Let’s face it: column enlargement is a very sensitive topic. I get thousands of emails every month on this particular topic, although most of them end up in my spam folder. Go figure…
The inconvenient truth is that enlarging a fixed size column is a long and painful operation, that will make you wish there was a magic lotion or pill to use on your column to enlarge it on the spot.
Unfortunately, there is no such magic pill, but turns out you can use some SQL Server features to make the column enlargement less painful for your users.
First, let’s create a table with one smallint column, that we will try to enlarge later.
-- Go to a safe place USE tempdb; GO IF OBJECT_ID('EnlargeTest') IS NOT NULL DROP TABLE EnlargeTest; -- Create test table CREATE TABLE EnlargeTest ( SomeColumn smallint ); -- Insert 1 million rows INSERT INTO EnlargeTest (SomeColumn) SELECT TOP(1000000) 1 FROM master.dbo.spt_values AS A CROSS JOIN master.dbo.spt_values AS B;
If you try to enlarge this column with a straight “ALTER TABLE” command, you will have to wait for SQLServer to go through all the rows and write the new data type. Smallint is a data type that is stored in 2 bytes, while int requires 4 bytes, so SQL Server will have to enlarge each and every row to accommodate 2 extra bytes.
This operation requires some time and also causes a lot of page splits, especially if the pages are completely full.
SET STATISTICS IO, TIME ON; -- Enlarge column ALTER TABLE EnlargeTest ALTER COLUMN SomeColumn int; SET STATISTICS IO, TIME OFF; /* (1000000 rows affected) SQL Server parse and compile time: CPU time = 0 ms, elapsed time = 0 ms. Table 'EnlargeTest'. Scan count 9, logical reads 3001171, physical reads 0, read-ahead reads 0, lob logical reads 0, lob physical reads 0, lob read-ahead reads 0. Table 'Worktable'. Scan count 8, logical reads 2064041, physical reads 0, read-ahead reads 0, lob logical reads 0, lob physical reads 0, lob read-ahead reads 0. SQL Server Execution Times: CPU time = 13094 ms, elapsed time = 11012 ms. */
The worst part of this approach is that, while the ALTER TABLE statement is running, nobody can access the table.
To overcome this inconvenience, there is a magic column enlargement pill that your table can take, and it’s called Row Compression.
Let’s try and revert to the original column size and take the Row Compression pill:
-- Let's revert to smallint ALTER TABLE EnlargeTest ALTER COLUMN SomeColumn smallint; -- Add row compression ALTER TABLE EnlargeTest REBUILD WITH (DATA_COMPRESSION = ROW);
With Row Compression, your fixed size columns can use only the space needed by the smallest data type where the actual data fits. This means that for an int column that contains only smallint data, the actual space usage inside the row is 1 or 2 bytes, not 4.
This is exactly what you need here:
SET STATISTICS IO, TIME ON; -- Let's try to enlarge the column again ALTER TABLE EnlargeTest ALTER COLUMN SomeColumn int; SET STATISTICS IO, TIME OFF; /* SQL Server Execution Times: CPU time = 0 ms, elapsed time = 0 ms. */
Excellent! This time the command completes instantly and the ALTER COLUMN statement is a metadata only change.
The good news is that Row Compression is available in all editions of SQL Server since version 2016 SP1 and compression can be applied by rebuilding indexes ONLINE, with no downtime (yes, you will need Enteprise Edition for this).
The (relatively) bad news is that I tested this method on several versions of SQL Server and it only works on 2016 and above. Previous versions are not smart enough to take the compression options into account when enlarging the columns and they first enlarge and then reduce the columns when executing the ALTER COLUMN command. Another downside to this method is that row compression will refuse to work if the total size of your columns exceeds 8060 bytes, as the documentation states.
Bottom line is: painless column enlargement is possible, if you take the Row Compression pills. Just don’t overdo it: you don’t want to enlarge your columns too much, do you?
Three years ago, I started to work on a project called ExtendedTsqlCollector. I blogged about it multiple times here on spaghettidba.com.
Even if I received positive feedback, I knew that one aspect was slowing down the adoption of the project: the Data Collector. That particular feature of SQL Server has a very bad reputation for being difficult to set up, customize and monitor. ExtendedTSQLCollector tried to address some of those issues, but the damage was already done and I knew that the Data Collector was already on the verge of extinction.
So, how could I preserve the work done for that project and, at the same time, offer DBAs the ability to set up complex actions in response to events? What I aimed to release was a tool capable of streaming events from a session and perform configurable actions in response to those events, mainly writing to a database table and sending alerts. The tool I had in mind should have to be configured in a simple and straightforward way, possibly with a single configuration file.
So, back to the drawing board. The tool I came up with had ditched the data collector, but it kept as much as possible from the previous project.
I am proud to introduce XESmartTarget: the easiest way to interact with extended events sessions without writing a single line of code.
XESmartTarget uses the Extended Events streaming API to connect to a session and execute some actions in response to each event. The actions you perform can be configured in a simple .json file, which controls the Response types and all their properties.
