What is transaction log in SQL Server?

In SQL Server, the transaction log is a crucial component of the database that records all changes made to the database. It’s a sequential log of all transactions and modifications performed on the database. Here are some key aspects of the transaction log:


  1. Record of Changes: It maintains a record of all modifications made to the database, including insertions, updates, and deletions of data.
  2. Recoverability: The transaction log is critical for database recovery. It allows the database to be restored to a specific point in time or to recover in the event of a failure.
  3. ACID Properties: It helps maintain the ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) properties of transactions by ensuring that transactions are atomic and durable.


  1. Log Records: Each operation in the database generates log records in the transaction log, providing details about the modification, such as the type of operation, the affected data, and the transaction ID.
  2. Virtual Log Files (VLFs): The transaction log is divided internally into smaller segments called Virtual Log Files, which store the log records. These VLFs facilitate log management and space utilization.


  1. Point-in-Time Recovery: The transaction log allows you to restore a database to a specific point in time by applying transaction log backups.
  2. Rollback and Roll-Forward: It enables rollback of transactions not yet committed and roll-forward of committed transactions that were not persisted to the database in case of a crash or failure.
  3. Replication and High Availability: It’s integral in database replication, mirroring, and other high-availability solutions to ensure data consistency across different instances.


  1. Backup: Regular backups of the transaction log are essential to maintain a healthy and recoverable database.
  2. Monitoring: Monitoring log space usage is crucial to prevent issues related to running out of log space, which can hinder database operations.

Best Examples to understand transaction log in SQL Server.

Imagine a bank account. When you make a deposit or withdrawal, the bank records these transactions in a ledger to keep track of your account balance. Similarly, in SQL Server, a transaction log serves as a record of all changes made to the database. It’s like a detailed journal that keeps track of every data modification, ensuring that the database remains consistent and accurate even in the event of unexpected failures.

Think of the transaction log as a series of snapshots capturing the database state before and after each transaction. It records every INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE operation, providing a trail of actions that can be used to restore the database to a consistent state if something goes wrong.

Here’s a simplified analogy to illustrate the importance of the transaction log:

Imagine a construction site where multiple workers are building a house. The transaction log is like the foreman’s notebook, documenting each step of the construction process. If there’s a problem, the foreman can refer back to the notebook to identify where things went wrong and rectify the issue.

Similarly, the SQL Server transaction log allows database administrators to pinpoint the exact point where an error occurred and restore the database to a stable condition. This ensures that data integrity is maintained and prevents data loss in case of system failures or accidental modifications.

Why SQL Server database transaction log usage needed?

The SQL Server database transaction log is a critical component of the database that serves several important purposes:

  1. Durability: The transaction log ensures data durability by recording all changes made to the database before they are committed. This means that if a system failure occurs before a transaction is fully committed, the transaction log can be used to undo the incomplete changes, ensuring that the database remains in a consistent state.
  2. Recovery: The transaction log is essential for recovering the database from various failure scenarios, such as system crashes, power outages, or hardware failures. By rolling forward or backward through the transaction log, the database can be restored to a consistent state as of the point of failure.
  3. Replication: Transactional replication relies on the transaction log to propagate changes from a publisher database to subscriber databases. The transaction log captures the details of all transactions, which are then replicated to the subscribers, ensuring that they remain synchronized with the publisher.
  4. Audit trailing: The transaction log can be used for auditing purposes to track and record all database modifications. This can be helpful for compliance purposes or to identify unauthorized changes.
  5. Point-in-time recovery: The transaction log enables point-in-time recovery, allowing the database to be restored to a specific point in time, even if it was not backed up at that precise moment. This is particularly valuable for databases that undergo frequent changes.
  6. Log shipping: Log shipping is a disaster recovery technique that utilizes the transaction log to replicate data from a primary database to a secondary database. This allows for continuous data protection and enables rapid recovery in case of a primary database failure.

What are main problem related to transaction log in SQL Server?

