Oracle Tips and Tricks — David Fitzjarrell

March 1, 2017

Return To Sender

Filed under: General — dfitzjarrell @ 16:06

"The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between."
-- Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

Recently in an Oracle forum a question resurfaced regarding enabling row movement for tables. The posted question, from five years ago, asked if row movement was safe and if there could be any ‘undesired impact on application data’. The answer to the first part of that question is ‘yes’ (it’s safe because Oracle, except under extreme conditions, won’t lose your data) and the answer to the second part is also ‘yes’. That may be confusing so let’s look at what the end result could be.

Data rows are uniquely identified by a construct known far and wide as the ROWID. ROWIDs contain a wealth of information as to the location of a given row; the file number, the block number and row number are all encoded in this curious value. Updates can change pretty much everything in a row except the ROWID and primary key values (and, yes, there’s a way to change PK values but it involves deleting and inserting the row — Oracle does this when, for some bizarre reason known only to the user making the change, a PK value is updated). The ONLY way to change a ROWID value is to physically move the row, which is what enabling row movement will allow. This is undesirable for the reasons listed below:


	* Applications coded to store ROWID values can fail as the data that was once in Location A is now in Location B.
	* Indexes will become invalid or unusable, requiring that they be rebuilt.

Storing ROWID values in application tables isn’t the wisest of choices a developer can make. Exporting from the source and importing into a new destination will automatically cause those stored ROWID values to be useless. Cloning the database via RMAN will do the same thing since ROWID values are unique only within the database where they are generated; they do not transport across servers or platforms. Consider two imaginary countries, Blaggoflerp and Snormaflop. Each is unique in geography so that locations found in Blaggoflerp are not found in Snormaflop, with the reverse also being true. If the traveler has but one map, of Blaggoflerp, and tries to use that to navigate Snormaflop our traveler will become hopelessly lost and confused. Enable row movement on a table where indexes are present, an application stores ROWIDs for easy data access, or both and Oracle starts singing that old Elvis Presley hit, written by Winfield Scott, “Return To Sender”:


Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Don’t misunderstand, the data is STILL in the table, it’s just moved from its original location and left no forwarding address. It’s possible that new data now occupies the space where that trusty old row used to live, so the application doesn’t break but it does return unexpected results because the values that were once at that location are no longer there. And any indexes that referenced that row’s original ROWID are now invalidated, making them useless until manual intervention is employed to rebuild them.


"Since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect that, in order to get out, you must start thinking."
-- Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

Maybe it’s not that the DBA didn’t think about the act before he or she did it, it might simply be that he or she didn’t think far enough ahead about the results of such an act to make a reasonable choice. Changes to a database can affect downstream processing; failing to consider the ripple effect of such changes can be disastrous, indeed. It isn’t enough in this day and age to consider the database as a ‘lone ranger’; many systems can depend on a single database and essentially haphazard changes can stop them in their tracks.

There may be times when enabling row movement is necessary; changing a partitioning key is one of them. Granted making such changes on a partitioned table will be part of a larger outage window where the local and global indexes can be maintained so the impact will be positive, not negative. Absent such tasks (ones where row movement would be necessary) it’s not recommended to enable row movement as it will certainly break things, especially things no one was expecting because of lack knowledge of the affected systems.

It’s not always good to go travelling.

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