How many checkpoints in Oracle database ?

This Question came to my mind when I was discussing “direct path reads” with DBA candidates. I was surprised that many DBAs were not aware of object level checkpoint that happens while doing direct path read. So I thought many DBAs may not be knowing different level of checkpoints that happens in the database and hence the question.

Well, the answer is 7 (as per my knowledge). Oracle does 7 different checkpoints at various stages. Lets check out what are those checkpoints and at what point they happen

  1. Full checkpoint
  2. Thread checkpoint
  3. File level checkpoint
  4. Object level checkpoint
  5. Parallel query checkpoint <– BTW. This is the checkpoint that happens during direct path reads
  6. Incremental checkpoint
  7. Checkpoint during log switch

Full Checkpoint

This happens when DBA explicitly issues checkpoint command using “alter system checkpoint”. When this happens, all dirty blocks from (all instances in case of RAC) db_cache are written to disk. This includes committed as well as uncommitted data blocks.

This checkpoint also happens when DBA shutdown database cleanly using “shutdown immediate” or puts entire database in begin backup mode using “alter database begin backup”

Thread Checkpoint

Thread checkpoint is basically a full checkpoint in single instance database. So redo thread is associated with an instance. Thread checkpoints basically write all dirty blocks of a single thread or instance to a database. In case of RAC when a checkpoint is done for a specific single instance, its called thread checkpoint. This is done using “alter system checkpoint local”

File level Checkpoint

File level checkpoint is writing dirty blocks associated with set of files belonging to a tablespace. This happens when we put a tablespace in begin backup mode or when we take a tablespace offline or when we make tablespace readonly. Oracle writes all dirty blocks associated with datafiles of that tablespace to database before it changes the status of that tablespace.

Object level Checkpoint

All the dirty blocks that belong to specific object is written to database by DBWR process. This happens when you perform following action on the object (example table or index):

  • Drop table
  • truncate table
  • drop index
  • drop table purge

You might be thinking if we are dropping an object, why Oracle has to write its blocks to database. 2 reasons

  1. Oracle writes these blocks to database “before” performing above DDL tasks
  2. It’s required for recovery purpose. In future if you have to restore and recover database, Oracle needs to have its previous blocks so that it can roll forward and rollback.

Parallel query checkpoint

Whenever you are reading queries using parallel workers, Oracle does direct path reads and reads data from a datafile directly into PGA bypassing SGA. Starting from 11g, direct path reads also happens for full table scans where table size is larger than _small_table_threshold parameter.

Imagine we have a session which connected prior and did some DML on a table in SGA (buffer cache) and committed the changes. Since checkpoint doesn’t happen as soon as we commit the changes what happens when another session connects immediately and do a full table scan or parallel scan of that table. How will it see the latest data ?

This is where parallel query checkpoint comes in. When you run full table scan or parallel query scan, you will see direct path reads wait event but in the beginning, you will also see enq: KO fast object checkpoint wait event. This will checkpoint any blocks that belong to the object you are doing direct path read so that latest change goes into datafile.

Incremental Checkpoint

Prior to Oracle 8i, Oracle used to do checkpoint during log switch and nothing before that. So during log file switch, Oracle has to write lot of blocks to disk and we will see sudden spike in IO. Also, this has an effect of increasing recovery time if checkpoint hasn’t happen for until we are at the end of log file and database has crashed.

Starting 8i, Oracle started doing incremental checkpoints time to time. This logic has also evolved from Oracle 8i version till now and different parameters control this behavious in latest versions compared to older version.

In prior releases, we used to have log_checkpoint_interval and log_checkpoint_timeout parameters which used to control duration of incremental checkpoints that should happen in order to meet recovery SLAs. In later release, Oracle provided fast_start_mttr_target and fast_start_io_target parameters. These parameters takes our SLA timings and internally Oracle decides how frequently it has to take incremental checkpoints.

We have another situation where Oracle has to go for incremental checkpoint even though above parameters (fast_start_mttr_target or fast_start_io_target) has not met the condition yet. This happens when Oracle is not able to find any free blocks in buffer cache. At this point Oracle has to flush least recently used blocks to datafiles in order to make room for new buffers comming in. By default Oracle scans _db_block_max_scan_pct of blocks before it decides to flush LRU blocks to datafiles. If its not able to find required number of free blocks even after scanning _db_block_max_scan_pct blocks, it will go for incremental checkpoint starting with LRU blocks.

Checkpoint logic is much more complex that what I explained here. But objective of this article was to just introduce  different types of checkpoints so I am not covering details of checkpoint algorithm here.

Checkpoint during log switch

This is the most obvious checkpoint. It happens whenever log switch happens. But note that during log switch only dirty blocks whose information is protected by that log file will be written to datafiles. So not all dirty blocks are written during log switch.

Hope this helps !!


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