For instance, if you have a session to capture deadlocks, you may want to be notified whenever such an event is captured. All you need to do is configure XESmartTarget to send an email using the EmailResponse class. You can do that by creating a simple .json file with all the parameters needed:
XESmartTarget will connect to your session and will execute an EmailResponse for every event you capture. What will you see? Not much, because XESmartTarget is a console application that you are supposed to run in the background:
What you will actually see is email messages flowing to your inbox:
This is just an example of what XESmartTarget can do: you already have Response types to write events to a database table or replay execution-related events to a target instance. More Response types are in the works as well, but the good news is that XESmartTarget is open source, so you can code your own ad contribute it to the project on GitHub.
What are you waiting for? Download and try XESmartTarget now!
A couple of years ago I blogged about Installing the SQL Server 2014 Language Reference Help from disk.
With SQL Server 2016 things changed significantly: we have the new Help Viewer 2.2, which is shipped with the Management Studio setup kit.
However, despite all the changes in the way help works and is shipped, I am still unable to download and install help content from the web, so I resorted to using the same trick that I used for SQL Server 2014.
This time the URLs and the files to download are different:
- Point your browser to http://services.mtps.microsoft.com/ServiceAPI/catalogs/sql2016/en-us
- Download the Language Reference Files:
If you’re a PowerShell person, these three lines will do:
Invoke-WebRequest -Uri "http://packages.mtps.microsoft.com/sql_2016_branding_en-us(1bd6e667-f159-ac3b-f0a5-964c04ca5a13).cab" ` -OutFile "sql_2016_branding_en-us(1bd6e667-f159-ac3b-f0a5-964c04ca5a13).cab" Invoke-WebRequest -Uri "http://packages.mtps.microsoft.com/v2sql_shared_language_reference_b4621_sql_130_en-us_1(83748a56-8810-751f-d453-00c5accc862d).cab" ` -OutFile "v2sql_shared_language_reference_b4621_sql_130_en-us_1(83748a56-8810-751f-d453-00c5accc862d).cab" Invoke-WebRequest -Uri "http://packages.mtps.microsoft.com/v2sql_shared_language_reference_b4621_sql_130_en-us_2(ccc38276-b744-93bd-9008-fe79b294ff41).cab" ` -OutFile "v2sql_shared_language_reference_b4621_sql_130_en-us_2(ccc38276-b744-93bd-9008-fe79b294ff41).cab"
- Create a text file name HelpContentSetup.msha in the same folder as the .cab files and paste the following html:
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> <head /> <body class="vendor-book"> <div class="details"> <span class="vendor">Microsoft</span> <span class="locale">en-us</span> <span class="product">SQL Server 2016</span> <span class="name">Microsoft SQL Server Language Reference</span> </div> <div class="package-list"> <div class="package"> <span class="name">SQL_2016_Branding_en-US</span> <span class="deployed">False</span> <a class="current-link" href="sql_2016_branding_en-us(1bd6e667-f159-ac3b-f0a5-964c04ca5a13).cab">sql_2016_branding_en-us(1bd6e667-f159-ac3b-f0a5-964c04ca5a13).cab</a> </div> <div class="package"> <span class="name">v2SQL_Shared_Language_Reference_B4621_SQL_130_en-us_1</span> <span class="deployed">False</span> <a class="current-link" href="v2sql_shared_language_reference_b4621_sql_130_en-us_1(83748a56-8810-751f-d453-00c5accc862d).cab">v2sql_shared_language_reference_b4621_sql_130_en-us_1(83748a56-8810-751f-d453-00c5accc862d).cab</a> </div> <div class="package"> <span class="name">v2SQL_Shared_Language_Reference_B4621_SQL_130_en-us_2</span> <span class="deployed">False</span> <a class="current-link" href="v2sql_shared_language_reference_b4621_sql_130_en-us_2(ccc38276-b744-93bd-9008-fe79b294ff41).cab">v2sql_shared_language_reference_b4621_sql_130_en-us_2(ccc38276-b744-93bd-9008-fe79b294ff41).cab</a> </div> </div> </body> </html>
- First, set the Help Viewer to open help from the local sources:
- Then select the “Add and Remove Help Content” command:
- This command opens the Help Viewer and asks for the content to add.
Browse to the file you created in step 3.
Click “Add” on all the items you wish to add to the library. In this case you will have only 1 item.
When done, click the “Update” button.
- Unfortunately, during the installation phase of the library item, something crashes and the installation won’t proceed until you tell it to ignore or report the error.
- Despite the crash, everything works as expected and you will find the topic installed in your help library:
Here it is, nice and easy. Hope it works for you too.
One of the most popular posts on this bog describes how to enable bitmap scaling is SSMS on high DPI displays, which is a sign that more and more people are starting to use 4K displays and are unhappy with SSMS’s behaviour at high DPI. The solution described in that post is to enable bitmap scaling, which renders graphic objects correctly, at the price of some blurriness.
The good news is that starting with SSMS 16.3 high DPI displays are finally first class citizens and SSMS does its best to scale objects properly. By default, SSMS will keep using bitmap scaling: in order to enable DPI scaling you will have to use a manifest file.
