowset, NULL, &cRowsAffected, NULL);

Interestingly enough, this code succeeds and seems to do what I wanted. How does it succeed if the lack of MARS seems to be a fundamental engine limitation? Upon some more inspection it becomes apparent that the SQLOLEDB driver is spawning a new connection under the covers and executing Command2 under it. This means I already have MARS, right? Not quite.

Nothing special is done in the database engine to have these two connections work well together. They're simply two connections, and as such they'll have different execution environments, and probably more importantly, they can conflict with each other. SQLOLEDB prevents a new connection to be spawned whenever a session is in an explicit transaction, either because of an explicit call to ITransactionLocal->StartTransaction or because the session has been enlisted in a DTC transaction. In this case, execution of command 2 fails.

However, if one of the commands begins a transaction through TSQL, SQLOLEDB is unaware of this state and allows the creation of an additional connection. Unfortunately, two different commands, seemingly part of the same session, end up running under different transactions.

Raising the isolation level of the session—say to REPEATABLE READ—leaves the application snippet above in a deplorable state. Command 1 runs the query that retrieves all unprocessed rows in the operations table. Given the higher isolation level, locks are held until the transaction ends. Given that no explicit transaction is being used, the statement is running in auto-commit mode and locks will be held until the end of the statement. If a lock is being held on a particular row at the time that command 2 attempt to modify it, a deadlock involving the client code occurs and the application will simply hang.

ms345109.sql2k5_mars_fig01(en-US,SQL.90).gif

Figure 1. Multiple simultaneous command cycle

To make things slightly less predictable, the statement in command 1 will be complete at the time the last row produced is copied to the network buffers in the server, not at the time that the client application reads the last row. The implication behind this is that for a small enough rowset, the code snippet above will succeed, but it will fail as soon as the data volume is large enough such that the server can not complete execution of command 1 by the time command 2 executes. It wouldn't be surprising to see the application behaving as expected in a development environment and mysteriously hanging when deployed in production.

Bottom-line, it may not be the best application design to rely on the emulated MARS-like behavior of SQLOLEDB. If you decide to use it, be aware of the additional implicit connection and the semantic implications this may have.

How Do I Do It Then?

Given the lack of MARS in SQL Server 2000 and earlier, how do I get my application to work? Depending on the application needs, sometimes explicit use of multiple connections is needed. In many other cases, use of server-side cursors comes in handy.

Server-side cursors provide a way for applications to consume the results of a query with one row or a small block of rows at a time. Without going into all the details on different types and options, in the most general sense a cursor represents the results of a query. It maintains the in-memory and on-disk state such that results for the query can be returned on demand.

In the general usage pattern, a cursor is declared on top of a specified query. A fetch operation is executed to retrieve each row or block of rows from the result set. Once the rows are consumed or the result set is no longer needed, the cursor is disposed, which frees up the associated server-side resources. The most important thing to note in the context of this discussion is that there is no code executing on behalf of the cursor in between fetch operations. There is state preserved, but no pending work on the server.

ODBC and OLEDB expose properties such that query requests can be mapped to use server-side cursors.

Changing the ODBC example above to have the first command use server-side cursors makes the application scenario succeed and work as expected. A one line change:

SQLSetStmtAttr(hstmt1, SQL_ATTR_CURSOR_TYPE, (SQLPOINTER)SQL_CURSOR_DYNAMIC, 0);

A similar change can be made to OLEDB to help avoid the implicit spawning of connections and associated pitfalls.

Up to this point we've seen how server side cursors can help work around a lack of MARS. As it will be described later, this does not imply that the availability of MARS eliminates all needs for cursors, or that all applications using cursors must be changed to use MARS.

The natural follow up question is, "why not always use server-side cursors instead of the seemingly more limited default result sets?" There are three answers: 1) not all cursor types are supported on all valid SQL, 2) cursors can only operate on a single SELECT statement at a time, and 3) performance.

Default result sets perform better than server-side cursors due to the way results are "pushed out" as they become available. Cursors, on the other hand, require a roundtrip to the server for each fetch operation.

In conclusion, we can say that MARS is all about getting rid of "Connection Busy," a significant improvement to the programming model.

