Michael J. Swart

March 25, 2010

Transaction Phenomena – Part 2: The Non-Repeatable Read

SERIES: Concurrent Transaction Phenomena

In Books Online (BOL), Microsoft  describes different kinds of transaction isolation levels in terms of phenomena that can occur during concurrent transactions. Specifically, they mention three kinds of phenomena: Dirty Reads, Non-Repeatable Reads, and Phantom Reads. You may have heard of these before, but correct me if I’m wrong, I just can’t find a good definition anywhere on BOL.

And that’s too bad, because these phenomena don’t just help describe the different transaction isolation levels. The phenomena actually define these levels.

These terms actually come from the ISO/ANSI standard for SQL-92. The terms themselves however do little to illuminate exactly the meaning of each. (What’s a phantom read?) When used by the ANSI/ISO standard, they mean something very specific and they’re key to understanding the different isolation levels.

In the next few days, I’d like to illustrate each phenomenon:

Part 2: The Non-Repeatable Read

The non-repeatable read occurs when a transaction re-reads a single record and finds that it has been changed or deleted.

From ISO/ANSI: Process P1 reads a row. Process P2 then modifies or deletes that rows and commits the change. If P1 rereads the row it receives the modified value or discovers the row has been deleted.

Changing Data
I like to think of Non-Repeatable Reads as being about reading data that has changed.

Changing Data

Changing Data

(I apologize in advance to my friends at work whose reaction I know will be “Boo”.)

But Non-Repeatable reads are not always a bad thing. In fact they’re often harmless or even required. When data has changed, you have to decide whether you want consistent data or whether you want current data. If you need to rely on consistent data, then a non-repeatable read is detrimental. Here is an example of a non-repeatable read that causes problems:

		FROM Theatre.AvailableSeats
		WHERE seat = 'B23')
		-- imagine a concurrent transaction
		-- sells seat B23 here and removes the record
		-- from table Theatre.AvailableSeats
		-- then no rows are returned here:
		SELECT price
		FROM Theatre.AvailableSeats
		WHERE seat = 'B23'
		-- and zero rows are affected here:
		DELETE FROM Theatre.AvailableSeats
		WHERE seat = 'B23'

Isolation Levels that Experience Non-Repeatable Reads

Just like dirty reads, this phenomenon is possible when using the READ UNCOMMITTED isolation level, but it is also possible when using the READ COMMITTED isolation level. And in SQL Server READ COMMITTED is the default isolation level for transactions.

My experience
To avoid this phenomena, you could use isolation level REPEATABLE READ. But often I find it’s possible to rewrite a transaction and stick with the default READ COMMITTED.

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