- Merge this key to your registry:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\SideBySide] "PreferExternalManifest"=dword:00000001
- Save this manifest file to “C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SQL Server\130\Tools\Binn\ManagementStudio\Ssms.exe.manifest” using UTF-8 format:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="yes"?> <assembly xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v1" manifestVersion="1.0" xmlns:asmv3="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v3"> <asmv3:application> <asmv3:windowsSettings xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/SMI/2005/WindowsSettings"> <dpiAware>True</dpiAware> </asmv3:windowsSettings> </asmv3:application> <dependency> <dependentAssembly> <assemblyIdentity type="win32" name="Microsoft.Windows.Common-Controls" version="188.8.131.52" processorArchitecture="X86" publicKeyToken="6595b64144ccf1df" language="*" /> </dependentAssembly> </dependency> <dependency> <dependentAssembly> <assemblyIdentity type="win32" name="debuggerproxy.dll" processorArchitecture="X86" version="184.108.40.206"></assemblyIdentity> </dependentAssembly> </dependency> </assembly>
This is a huge improvement over the bitmap scaling solution we had to use up to now: no more blurriness and proper fonts are used in SSMS.
For comparison, this is how bitmap scaling renders in SSMS 2014:
And this is how DPI scaling renders is SSMS 16.3, with scaling set to 200%:
As you can see, it’s not perfect yet (for instance, I had to change the grid font size to 9pt. in order to have readable fonts).
However, the GUI is much more readable now. For instance, look at the difference in object explorer: (click on the image to open fullsize and see the difference)
Now that your favourite tool is working in high DPI displays, nothing is holding you back from buying one of those fancy 4K laptops!
The next few months will be crazy for me. I will be travelling a lot around Europe, speaking about SQL Server topics.
Here is where you will find me in the upcoming weeks:
- May 4: SQLNexus
SQLNexus is a new conference in Copenhagen and will be the official launch event in Denmark for SQL Server 2016.
I will speak about “Responding to Extended Events in near Real-Time”.
- May 5: SQLBits
SQLBits doesn’t need to be introduced. It’s the biggest SQL Server event in Europe and it will also be the official SQL Server 2016 launch event in UK.
Again, I will speak about “Responding to Extended Events in near Real-Time”.
- May 16: NTK
NTK is a famous conference in Slovenia, which has been running for many years now. This year it will be held in Portorosz, near the Italian border.
It’s going to be fun: I will speak about “Benchmarking, Baselining and Workload Analysis”.
- June 14: INSIDE-SQL
INSIDE-SQL is also a new event, run this year for the first time. It’s an event focused on in-depth concepts, delivered in 75 minutes sessions, with long breaks between sessions, so that attendees can go to the next session without rushing and can hang out with the speakers and ask questions.
I will deliver two sessions:
“Responding to Extended Events in near Real-Time”
“Advanced T-SQL Techniques”
- June 24: SQL Saturday Paris
Free SQL Server training from the 40th floor of the Tour Montparnasse in Paris.What else can I say?
I will be speaking about “New Security Features in SQL Server 2016”
- September 10: SQL Saturday Cambridge
One of the coolest SQLSats around!
This time I’ll be speaking about “SQL Server Infernals”, AKA “how to torture your SQL Server instances to death with worst practices”. It’s going to be fun!
I hope to see you at these super cool events!
This will be no surprise to those who have been working with SQL Server for a long time, but it can be puzzling at first and actually I was a bit confused myself when I stumbled upon this behavior for the first time.
SQL Server treats windows users in a special way, a way that could lead us to some interesting observations.
First of all, we need a test database and a couple of windows principals to perform our tests:
1. In a command prompt, create a windows group named ‘testGroup’
net localgroup testGroup /ADD
2. In a command prompt, create a windows user named ‘testUser’ and add it to the group
net user testUser "testUser" /ADD net localgroup testGroup testUser /ADD
3. In SSMS, create a test database:
CREATE DATABASE testWindowsUser;
Now that everything is set up, we can start our investigation.
You can create a database user for a Windows user with no corresponding login
When dealing with windows users, you don’t need to create a login in SQL Server in order to create a database user, but you can create it directly:
USE testWindowsUser; GO CREATE USER [XPS13-SQLC\testUser]; GO
We just created a user in the database, without creating a login first and without having to add “WITHOUT LOGIN” to the CREATE USER statement. If you search for a login with the same SID in sys.logins, nothing will turn up:
SELECT svp.name AS login_name, dbp.name AS user_name, dbp.default_schema_name FROM sys.database_principals AS dbp LEFT JOIN sys.server_principals AS svp ON dbp.sid = svp.sid WHERE dbp.name LIKE '%testUser';
login_name user_name default_schema_name ----------- -------------------- -------------------- NULL XPS13-SQLC\testUser dbo
It is interesting to note that the default schema for the user, if you don’t specify one, will be “dbo”.
At this point, the Windows user cannot log in to SQL Server, but the user can be impersonated to perform operations against the databases, in the same exact way as with any other user without login.
Before we proceed with the investigation, let’s clean up our mess:
DROP USER [XPS13-SQLC\testUser];
You can create a database user for a Windows group with no corresponding login
If we try to do the same thing with a Windows group, we get even more interesting findings.
USE testWindowsUser; GO CREATE USER [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup] GO
Again, we did not have to specify an existing login name and we did not have to add “WITHOUT LOGIN”. Looking at the user data in sys.database_principals and sys.logins shows again that no login is associated with this user, but this time we can see that no default schema was set.
SELECT svp.name AS login_name, dbp.name AS user_name, dbp.default_schema_name FROM sys.database_principals AS dbp LEFT JOIN sys.server_principals AS svp ON dbp.sid = svp.sid WHERE dbp.name LIKE '%testGroup';
login_name user_name default_schema_name ----------- --------------------- -------------------- NULL XPS13-SQLC\testGroup NULL
As common sense suggests, we cannot impersonate a database user that corresponds to a Windows group. If we try that, we are met with an error message.