Transactions and Execution Environment Recap

A session in SQL Server 2000 and earlier releases can be in any the following possible states:

  • No transaction active: This is commonly known as auto-commit mode, which implies that all statements executed in the session run on a separate transaction.
  • Local transaction active: All statements executed in the session run under a transaction that was started either by an explicit TSQL BEGIN TRANSACTION command, or by setting IMPLICIT_TRANSACTION ON.
  • Enlisted: A session is enlisted in a transaction owned by another session or by a different transaction manager. The former is achieved by using bound sessions (sp_getbindtoken / sp_bindsession), and the latter by enlisting in DTC transactions.

Given that MARS was not available, it was never possible to have at any given time more than one statement executing under the same transaction. Even in the case of bound sessions or DTC, the underlying infrastructure would ensure that work can only happen under the transaction context in a single session at a time.

In ODBC and OLEDB/ADO, once a transaction is started on a session, all subsequent requests are executed under such a transaction, creating the appearance of a session-wide transactional context.

In SqlClient the model seems less intuitive. An API is provided to begin a transaction off the connection (SqlConnection) object that returns an abstraction (SqlTransaction) representing the newly created transaction. In a seemingly arbitrary fashion, once a transaction is created no request can be executed without explicitly associating it to the transaction context. SqlClient API has provisioned for a programming model in which transactions are not necessarily globally scoped to a connection, multiple transactions may be created under a given session, and requests can freely be mapped to any of the active transactions. Though SQL Server 2005 does not support multiple active transactions per connection, the programming model already accommodates such a future enhancement.

Under MARS, it is possible for more than one request to be pending under a given session requiring a proper semantic definition for conflicts occurring between requests running under the same transaction.

Similarly, it would appear as if in SQL Server 2000 any change to the execution environment a request made would become a session-global change. What exactly does execution environment mean? It encompasses SET option values (ARITHABORT, for example), current database context, execution state variables (@@error), cursors, and temporary tables.

Executing a USE statement within a request to change the current database results in all subsequent requests executing under the new context. Similarly, changing the value for a SET option within a batch would imply that all subsequent executions would run under the newly set value.

MARS removes the assumption that at most a single request can be pending under a given session and, while preserving backwards compatibility, it defines more granular semantics for changes in the execution environment.

Multiple Active Result Sets - MARS

At this point you may have a vague idea of what MARS is. In a nutshell, it is the ability to have more than one pending request under a given SQL Server connection. For most cases this will directly translate to the ability to have more than one default result set (firehose cursor) outstanding while other operations can execute within the same session.

It is probably as important to delimit what MARS is not:

  • Parallel execution: Though MARS enables more than one request to be submitted under the same connection, this does not imply that they will be executed in parallel inside the server. MARS will multiplex execution threads between outstanding requests in the connection, interleaving at well defined points.
  • Cursor replacement: As described earlier, there are some scenarios where cursors represented a suitable workaround for a lack of MARS; it may be valid to migrate those scenarios to use MARS. However, this does not imply that all current usages of cursors should be moved to MARS.

By default, all of the code snippets included in the previous section "just work" when using MARS-enabled client drivers against a SQL Server 2005 server. Also, the deadlock scenario described above where the application would hang now succeeds under MARS-enabled connection.

MARS-enabled client drivers are the following:

  • The SQLODBC driver included in the SQL Native Client.
  • The SQLOLEDB driver included in the SQL Native Client.
  • The SqlClient .NET Data Provider included in the Microsoft .NET Framework, Version 2.0.

By default, these drivers will establish MARS-enabled connections. If for some reason it is desired to establish connections that expose behavior of down-level drivers, each API provides an option to request non-MARS connections.

SqlClient provides the MultipleActiveResultSets connection string option. If set to false, MARS is not enabled for the session. If set to true or omitted, MARS is enabled.

Similarly, ODBC provides a SQL_COPT_SS_MARS_ENABLED connection option, while OLEDB provides a SSPROP_INIT_MARSCONNECTION option. Again, these options may only be needed to disable MARS, since it is enabled by default.

Note   MARS is only available with SQL Native Client versions of ODBC and OLEDB providers. Older versions of the providers have not been enhanced to support MARS. Needless to say, new drivers cannot support MARS when connected to SQL Server 2000 or earlier servers.

Interleaved Execution

At its deepest level, MARS is about enabling the interleaved execution of multiple requests within a single connection. This is, it allows a batch to run and, within the execution, allows other requests to execute. Note however that MARS is defined in terms of interleaving, not in terms of parallel execution.