One crucial aspect of all databases is the transaction log.  The transaction log is used to write all transactions prior to committing the data to the data file.  In some circumstances the transaction logs can get quite large and not knowing what is in the transaction log or how much space is being used can become a problem.  So how to you determine how much of the transaction log is being used and what portions are being used?

What is the solution for the transaction logs get quite large?

When transaction logs grow excessively and their content becomes unclear or unmanageable, it’s essential to address the issue promptly to ensure database health and performance. Here are steps to handle large transaction logs and manage their size effectively:

1. Regular Log Backups:

  • Perform regular transaction log backups to truncate the log and free up space. This is a fundamental method to prevent the log from growing excessively.

2. Review Log Size and Usage:

  • Check the current size and usage of the transaction log using SQL queries like DBCC SQLPERF(LOGSPACE) or sys.dm_db_log_space_usage. Monitor this regularly to anticipate growth and take proactive measures.

3. Adjust Log File Size:

  • Resize the transaction log file if it’s set to grow automatically and the current size is too large. However, be cautious when resizing and ensure appropriate sizing to avoid frequent auto-growth.

4. Check for Long-Running Transactions:

  • Identify and address any long-running transactions that might prevent the log from truncating. Long-running transactions can hinder log truncation and lead to log file growth.

5. Review Recovery Model:

  • Evaluate the database’s recovery model (Simple, Full, or Bulk-Logged). Full recovery model requires regular log backups, while Simple recovery model truncates log entries after a checkpoint.

6. Transaction Log File Placement:

  • Ensure the transaction log file is placed on a drive separate from the data files to optimize performance and prevent I/O bottlenecks.

7. Shrink Log Files:

  • Use caution when shrinking log files, as it can cause fragmentation and affect performance. Shrinking should be done after freeing up space using log backups.

8. Regular Maintenance:

  • Implement routine maintenance plans to include log file management and monitoring as part of your database maintenance strategy.

9. Monitor for Anomalies:

  • Use monitoring tools or alerts to notify administrators when log growth exceeds expected thresholds, indicating potential issues that need attention.

10. Understand Application Impact:

  • Collaborate with application developers to optimize database transactions and reduce unnecessary logging.

How to get space used by transaction logs in SQL Server?

There are two main methods to determine the space used by transaction logs in SQL Server:

1. Using the DBCC SQLPERF(logspace) command:

This dynamic management view (DMV) provides detailed information about the current size and usage of transaction logs for all databases on the SQL Server instance. To execute this command, connect to the SQL Server instance and run the following query:

DBCC SQLPERF(logspace);

The output of this command will display the following information for each database:

  • Database Name
  • Log Size (MB)
  • Percentage Used
  • Free Space (MB)

2. Using the sp_spaceused system stored procedure:

This stored procedure provides disk space usage information for a specific database, including the size of the transaction logs. To execute this stored procedure, connect to the SQL Server instance and run the following query:

exec sp_spaceused

3. Using sys.dm_db_log_space_usage:

This dynamic management function returns information about the transaction log space usage in the current database.

SELECT * FROM sys.dm_db_log_space_usage

Finding open SQL transactions using DBCC OPENTRAN

Another command to look at is DBCC OPENTRAN. This will show you if you have any open transactions in your transaction log that have not completed or have not been committed.  These may be active transactions or transactions that for some reason never completed.  This can provide additional information as to why your transaction log is so big or why you may not be able to shrink the transaction log file.  This will show you both open transactions as well any un-replicated transactions if the database is published.

To run this command issue the following in a query window:


Now that you have an idea how much of your transaction log is being used and what is being used you can start to make some decisions on how large the transaction log should be.  One thing you should try to do is find that optimum size in order to eliminate having to shrink and grow the transaction log on a constant basis.  As with all database and server activity it is best to minimize the overhead as much as you can and this is one of those areas that you can somewhat manage by creating and maintaining the optimum transaction log size