EXECUTE AS USER = 'XPS13-SQLC\testGroup'; -- '
Msg 15517, Level 16, State 1, Line 85 Cannot execute as the database principal because the principal "XPS13-SQLC\testGroup" does not exist, this type of principal cannot be impersonated, or you do not have permission.
Windows users are granted access through groups in surprising ways
Now the fun begins. Turns out that you can impersonate a Windows user that is not a user in the database, as long as the Windows user is a member of the group.
Let’s grant some permissions to the group and see what happens:
ALTER ROLE db_owner ADD MEMBER [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup]; GO EXECUTE AS USER = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; -- ' EXEC('CREATE VIEW testView AS SELECT 1 AS one'); REVERT; GO
Surprisingly enough, we were able to impersonate a database principal that doesn’t exist at all. In fact we dropped it right before we started to play with the groups, right? Let’s check again the database principals:
SELECT svp.name AS login_name, dbp.name AS user_name, dbp.default_schema_name FROM sys.database_principals AS dbp LEFT JOIN sys.server_principals AS svp ON dbp.sid = svp.sid WHERE dbp.name LIKE '%test%'; GO
login_name user_name default_schema_name ----------- --------------------- -------------------- NULL XPS13-SQLC\testGroup NULL NULL XPS13-SQLC\testUser XPS13-SQLC\testUser
Wait, what? Who created that user? Looks like SQL Server creates the database user automatically when it needs to impersonate one of the group members that are not created in the database yet.
Another interesting fact is that the default schema of the newly created user matches the user name. If we don’t like that, we can change it afterwards, but wouldn’t it be cool if we could simply change that on the Windows group and let it propagate to the users created during this process? Let’s try and see if this is possible.
-- First let's drop the user and dependent objects DROP VIEW [XPS13-SQLC\testUser].testView; DROP SCHEMA [XPS13-SQLC\testUser]; DROP USER [XPS13-SQLC\testUser]; GO -- Then let's change the default schema for the group ALTER USER [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup] WITH default_schema = dbo; GO -- Let's re-create the view impersonating the user EXECUTE AS USER = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; -- ' EXEC('CREATE VIEW testView AS SELECT 1 AS One'); REVERT GO -- Check if the view is there SELECT OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id) AS schema_name, name FROM sys.views WHERE name = 'testView'; GO -- Check database users: SELECT svp.name AS login_name, dbp.name AS user_name, dbp.default_schema_name FROM sys.database_principals AS dbp LEFT JOIN sys.server_principals AS svp ON dbp.sid = svp.sid WHERE dbp.name LIKE '%test%'; GO
schema_name name ------------ --------- dbo testView login_name user_name default_schema_name ------------ --------------------- -------------------- NULL XPS13-SQLC\testGroup dbo
This time the view was placed in the “dbo” schema as expected (remember? We set the default schema on the group), but the really weird thing is that no new user was added. Why? I couldn’t find any answer in the documentation. It is even more puzzling that SQL Server was able to impersonate a user that is not present at all. Nevertheless, as far as I can remember it has always been like this, at least starting from SQL Server 2005.
To be sure we’re not imagining things, let’s change again the default schema of the Windows group:
-- Note the weird syntax ALTER USER [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup] WITH default_schema = NULL; GO -- Let's re-create the view impersonating the user EXECUTE AS USER = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; -- ' EXEC('CREATE VIEW testView AS SELECT 1 AS One'); REVERT GO -- Check if the view is there SELECT OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id) AS schema_name, name FROM sys.views WHERE name = 'testView'; GO -- Check database users: SELECT svp.name AS login_name, dbp.name AS user_name, dbp.default_schema_name FROM sys.database_principals AS dbp LEFT JOIN sys.server_principals AS svp ON dbp.sid = svp.sid WHERE dbp.name LIKE '%test%'; GO
schema_name name -------------------- --------------------- dbo testView XPS13-SQLC\testUser testView login_name user_name default_schema_name -------------------- --------------------- -------------------- NULL XPS13-SQLC\testGroup NULL NULL XPS13-SQLC\testUser XPS13-SQLC\testUser
Again, SQL Server creates a new user and assigns it a default schema with the same name. The view was placed in the user’s default schema.
Now let’s revert to a clean database and drop some objects.
DROP VIEW dbo.testView; DROP VIEW [XPS13-SQLC\testUser].testView; DROP SCHEMA [XPS13-SQLC\testUser]; DROP USER [XPS13-SQLC\testUser]; GO
In order to have a complete picture, we can now check what happens if we create a login for the windows user.
CREATE LOGIN [XPS13-SQLC\testUser] FROM WINDOWS; GO EXECUTE AS LOGIN = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; EXEC('CREATE VIEW testView AS SELECT 1 AS One'); REVERT GO -- Check if the view is there SELECT OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id) AS schema_name, name FROM sys.views WHERE name = 'testView'; GO -- Check database users: SELECT svp.name AS login_name, dbp.name AS user_name, dbp.default_schema_name FROM sys.database_principals AS dbp LEFT JOIN sys.server_principals AS svp ON dbp.sid = svp.sid WHERE dbp.name LIKE '%test%'; GO
schema_name name -------------------- --------------------- XPS13-SQLC\testUser testView login_name user_name default_schema_name -------------------- --------------------- -------------------- NULL XPS13-SQLC\testGroup NULL XPS13-SQLC\testUser XPS13-SQLC\testUser XPS13-SQLC\testUser
Again, SQL Server creates a new database user for this login and a schema with the same name. The view gets added to the user’s default schema.
