How MERGE on two different rows can still deadlock you

I recently ran into a curious deadlock issue. I have a process that performs a lot of updates in a “state” table using multiple, concurrent connections. The business logic in the application guarantees that two connections won’t try to update the same item, so we shouldn’t ever run into any locking issues. And yet, we keep getting deadlocks.

What’s going on here? Hint: it has to do with isolation levels and range locks.

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How to use switching to make metadata changes online

Metadata changes, like modifying a clustered index, or many types of column changes, will create locks in SQL Server that will block users from working with that table until the change is completed. In many cases, those locks will extend to the system objects, so you won’t even be able to expand the “Tables” or “Views” nodes in Management Studio.

I want to show you how you can perform those changes using a copy of the table, then instantly switching the table with the copy. The secret is partition switching, and contrary to popular belief, you won’t need Enterprise Edition, or even partitions, to do it.

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Manual transaction management

Transactions are great. They keep your data together atomically, so you’re not in for any nasty surprises. But even a novice knows better than to leave transactions open, waiting for user interaction. If you do, lock waits and probably deadlocks will pile up in no time.

So how do you book a flight without blocking all the other users or losing your seat to somebody else while you make up your mind?

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Isolation levels

Isolation levels affect how aggressively SQL Server places and holds locks on tables and schemas. Get too lazy and you’ll end up with phantom data and dirty reads. Be too zealous, and you’ll end up troubleshooting deadlocks. Here’s an overview of the different types of isolation levels available, to help you choose which one is best for you.

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