Changing to simple recovery to clear the log.


February 10, 2016 by Kenneth Fisher

Clearing out a full transaction log is a common problem. A quick search will find you dozens of forum entries and blog posts. Because of that I’m not going to talk about the correct methods of dealing with a transaction log full error. What I want to discuss is why you shouldn’t use the following method.

USE master
USE Test
USE master

This is a piece of code one of my developers wanted to run the other day. Each of you that read it probably fall into one of the following categories.

  • A small piece of me just died.
  • I shuddered in fear.
  • I don’t get it, what’s wrong with that?

If you fell into that third category (or even close) then this post is for you. Falling into the other two categories really just depends on how much of the following information you already know. And if you fall into one of those categories please free to continue reading and let me know if there is anything you see that I missed.

So what’s wrong with it?

I’m going to break this down one line at a time.

We are going to assume that your database is in FULL recovery. If it’s not you aren’t doing anything here. If it was in FULL recovery then it was probably that way for a reason. And the reason you use FULL recovery is so that you can do point in time recovery. Generally this is so you can recover as much data as possible in case of a disaster. By switching to SIMPLE recovery you just lost the ability to recover anything between now and the last backup. In fact you won’t be able to recover anything until the next backup. Let’s hope you don’t need that information anymore because it’s gone.

This shrinks the size of the log file. If what you are worried about is how much available space you have inside the log this has the opposite effect. Typically if your log file has increased to a specific size then you needed that much space. Now that the file has been reduced in size the next time the log needs that additional space it’s going to have to grow. That’s going to take some time and cause you a performance hit. And if your auto-growth settings aren’t sufficient (say the default 10%) you are going to end up with a huge number of VLFs. Let’s say for example your log file started out at 50gb. You shrunk it to 1gb. You run your normal processes, which very quickly require that you have a 50gb log file. While that process was running you had to wait for 42 autogrowth events adding more than 650 VLFs. And in fact you’re now at ~55gb. Even bigger than what you started with.

There are several problems at this point. First what happens if your database was originally in SIMPLE recovery? You’ve now set it to FULL and since it was SIMPLE before this you won’t have transaction log backups in place. Because of that you’re going to be getting even more transaction log full errors.

But let’s say you actually checked up front and you were in FULL recovery. Going into SIMPLE and back broke your backup chain. In fact until you take a FULL or DIFFERENTIAL backup you are not going to be able to take LOG backups. Assuming that alerts are set up correctly someone is going to start getting calls to let them know that the backups are failing and they aren’t going to be happy with you. Not to mention until this is fixed you still have no way restore past that last backup. If there is a problem this could be come a career changing event. And not in a good way. Oh, and until the next FULL or DIFFERENTIAL backup is taken and then the next LOG backup after that the log can’t clear out. So again you are going to end up with more log full errors than you started with.

When is it ok

Warnings having been spoken (in a long winded manner) there is a time when this is actually the correct way to handle things. To give a specific example I saw a database with a ~100MB data file, and a ~100gb log file. The log file was so large because log backups had never been set up. I knew the log file didn’t need to be that large and I didn’t have room on the machine to take a log backup of that size (oh, and the FULL backups had been failing too). I spoke with the business and explained the problem and with their permission I altered the database, shrunk the log to a reasonable size, put it back in full recovery and immediately took a FULL backup.

6 thoughts on “Changing to simple recovery to clear the log.

  1. Lee Everest says:

    I think you nailed it Kenneth…if it’s that size, then it got there for a reason. Most people don’t seem to understand that. Then there are these shops that have to do it because they’re chintzy on space by setting up SQL Agent jobs to run periodically to do shrinks to recapture space. Wow talk about chasing your tail!

    Take care buddy

  2. […] Kenneth Fisher discusses changing your database’s recovery model to Simple in order to clean o…: […]

  3. HikataMaru says:

    Hi Kenneth, thanks a lot for your lengthy information. You really saved me here.

  4. Keith says:

    Another example of when to use this method. We have a database that stores images, the database was originally created with Full Recovery Model. Logs were growing upwards of 10gb per month and the ETL Team and Infrastructure Admins discussed there was no need for this database to be in a Full Recovery Model due to the type of data stored, and being non-critical process. In this case setting the DB to Simple Recovery and shrinking logs made sense.

    • Oh sure. A database should be put into an appropriate recovery model. If you don’t need point in time recovery then simple is certainly an option. And when you go from full recovery to simple you can frequently shrink your log some.

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