What is interesting to note is that we could access the database by logging in as the Windows user, without having an explicit permission path to allow it. Only after accessing the database an explicit database user is created.
If we try the same thing with the default schema set to “dbo” on the windows group, the behavior matches what we got for the user:
-- let's try again with a default schema on the group ALTER USER [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup] WITH default_schema = dbo; GO -- cleanup DROP VIEW dbo.testView; DROP VIEW [XPS13-SQLC\testUser].testView; DROP SCHEMA [XPS13-SQLC\testUser]; DROP USER [XPS13-SQLC\testUser]; GO EXECUTE AS LOGIN = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; -- ' EXEC('CREATE VIEW testView AS SELECT 1 AS One'); REVERT GO -- Check if the view is there SELECT OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id) AS schema_name, name FROM sys.views WHERE name = 'testView'; GO -- Check database users: SELECT svp.name AS login_name, dbp.name AS user_name, dbp.default_schema_name FROM sys.database_principals AS dbp LEFT JOIN sys.server_principals AS svp ON dbp.sid = svp.sid WHERE dbp.name LIKE '%test%'; GO
This means that this behavior has to be taken into account when we’re querying permissions on the databases to see who can access what. In order to know whether a windows user is member of a windows group, we can use the system function IS_MEMBER().
In our case, it would be enough to call the function in this way:
EXECUTE AS LOGIN = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; -- ' SELECT IS_MEMBER('XPS13-SQLC\testGroup'); REVERT GO
Unfortunately, there is no additional parameter available to specify which windows user to test for group membership and the function will always test against the current login. This has two important consequences:
- To test multiple logins, we need to impersonate them one at a time, which is difficult to achieve in scripts.
- There is no way to test database users: impersonating the database user will not be enough to test the windows group membership for the windows user associated to the database user.
Summing it up, this is what we have:
|Windows user impersonated as||Group’s Default Schema set||New user added||New user’s schema|
|Database User||No||Yes||User name|
The dbo user can be mapped to a non-existing Windows User
This is extremely tricky and I was bitten by this behavior recently, wasting countless hours trying to figure out what was happening.
Imagine that a developer creates a database in the development environment, while logged in with Windows authentication. This is a very common scenario, both if you’re using a centralized development server or developers’ workstations.
When development is complete, the developer hands us a database backup to restore in production, because the database already contains some data (built-in values in lookup tables or something else required by the application). We restore the database in production, where the developer does not have a login, confident that he will be unable to access it. Well, that’s not exactly what is going to happen.
Let’s see it with an example:
-- Grant dbcreator permissions to the windows user ALTER SERVER ROLE dbcreator ADD MEMBER [XPS13-SQLC\testUser] GO -- The user creates a database. It may happen in development, right? EXECUTE AS LOGIN = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; CREATE DATABASE testWindowsGroup REVERT GO -- Let's pretend that developers finish working with the database -- and ask to move it from development to production -- He takes a backup and we restore it to production BACKUP DATABASE testWindowsGroup TO DISK = 'c:\temp\testWindowsGroup.bak'; GO -- We don't have two separate servers to test, we will simulate -- the same situation by dropping some objects. Let's drop the database. DROP DATABASE testWindowsGroup; GO -- Now let's drop the associated windows login DROP LOGIN [XPS13-SQLC\testUser] GO -- The database gets restored in production (again, we will use the same instance, -- but the main point is that the login of the database owner is not present). RESTORE DATABASE testWindowsGroup FROM DISK = 'c:\temp\testWindowsGroup.bak' GO -- Who's the owner of the database? You, the DBA. Looking good. SELECT db.name, svp.name FROM sys.databases AS db INNER JOIN sys.server_principals AS svp ON db.owner_sid = svp.sid WHERE database_id = DB_ID('testWindowsGroup');
Everything is set up the way it should: the database is restored to production, the DBA is the database owner, the developer has no access to the database and everybody is happy.
Now imagine that a new totally unrelated database gets added to the production instance, a database where everybody in the company must have read-only access. We create a new login for a Windows group that includes all authorized logins and we grant access to the new database.
Again, let’s see it with an example (using tempdb):
-- Let's add a login for the group and grant permissions on another database -- I will use tempdb here, but it could be any other database. CREATE LOGIN [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup] FROM WINDOWS; GO USE tempdb; GO -- The group gets added to tempdb with read-only permissions CREATE USER [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup] FOR LOGIN [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup]; ALTER ROLE db_datareader ADD MEMBER [XPS13-SQLC\testGroup]; GO -- Let’s go back to the database we restored previously USE testWindowsGroup; GO -- Now see what happens: EXECUTE AS LOGIN = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; -- ' EXEC('CREATE VIEW testView AS SELECT 1 AS One'); REVERT GO
WTF? A windows user that has no matching SQL Server login could create a view in a database where no matching user exists? How could that happen?
