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Transaction Log Physical Architecture

The transaction log is used to guarantee the data integrity of the database and for data recovery. The topics in this section provide the information about the physical architecture of the transaction log. Understanding the physical architecture can improve your effectiveness in managing transaction logs.

The transaction log in a database maps over one or more physical files. Conceptually, the log file is a string of log records. Physically, the sequence of log records is stored efficiently in the set of physical files that implement the transaction log.

The SQL Server Database Engine divides each physical log file internally into a number of virtual log files. Virtual log files have no fixed size, and there is no fixed number of virtual log files for a physical log file. The Database Engine chooses the size of the virtual log files dynamically while it is creating or extending log files. The Database Engine tries to maintain a small number of virtual files. The size of the virtual files after a log file has been extended is the sum of the size of the existing log and the size of the new file increment. The size or number of virtual log files cannot be configured or set by administrators.

The only time virtual log files affect system performance is if the log files are defined by small size and growth_increment values. If these log files grow to a large size because of many small increments, they will have lots of virtual log files. This can slow down database startup and also log backup and restore operations. We recommend that you assign log files a size value close to the final size required, and also have a relatively large growth_increment value

The transaction log is a wrap-around file. For example, consider a database with one physical log file divided into four virtual log files. When the database is created, the logical log file begins at the start of the physical log file. New log records are added at the end of the logical log and expand toward the end of the physical log. Log truncation frees any virtual logs whose records all appear in front of the minimum recovery log sequence number (MinLSN). The MinLSN is the log sequence number of the oldest log record that is required for a successful database-wide rollback. The transaction log in the example database would look similar to the one in the following illustration.

Log file divided into four virtual log files

When the end of the logical log reaches the end of the physical log file, the new log records wrap around to the start of the physical log file.

Log records wrap around to start of log file

This cycle repeats endlessly, as long as the end of the logical log never reaches the beginning of the logical log. If the old log records are truncated frequently enough to always leave sufficient room for all the new log records created through the next checkpoint, the log never fills. However, if the end of the logical log does reach the start of the logical log, one of two things occurs:

  • If the FILEGROWTH setting is enabled for the log and space is available on the disk, the file is extended by the amount specified in growth_increment and the new log records are added to the extension. For more information about the FILEGROWTH setting, see ALTER DATABASE (Transact-SQL).

  • If the FILEGROWTH setting is not enabled, or the disk that is holding the log file has less free space than the amount specified in growth_increment, an 9002 error is generated.

If the log contains multiple physical log files, the logical log will move through all the physical log files before it wraps back to the start of the first physical log file.