The MARS infrastructure allows multiple batches to execute in an interleaved fashion, though execution can only be switched at well defined points. As a matter of fact, most statements must run atomically within a batch. Only the following statements are allowed to interleave execution before completion:

  • SELECT
  • FETCH
  • READTEXT
  • RECEIVE
  • BULK INSERT (or bcp interface)
  • Asynchronous cursor population

What does this mean, exactly? This means that any other statement outside of this list that is executed as part of a stored procedure or batch must run to completion before execution can be switched to other MARS requests.

As an example, imagine a batch that submits a long running DML statement; say an UPDATE statement that will affect several hundred thousand records. If, while this statement is executing, a second batch is submitted, its execution will get serialized until after the UPDATE statement completes.

On the other hand, if the SELECT statement is submitted first, the UPDATE statement will be allowed to run in the middle of the SELECT statement. However, no new rows will be produced for the SELECT statement until the DML operation completes.

Once again, this illustrates that MARS interleaves requests and it does not imply parallel processing. Interleaving is not affected whether the statements in the request are contained in a batch, an EXEC statement, or a stored procedure.

Note   A RECEIVE statement is interleavable once rows have started to be produced. In the case of a RECEIVE statement executed inside a WAITFOR clause, the statement is not interleavable while it is in waiting state.
Note   Bulk operations are only interleavable if executed under SET XACT_ABORT ON and if either no triggers are defined in the table target of the insert operation, or the option to not fire triggers has been specified. RECEIVE is also only interleavable if XACT_ABORT is set to ON.
Note   Stored Procedures written in any of the .NET languages will not interleave while managed code is executing. If the inproc data provider is used, the executed batch is subject to normal rules for interleaving and atomic execution of statements.

MARS Performance and Cost Considerations

As described earlier, MARS is the default processing mode for SQL Server data access APIs. Its execution model—unlike server side cursors—supports large batches of statements, possibly with an invocation of stored procedures and dynamic SQL operations. Given the "firehose" mode in which results are produced, the performance of a default result set (MARS) is superior to that of a server-side cursor.

There's some fine print, though. A default result set will produce results "as fast as possible." However, this is true as long as the client driver or application is consuming the results produced. If the application is not consuming results, server-side buffers will fill up and processing will be suspended until the results are consumed. While execution is suspended, many resources are tied up: data and schema locks are being held, and a server worker thread is tied up, including stack and other associated memory. Note that this condition is not specific to MARS; it represents the same overhead incurred in SQL Server 2000 and earlier, when a single request would produce default result sets that would not be consumed fast enough. MARS does not imply improvements in the overhead of firehose cursors.

This resource tie up does not happen in the case of server-side cursors. Somewhat related, depending on the cursor type requested, additional semantics may be available that do not exist for default result sets, namely scrollability and updateability of the results.

Given the description of how requests are processed, it should be straightforward to infer the usage guideline for retrieving results from SQL Server (assuming scrollability and updateability are not required): If results will be consumed eagerly by the application, default result sets under MARS provide the best performance and overhead characteristics. If results are to be consumed lazily by the application, it is recommended to use server-side cursors, FAST_FORWARD cursors in particular.

In most cases the use of the MARS default result-sets is appropriate. What are examples of lazy consumption of results, then? Think of applications that execute a batch or stored procedure that returns results, and the consumption of rows is dependent upon the completion of operations that are external to the database: user input, UI actions, synchronization with other tasks, and so on. Having requests pending for long periods affects the scalability of applications and SQL Server in general.

Transaction Semantics

The introduction of MARS changed many of the existing assumptions inside the database engine regarding transaction semantics and concurrency of operations within a single transaction.

Whereas OLEDB used to disallow the implicit spawning of connections whenever a transaction was active in the session, and ODBC used to fail additional requests with the "connection busy" error, in the MARS-enabled world these combinations now succeed. If the session has a transaction active, all new requests run under the specified transaction; if the session has no transaction active, each batch runs in auto commit mode, implying that each statement executed runs under its own transaction.

The model in the SqlClient managed provider is more explicit. Specific SqlCommands need to be associated to a given SqlTransaction object to specify under which transaction to run a specific request.

Generally speaking, transactions determine isolation between multiple users. However, under MARS it is possible to have more than one request running under the same transaction, which makes requests compatible with each other and avoids deadlocks as the one described in the recap section. However, what happens if there are conflicting operations between two requests under the same transaction?