-- Let's check the permissions of this user: EXECUTE AS LOGIN = 'XPS13-SQLC\testUser'; -- ' SELECT IS_ROLEMEMBER('db_owner') AS IAmDbOwner, IS_MEMBER('db_owner') AS AgainDbOwner; REVERT GO
IAmDbOwner AgainDbOwner ----------- ------------- 1 1
Weird. The login of the Windows user seems to be the database owner, but we checked upon restore that the DBA is the database owner. Moreover, there is no explicit login in the server for this Windows user and the only Windows group that contains this user does not have access at all to the database: how is this possible?
The answer is buried inside the database principals table:
-- The sid of the dbo user is still the sid of the user that created the database, -- even if the windows user is not a login in SQL Server SELECT sid FROM sys.database_principals WHERE name = 'dbo';
We got access to the database thanks to a windows group added to grant access to a totally unrelated database. The group has no permissions whatsoever on the database, but it allows its members to log in: the actual permissions on the database are granted through the SID of the dbo user.
This can be spotted immediately with the GUI, which is a fact that hides the resolution even more from experienced DBAs that don’t use the GUI at all.
Windows authentication comes handy most of the times and it offers better protection compared to SQL Server authentication, but sometimes the way SQL Server treats Windows users can be puzzling.
Don’t take things for granted and check now if you really understand who has access to your databases: the answer might be very different from what you expect.
P.S. If you’re wondering why I placed a comment with a quote after every “EXECUTE AS” statement, it’s just to fix this WordPress wacky syntax highlighter going nuts.
Today, thanks to a customer, I discovered one of those annoying little things that can really drive you nuts.
Basically, they were trying to restore a backup using the SSMS Restore Database window and they kept getting “No backupset selected to be restored” whenever a backup file was selected.
You just had to select a file for restore and click OK…
… to be met with an error message in the Restore Database window:
The weird thing about it is that the backup file restored perfectly fine from a T-SQL script:
So it had to be something wrong with SSMS, but what?
Looking closer at the restore script, one thing stands out. Look at the file name:
Yep, there’s a leading whitespace in the file name. Could that be the source of the problem?
Let’s try again with the GUI in a slightly different way. This time I will copy the folder path from the “Backup File Location” textbox…
… and paste it directly in the “File name” textbox, right before the file name:
This time everything works as expected.
- This is a bug in SSMS: go on and vote this Connect item to have it fixed in a future version.
- Don’t use the GUI to restore a database.
- Don’t use the GUI at all.
I spent the last few weeks travelling a lot compared to my usual routine and I got quickly fed up with bringing my mobile workstation with me. My Dell precision M4600 is a powerhouse, but it’s definitely too big and too heavy for travelling, so I decided it was time to buy a small laptop just for travelling and presenting at SQL Saturdays and events around Europe.
After lots of research, I pulled the trigger on a new XPS13. It’s a very nice, tiny and light machine, beefy enough to run my virtual machines and slim enough to fit in a small bag.
So, everything fine? Not quite. The XPS13 2015 sports a stunning QHD touch display, with almost no bezel: a small wonder. The only complaint with it is windows and its (in)ability to scale applications when running at High DPI.
Windows got better at scaling applications on HiDPI displays and Windows 10 is doing a remarkably good job at scaling applications that can actually scale. I am running at maximum resolution (3200 x 1800) with 200% scale factor and, for instance, Visual Studio 2015 renders perfectly:
Other applications scale horribly. For instance, SSMS (SQL Server Management Studio) 2014 is a complete disaster:
At a first glance, it looks ok, but look at those icons on the Object Explorer tree: aren’t they a little bit too small compared to the labels next to them?
I can live with small icons, but you just need to open some dialog windows to understand how bad things really are:
As you can see, text gets scaled correctly, but the size of the window and some controls are completely wrong.
While some dialog windows are easily fixed by resizing them, some other are completely unusable. For instance, the restore database dialog, when locating a backup file, looks like this:
A new hope from an old technique
In Windows Vista, you had two possible ways of scaling applications: with the first one (the default) applications were instructed to scale their objects using the scaling factor imposed by the operating system. The results, depending on the quality of the application and the Windows version, could vary a lot. Some scaled correctly, some other look very similar to what we are seeing in SSMS, with some weird-looking GUIs. In Vista, this option was called “XP style DPI scaling”.
The second option, which you could activate by unchecking the “XP style” checkbox, involved drawing the graphical components of the GUI to an off-screen buffer and then drawing them back to the display, scaling the whole thing up to the screen resolution. This option is called “bitmap scaling” and the result is a perfectly laid out GUI:
In order to enable this option in Windows 10, you need to merge this key to your registry:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\SideBySide] "PreferExternalManifest"=dword:00000001
Then, the application has to be decorated with a manifest file that instructs Windows to disable DPI scaling and enable bitmap scaling, by declaring the application as DPI unaware. The manifest file has to be saved in the same folder as the executable (ssms.exe) and its name must be ssms.exe.manifest. In this case, for SSMS 2014, the file path is “C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SQL Server\120\Tools\Binn\ManagementStudio\Ssms.exe.manifest”.
