In this blog, I’ll show how to use ApexSQL Log, a SQL Server transaction log viewer. You can download it for free, install, and play along. But first, let’s describe some disaster recovery scenarios where it’s useful.
About SQL Server disaster recovery
Along with database development and administration, you must work on a good recovery plan. Disasters do happen and no one’s immune. What you can do is take all actions needed to be ready for a disaster and go through it with minimal data loss and downtime.
Besides creating a recovery plan, it’s necessary to have a list of steps that will be executed when a disaster occurs and to test them before a disaster. This way, you’ll know that the plan is good and viable. Testing can also be used as training for all team members, so they can all understand and execute it when the time comes. It will show how much time is needed to have your servers fully functional again and how much data you can lose in a real-life situation. If these don’t meet recovery-time and recovery-point objectives, the plan needs to be improved.
Keep in mind that all major changes in environment configuration, business strategy, and recovery objectives require a new recovery plan testing, as these changes most probably induce a recovery plan changing and tweaking.
What is a good SQL Server disaster recovery plan?
A good SQL Server disaster recovery strategy starts with planning SQL Server database backups. An efficient strategy is to create a full database backup periodically. Between two successive full database backups, you can create differential database backups. It is essential is to create transaction log backups regularly between full database backups. Keep in mind that transaction log backups can be created only on databases in the full recovery model.
In other words, a simple, but efficient backup strategy would be a full database backup every night, a transaction log backup every hour, or every 15 minutes. The frequency depends on how much data you can afford to lose and how busy the database is. Another option, instead of creating a full database backup every night, is to create a full database backup once a week (e.g. on Friday at midnight) and differential database backup every night until next Friday when you will create a full database backup again.
Once you create your SQL Server database backup strategy, schedule the backups. You can do that easily using SQL Server maintenance plans.
Why are transaction logs important?
Transaction log backups contain transactions executed on a SQL Server database. They provide enough information to undo and redo the transactions and roll back or forward the database to a point in time.
In SQL Server disaster recovery situations, transaction logs enable to repair a SQL Server database and bring it to the state before the disaster.
Be aware that even with regular backups, there will be some data missing. These are the transactions made between the last transaction log backup and the time of the disaster.
In some situations, to repair your SQL Server database it’s not necessary to re-create the database from its last backup. The database might still be online and all you need to do is roll back several transactions, such as wrong update, insert, or delete.
The restore to a point in time feature is available in SQL Server, but for large databases, it is very time-consuming, as SQL Server first restores a full database backup, and then restores transaction log backups, one after another, up to the recovery point. During that time, the database is unavailable.
This is where a SQL Server transaction log viewer can help.
For optimal recovery, besides having a database in the full recovery model, it’s important that you haven’t manually truncated the online transaction log. This ensures that all transactions made after the last transaction log backup are still in the online transaction log. All you have to do is read and replay them.
How to read a SQL Server transaction log?
SQL Server doesn’t provide an option to read transaction logs. There are several SQL Server commands and functions that read the content of a transaction log file (fn_dblog, fn_dump_dblog, and DBCC PAGE), but they are undocumented. They require T-SQL knowledge, return a large number of not easy to read and understand columns, sometimes in binary or hexadecimal format. Another challenge is reading UPDATE statements, as it’s necessary to match it to a value in the MDF file.
When you finally read the transactions executed, you have to create a script for it.
How to easily repair a SQL database?
The easiest solution is to use a transaction log reader that will not only read the transactions in the transaction log files, but also automatically create scripts for the read transactions.
In the following example, I will show how to use ApexSQL Log to repair a SQL database after a crash.
If a database has crashed and both MDF and LDF files are lost, you have to rely on the full database backup and all subsequent transaction log backups. In another scenario, the MDF file is lost, but the LDF file is available.
First, restore the last full database backup on SQL Server using SQL Server Management Studio. I’ll name it Restored_AW2014.
Then, start ApexSQL Log
It will automatically detect all local servers. If not, click the icon right to the Server drop-down list, or just type in the SQL Server instance name. Select the Windows or SQL Server authentication type and select the Restored_AW2014 database from the database drop-down list.
When all options are set, click Next.
ApexSQL Log will show the online transaction log file. Now, click Add and add all transaction log backups created after the full database backup I used to restore the database.
In case you don’t have transaction log backups, but the LDF file hasn’t been lost during the SQL Server disaster, add it using Add.
To repair a SQL database to a point in time, ApexSQL Log needs to read and replay all the transactions in the transaction log backups (or the LDF file saved after the disaster). That’s why I selected the Whole transaction log option in the Filter setup.
ApexSQL Log offers a range of various filters, which are useful when you need to read just specific transactions. You can filter transactions by the time of the transactions, operation type (e.g. to read only data inserts), table name, SQL Server login that made the transaction, etc.
In this scenario, to repair a SQL database, I’ll check all filters and make sure that all transactions are included.
In the Operations tab, select all schema operations (DDL). If you omit these, only the data changes will be read so if there were any schema changes, such as a new function created, or an existing table modified, they will be ignored and database will not be properly repaired. The data repair for modified tables will fail.
In the Tables tab, I’ll make sure all tables are selected. I will uncheck the Show operations on dropped tables option, to reduce the number of transactions.
ApexSQL Log offers three options.
Select Open results in grid, to get a user-friendly presentation of the transactions. As you can see, details are shown for every transaction, including the old and new values for updated columns, which are clearly highlighted.
Now, select them all and then create a redo script by clicking the Create redo script icon in the menu.
For a large number of transactions and in a critical situation, when acting fast is a must, I recommend using the Export results to file option. It will save some time, as the transactions will be directly scripted into a redo file, without showing them in the grid first.
Select Generate reconstruction (REDO) script , change the output path if you want, and click Finish.
After the redo T-SQL script is created, ApexSQL Log shows the redo script summary:
The third option will create a command line statement for a batch file that you can use to schedule execution, which is not really applicable when you repair a SQL database, but quite useful in daily auditing scenarios.
To repair your SQL database, all you have to do is execute the generated redo script using an integrated developer environment tool such as SQL Server Management Studio or any other, against the restored database.
You can find more information about how to read SQL Server transaction logs and repair a SQL database on ApexSQL Solution center. There are solutions for various situations when data needs to be recovered, restored, or transactions rolled back.
Reference: Pinal Dave (https://blog.sqlauthority.com)