There are a few possible cases, explained below:

  • One request is reading some results (SELECT, FETCH, READTEXT, for example). Another request modifies the data being read (DML operation, for example). In this case, though the change operation succeeds, the read operation is isolated from the changes and all data read is seen as of the time when the read operation started. Note that this case is only possible if the read operation started before the modifying batch. If the DML statement gets to run first, then the read operation will be serialized behind and will see all of the changes made.
  • Two requests attempt to modify the same data. Given the rules of atomicity of statements, DML statements must always run to completion before being able to allow other statements to run. As such, two batches attempting to modify data will never interleave. The requests will be serialized and results will reflect the order of execution. Note that if the client application is multithreaded, this may yield non-deterministic behaviors.
  • A request is reading data (SELECT, FETCH, READTEXT, for example) and any of the underlying object's schema is modified (DDL operation, for example). In this case, the DDL operation is failed, given that there are conflicting pending requests under the same transaction. Note that this behavior also applies to an attempt to change the schema of a service broker queue while a RECEIVE statement is producing results.
  • Overlapping operations happen on a table that is being bulk inserted into. BULK INSERT (or bcp, IRowsetFastLoad) is allowed to run non-atomically, that is, to interleave with other statements. However, no DDL, DML, or read operation can be concurrently performed on an object target of a BULK INSERT. In such a case an error is produced given that there are conflicting pending requests under the same transaction.

Remember that the cases described above only apply to requests running under the same transaction. For requests running under separate transactions, regular locking, blocking, or isolation semantics apply.

By the way, the transaction semantics observed under MARS are implemented by a transaction framework now also used by bound sessions and DTC. This means that where it was previously possible to change the transaction context between sessions only when no requests were pending, it is now possible to switch context during the same set of statements that are enabled to run non-atomically. Similarly, transaction context can not be switched while DML, DDL, and other statements that must run atomically are executing.

Note   An attempt to commit a transaction will fail if there are pending requests under the given transaction.

Savepoints

Transaction savepoints are commonly used to allow partial rollbacks within a transaction. Typically, applications begin a transaction, set a savepoint, do some work, and if the work succeeds then continue, and roll back to the savepoint otherwise. The following example shows an interaction of two requests with savepoints running under the same transaction:

Table 2. Transaction savepoints

TimeBatch 1Batch 2
T1begin transaction; 
T2delete dbo.operations where operation_id=5; 
T3 save transaction sp1;
T4 insert dbo.operations default values;
T5delete dbo.operations where operation_id=10; 
T6 insert dbo.operations default values;
T7 if @@error>0

rollback transaction sp1;

...  
TnCommit Tran; 

In the example above, the first request begins a transaction and does some work (deletes a row). Batch 2 then begins to run (under the same transaction) and attempts to set a savepoint to ensure that a given set of statements either succeed or fail atomically within the transaction.

However, within the two statements executed by batch 2, a delete operation from batch 1 is interleaved. Assuming that an error occurs in batch 2, the request will attempt to roll back to the savepoint sp1. However, this would "silently" also rollback the delete operation performed by Batch 1 at T5.

To avoid these unpredictable and hard to debug situations, MARS disallows setting savepoints, rolling back to savepoints, and committing transactions when there is more than one active request running under a transaction. If the two requests above were to be serialized the operation would succeed, but with the specified concurrent requests interleaving as specified above the attempt to set a savepoint in batch 2 will fail with an error.

Execution Environment

As described earlier, it seemed as if the execution environment were a global one across a session. Under MARS, what happens if more than one request simultaneously changes the environment? An example to illustrate:

Table 3. Multiple simultaneous requests example

TimeBatch 1Batch 2Batch 3
T1use operations;  
T2 use msdb; 
T3select operation_id from dbo.operations;select name from sys.objects; 
...   
Tn  select name from sys.objects;

The previous example shows three batches running under the same connection. Batches 1 and 2 change the database context and then run a SELECT statement. Batch 3, at a much later time, runs a SELECT statement without specifying database context. If the execution environment were a truly global state of the connection, the outcome of the above combination would be fairly confusing and unpredictable for application development.

MARS has a request level execution environment and session level default execution environment. When a request begins execution, the session level environment is cloned to become the request level environment. Upon completion of the whole batch, the resulting environment is copied back onto the session level default execution environment.

Under this semantics, a serialized sequence of requests (the only allowable behavior in SQL Server 2000) gives the illusion of a single session global execution environment. However, under concurrent MARS requests, changes made by a request do not affect other concurrently executing requests.