Paste this text inside the manifest file and save it in UTF8 encoding:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="yes"?> <assembly xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v1" manifestVersion="1.0" xmlns:asmv3="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v3"> <dependency> <dependentAssembly> <assemblyIdentity type="win32" name="Microsoft.Windows.Common-Controls" version="220.127.116.11" processorArchitecture="*" publicKeyToken="6595b64144ccf1df" language="*"> </assemblyIdentity> </dependentAssembly> </dependency> <dependency> <dependentAssembly> <assemblyIdentity type="win32" name="Microsoft.VC90.CRT" version="9.0.21022.8" processorArchitecture="amd64" publicKeyToken="1fc8b3b9a1e18e3b"> </assemblyIdentity> </dependentAssembly> </dependency> <trustInfo xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v3"> <security> <requestedPrivileges> <requestedExecutionLevel level="asInvoker" uiAccess="false"/> </requestedPrivileges> </security> </trustInfo> <asmv3:application> <asmv3:windowsSettings xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/SMI/2005/WindowsSettings"> <ms_windowsSettings:dpiAware xmlns:ms_windowsSettings="http://schemas.microsoft.com/SMI/2005/WindowsSettings">false</ms_windowsSettings:dpiAware> </asmv3:windowsSettings> </asmv3:application> </assembly>
This “Vista style” bitmap scaling is very similar to what Apple is doing on his Retina displays, except that Apple uses a different font rendering algorithm that looks better when scaled up. If you use this technique in Windows, ClearType rendering is performed on the off-screen buffer before upscaling, so the final result might look a bit blurry.
The amount of blurriness you will see depends on the scale factor you set in the control panel or in the settings app in Windows 10. Needless to say that exact pixel scaling looks better, so prefer 200% over 225% or 250% scale factors, because there is no such thing as “half pixel”.
Seeing is believing:
That’s it: nice and easy. Enjoy your High DPI lifestyle, until Microsoft comes up with a better solution (or a better SSMS).
Don’t tell me that you didn’t see it coming: at some point, Developers end up being put to hell by a DBA!
I don’t want to enter the DBA/Developer wars, but some sins committed by Developers really deserve a ticket to the SQL Server hell. In particular, some of those sins are perpetrated when not even a single line of code is written yet and they have to do with the way the development environment is set up.
What they say in Heaven
Before starting a software project, the angelic developers set up their environment in the best of all ways, with proper environment isolation and definition. In particular they will have:
- Development Environment: this is the place (ideally a dev’s desktop) where the development work is performed. It should resemble the production environment as much as possible.
- Test Environment (QA): This is where the testers ensure the quality of the application, open bugs and review bug fixes. It should be identical to the production environment (in Heaven it is).
- User Acceptance Test Environment (UAT): this is where the clients test the quality of third-party applications, request features and file bugs.
- Staging Environment (Pre-Production): this environment is used to assemble, test and review newer versions of the database before it is moved into production. The hardware mirrors that of the production environment.
- Production Environment: This is where the real database lives. It can be updated from the staging environment, when available, as well as new functionality and bug fixes release from UAT or staging environment.
If your organization or the project are small, you probably don’t need all of these environments. In Heaven, where time and money are not a constraint, they have all of them and they’re all identical to production. Heh, Heaven is Heaven after all…
Environmental sinners will face SQL Server’s judgement
Setting up your development environment in the wrong way can harm SQL Server (and your software) in many ways, right from the start of the project, throughout its whole lifetime. Let’s see some of the most common sins:
- Using the production environment for development: frankly, I don’t think this sin needs any further explanation. On the other hand, don’t assume that nobody’s doing it, despite we’re in 2015: lots of damned developers’ souls confess this sin while entering the SQL Server hell!
- Using the test environment for development: Again, this seems so obvious that there should be no need to discuss it: development is development and test is test. The test environment(s) should be used to test the application, not to see it breaking every minute because you changed something. Developing the code and testing it are two different things and, even if you happen to be in charge of both, this is not a good reason to confuse the two tasks.
- Using a shared instance for development: Back in the old days, when I was working as an ASP classic developer in a software house, we had a shared development environment on a central IIS server, where everyone saved their code on a shared folder and just had to hit F5 in Internet Explorer to see the changes immediately in action.
If you think this model is foolish you’re 100% right, but in the 90s’ we didn’t know better. However, while everyone today agrees that it’s a terrible idea for code, you will still find hordes of developers not completely convinced that it’s an equally terrible idea as far as the database is concerned. Having a shared development database greatly simplifies the process of creating a consistent development database, which is a problem only if you have no authoritative source to build it from (which brings us to the next sin).
- No source control: Nobody in their right mind would start a software project today without using source control, yet source control for the database is still an esoteric topic, despite the plethora of tools to accomplish this task.
- Granting sysadmin rights to the application: If you’re using a local development instance (and you should), you probably are the administrator of that instance. Hey, nothing wrong with that, unless you use windows authentication in your application. In that case, whenever you debug the application in Visual Studio (or whatever you’re using), the application impersonates you (a sysadmin) when hitting the database, so there is no need to grant any permission in order to let the app perform anything on the instance.
So, what happens when you’re done with development and you have to deploy in test (or, worse, production)? Exactly: nothing works, because (hopefully) the application won’t run with sysadmin privileges in production. At that point, extracting the complete lists of permissions needed by the application is an overwhelming task that you could have happily avoided by developing with a non-privileged user in the first place. When using a regular user, each time the application needs additional permissions, you simply have to add a GRANT statement to the deployment script, which also acts as the documentation the DBA will ask for.
