SQL SERVER – Backing Up and Recovering the Tail End of a Transaction Log – Notes from the Field #042

[Notes from Pinal]: The biggest challenge which people face is not taking backup, but the biggest challenge is to restore a backup successfully. I have seen so many different examples where users have failed to restore their database because they made some mistake while they take backup and were not aware of the same. Tail Log backup was such an issue in earlier version of SQL Server but in the latest version of SQL Server, Microsoft team has fixed the confusion with additional information on the backup and restore screen itself. Now they have additional information, there are a few more people confused as they have no clue about this. Previously they did not find this as a issue and now they are finding tail log as a new learning.

Linchpin People are database coaches and wellness experts for a data driven world. In this 42nd episode of the Notes from the Fields series database expert Tim Radney (partner at Linchpin People) explains in a very simple words, Backing Up and Recovering the Tail End of a Transaction Log.

Many times when restoring a database over an existing database SQL Server will warn you about needing to make a tail end of the log backup. This might be your reminder that you have to choose to overwrite the database or could be your reminder that you are about to write over and lose any transactions since the last transaction log backup.

You might be asking yourself “What is the tail end of the transaction log”. The tail end of the transaction log is simply any committed transactions that have occurred since the last transaction log backup. This is a very crucial part of a recovery strategy if you are lucky enough to be able to capture this part of the log.

Most organizations have chosen to accept some amount of data loss. You might be shaking your head at this statement however if your organization is taking transaction logs backup every 15 minutes, then your potential risk of data loss is up to 15 minutes. Depending on the extent of the issue causing you to have to perform a restore, you may or may not have access to the transaction log (LDF) to be able to back up those vital transactions.

For example, if the storage array or disk that holds your transaction log file becomes corrupt or damaged then you wouldn’t be able to recover the tail end of the log. If you do have access to the physical log file then you can still back up the tail end of the log. In 2013 I presented a session at the PASS Summit called “The Ultimate Tail Log Backup and Restore” and have been invited back this year to present it again.

During this session I demonstrate how you can back up the tail end of the log even after the data file becomes corrupt. In my demonstration I set my database offline and then delete the data file (MDF). The database can’t become more corrupt than that. I attempt to bring the database back online to change the state to RECOVERY PENDING and then backup the tail end of the log. I can do this by specifying WITH NO_TRUNCATE. Using NO_TRUNCATE is equivalent to specifying both COPY_ONLY and CONTINUE_AFTER_ERROR. It as its name says, does not try to truncate the log. This is a great demo however how could I achieve backing up the tail end of the log if the failure destroys my entire instance of SQL and all I had was the LDF file?

During my demonstration I also demonstrate that I can attach the log file to a database on another instance and then back up the tail end of the log. If I am performing proper backups then my most recent full, differential and log files should be on a server other than the one that crashed. I am able to achieve this task by creating new database with the same name as the failed database. I then set the database offline, delete my data file and overwrite the log with my good log file. I attempt to bring the database back online and then backup the log with NO_TRUNCATE just like in the first example.

I encourage each of you to view my blog post and watch the video demonstration on how to perform these tasks. I really hope that none of you ever have to perform this in production, however it is a really good idea to know how to do this just in case. It really isn’t a matter of “IF” you will have to perform a restore of a production system but more of a “WHEN”. Being able to recover the tail end of the log in these sever cases could be the difference of having to notify all your business customers of data loss or not.

If you want me to take a look at your server and its settings, or if your server is facing any issue we can Fix Your SQL Server.

Note: Tim has also written an excellent book on SQL Backup and Recovery, a must have for everyone.

Reference: Pinal Dave (https://blog.sqlauthority.com)

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