Managing Space Used by Objects

An Index Allocation Map (IAM) page maps the extents in a 4-gigabyte (GB) part of a database file used by an allocation unit. An allocation unit is one of three types:


    Holds a partition of a heap or index.


    Holds large object (LOB) data types, such as xml, varbinary(max), and varchar(max).


    Holds variable length data stored in varchar, nvarchar, varbinary, or sql_variant columns that exceed the 8,060 byte row size limit.

Each partition of a heap or index contains at least an IN_ROW_DATA allocation unit. It may also contain a LOB_DATA or ROW_OVERFLOW_DATA allocation unit, depending on the heap or index schema. For more information about allocation units, see Table and Index Organization.

An IAM page covers a 4-GB range in a file and is the same coverage as a GAM or SGAM page. If the allocation unit contains extents from more than one file, or more than one 4-GB range of a file, there will be multiple IAM pages linked in an IAM chain. Therefore, each allocation unit has at least one IAM page for each file on which it has extents. There may also be more than one IAM page on a file, if the range of the extents on the file allocated to the allocation unit exceeds the range that a single IAM page can record.

Index Allocation Map (IAM) pages managing extents

IAM pages are allocated as required for each allocation unit and are located randomly in the file. The system view, sys.system_internals_allocation_units, points to the first IAM page for an allocation unit. All the IAM pages for that allocation unit are linked in a chain.


The sys.system_internals_allocation_units system view is for internal use only and is subject to change. Compatibility is not guaranteed.

IAM pages linked in a chain per allocation unit

An IAM page has a header that indicates the starting extent of the range of extents mapped by the IAM page. The IAM page also has a large bitmap in which each bit represents one extent. The first bit in the map represents the first extent in the range, the second bit represents the second extent, and so on. If a bit is 0, the extent it represents is not allocated to the allocation unit owning the IAM. If the bit is 1, the extent it represents is allocated to the allocation unit owning the IAM page.

When the SQL Server Database Engine has to insert a new row and no space is available in the current page, it uses the IAM and PFS pages to find a page to allocate, or, for a heap or a Text/Image page, a page with sufficient space to hold the row. The Database Engine uses the IAM pages to find the extents allocated to the allocation unit. For each extent, the Database Engine searches the PFS pages to see if there is a page that can be used. Each IAM and PFS page covers lots of data pages, so there are few IAM and PFS pages in a database. This means that the IAM and PFS pages are generally in memory in the SQL Server buffer pool, so they can be searched quickly. For indexes, the insertion point of a new row is set by the index key. In this case, the search process previously described does not occur.

The Database Engine allocates a new extent to an allocation unit only when it cannot quickly find a page in an existing extent with sufficient space to hold the row being inserted. The Database Engine allocates extents from those available in the filegroup using a proportional allocation algorithm. If a filegroup has two files and one has two times the free space as the other, two pages will be allocated from the file with the available space for every one page allocated from the other file. This means that every file in a filegroup should have a similar percentage of space used.