If you fail to provide this documentation, two things could happen: a) the DBA may refuse to deploy the database b) you could end up needing sysadmin privileges, which means a dedicated instance, which could in turn bring us back to a).
- Developing on a different version/edition from production: if your application is targeting SQL Server 2008 R2, developing on SQL Server 2012 could mean that you will discover incompatible T-SQL features after development. The same can be said for the SQL Server edition: if you are using a Developer Edition for development but you are targeting Standard Edition, you will discover the use of enterprise-only features when it’s too late. You can save yourself all the pain by using in development the same exact SQL Server version and edition you are targeting in production.
In the next episodes of SQL Server Infernals I’m afraid I will have to put more developers to hell. If you’re a developer, stay tuned to find out if your soul is a at risk! If you’re a DBA, stay tuned to enjoy seeing more developers damned!
There’s a place in the SQL Server hell where you can find poor souls wandering the paths of their circle, shouting nonsense table names or system-generated constraint names, trying to baptize everything they find on their way in a different manner. They might seem innocuous at a first glance, but beware those damned souls, as they can raise confusion and endanger performance.
What they say in Heaven
Guided by the Intelligent Designer’s hands, database architects in Heaven always name their tables, columns and all database objects following the rules in the ISO 11179 standard. However, standards aside, the most important thing they do is adhere to a single naming convention, so that every angelic DBA and developer can sing in the same language.
It has to be said that even in Heaven some angels prefer specific naming conventions and some other angels might prefer different ones (say plural or singular table names), but as soon as they start to design a database, every disagreement magically disappears and they all sing in harmony.
Damnation by namification
Some naming conventions are better than others, but many times it all comes down to personal preference. It’s a highly debatable subject and I will refrain from posting here what my preference is. If you want to learn more about naming conventions, take advice from one of the masters.
That said, some naming conventions are really bad and adopting them is a one way ticket to the SQL Server hell:
- Hungarian Notation: my friends in Hungary will forgive me if I say that their notation doesn’t play well with database objects. In fact, the Hungarian Notation was conceived in order to overcome the lack of proper data types in the BCPL language, putting a metadata prefix in each variable name. For instance, a variable holding a string would carry the “str” prefix, while a variable holding a long integer would carry the “l” prefix.
SQL Server (and all modern relational databases) have proper data type support and all sorts of metadata discovery features, so there is no point in naming a table “tbl_customer” or a view “vwSales”. Moreover, if the DBA decides to break a table in two and expose its previous structure as a view (in order to prevent breaking existing code), having the “tbl” prefix in the view name completely defeats the purpose of identifying the object type by its prefix.
Next time you’re tempted to use the Hungarian Notation ask yourself: “is my name John or DBA_John?”
- Using insanely short object names: Some legacy databases (yes, you, DB2/400) used to have a hard maximum of 10 characters for object names. It wasn’t uncommon to see table names such as “VN30SKF0OF” or “PRB10SPE4F”: good luck figuring out what those tables represented!
Fortunately, those days are gone and today there is no single reason to use alphabet soup names for your objects. The object name is a contract between the object and its contents and it should be immediately clear what the contents are by just glancing at the name.
- Using insanely long object names: On the other hand, table names such as “ThisIsTheViewThatContainsOrdersWhichAreYetToBeShipped” adds nothing to clarity of the schema. “UnshippedOrders” will do just as well.
- Mixing Languages: if you’re fortunate enough to be a native English speaker, you have no idea what this means. In countries such as Italy or Spain, this is a real issue. Many people may end up designing different parts the database schema and each designer may be inclined to use English (the lingua franca of Information Technology) or his/her first language. Needless to say that the result is a mess.
- Using the “sp_” prefix for stored procedures: it’s a special case of Hungarian Notation, with severe performance implications. In his blog, Aaron Bertrand discussed the notorious negative impact of the “sp_” prefix, offering a performance comparison with charts and crunchy numbers.
TL;DR version: SQL Server looks up objects with the sp_ prefix in the master database first, then in the user database. While it may look like a negligible performance issue, it can explode at scale.
- Using reserved keywords or illegal characters: While it’s still possible to include almost anything inside square brackets, the use of spaces, quotes or any other illegal character is a totally unneeded masochistic habit. Reserved keywords may also add a thrilling touch of insane confusion to your T-SQL code:
SELECT * FROM [TRUNCATE] [TABLE]
- Using system-generated names for constraints, indexes and so on: When you don’t name your constraints and indexes explicitly, SQL Server is kind enough as to do it for you, using a semi-random system-generated name. That’s great! Uh, wait a moment: this means that two databases deployed to two different instances will contains the same index with a different name, making all your deployment scripts nearly useless. Do yourself a favor and take the time to name all your objects explicitly.
- No naming convention or multiple, inconsistent naming conventions: The worst of all mistakes is having multiple naming conventions, or no naming convention at all (which is equal to “as many naming conventions as objects in the database”). Naming conventions is a sort of religious subject and there are multiple valid reasons to adopt one or another: the only thing you should absolutely avoid is turning your database into a sort of Babel tower, where multiple different languages are spoken and nobody understands what the others say.
This is the last circle of SQL Server hell dedicated to Database Design sins: in the next episode of SQL Server Infernals we will venture into the first circle dedicated to development. Stay tuned!