In the example above, the session environment is copied onto each of batch 1 and batch 2, and the SELECT statements in each batch run under the desired database context. Upon completion, each copies (and overwrites) the session context. Note that in this case, the resulting database for the session will be dependent on the completion timing of batches 1 and 2. Assuming that batch 3 initiates execution once batches 1 and 2 have completed, the results returned will correspond to either 'operations' or 'msdb' databases depending on the timing of the initial two requests.

Keep in mind the context copying semantics when programming to multiple batches under MARS. Copying of the context includes SET options and the rest of the execution environment.

Note   If a batch is cancelled, the execution environment is copied back onto the session default as of the time when the cancel request is acknowledged.

MARS Deadlocks

MARS enables several new scenarios, but as it is usually the case with powerful features, it also creates new opportunities for you to shoot yourself in the foot. Consider the following example.

Traditionally, triggers have been allowed on DML statements. SQL Server 2005 extends the model to allow triggers to be defined on DDL statements. Consider now an application that decides to return results to the caller from within a trigger (not that you would ever follow this horrible practice, of course). A SELECT statement is included inside a trigger body definition. The pseudo code from the application's perspective would look something like this:

Request 1: update table operations; // this will return results from the trigger.
For each row returned from the trigger
{
   Request 2: Read from some other table based on current row;
}

With the example above we have created a new type of application deadlock. Request 2 will attempt to execute once per row that is returned from request 1. However, request 1 is a DML statement and as such it must run to completion before it allows any other statement to execute. The same rule applies to DDL statements. In this case request 2 will not run until request 1 completes. However, completion of request 1 is dependent upon execution of each request 2.

MARS solves this problem by adding blocking network operations to the deadlock detection chain. For the scenario above, The SQL Server deadlock monitor will detect the situation and will fail Request 2 with an error indicating that the session is busy with another request.

As a general rule, keep in mind which statements must run atomically, and ensure that no operation will block them from making progress. More important, ensure it is not blocked by an operation that is dependent upon the completion of initial statement.

Returning results from triggers is one of the easiest ways to run into this situation. For this and several other reasons it is highly discouraged to return results from triggers. This includes SELECT statements without assignment clauses, FETCH statements without assignment clauses, PRINT statements, or other statements running with NOCOUNT set to OFF.

Monitoring and Diagnostics

As we've seen, MARS has changed some of the core assumptions inside the SQL Server engine. It is important to keep in mind some of the new assumptions when monitoring and diagnosing a SQL Server instance.

A SQL Server Process ID (SPID) represents a session in SQL Server. Given the MARS absence in previous releases, it was common to associate SPIDs with requests. It was common to think of retrieving the SQL text for a given SPID. It was common to look at execution statistics in sysprocesses for a SPID. All these may no longer be sufficient given the scenarios enabled by MARS.

Though sysprocesses continues to display information for a session, a few enhancements are in place to help monitor MARS.

The new Dynamic Management View (DMV) sys.dm_exec_sessions presents a new view of session information, including the session default execution environment. Under this view, what have traditionally been known as SPIDs are reflected under the session_id column.

Also, sys.dm_exec_connections is available to show all physical and logical connections established to the server. Logical connections are the virtual pipes within a session established for each request running under MARS. For logical connections, the parent_connection_id column is populated. The common session_id column also shows the relationship of multiple logical connections within a single session.

A new DMV, sys.dm_exec_requests, presents a detailed list of the requests available under each session.

A new intrinsic function, current_request_id(), is also introduced to enable the programmatic finding of the currently executing request's ID. This is analogous to the existing @@spid function.

Conclusion

Support for Multiple Active Result Sets (MARS) in Microsoft SQL Server 2005 increases the options available to develop SQL Server applications. It brings the cursoring programming model closer together with the performance and power of the default processing mode of the relational engine.

MARS provides a lighter weight alternative to some applications that may have been using multiple connections to overcome lack-of-MARS limitations. However, this is not always the case, since multiple connections do provide parallel execution in the server (provided they're not enlisted in the same transaction).

Though in many situations MARS may provide an alternative to server-side cursors and provide performance improvements, it is not a replacement for cursors. As described in this white paper, there are cases where MARS represents an attractive alternative, but there are many others where cursors may scale better.

In a nutshell, MARS is a programming model enhancement that allows multiple requests to interleave in the server. Though it does not imply parallel execution in the server, it may yield some performance benefits if used correctly.

1This document does not cover DB-Lib or the .NET Managed Providers that layer on top of ODBC/OLEDB.

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