How to Avoid Transaction Isolation Level Issues on Azure SQL Managed Instance
Published Oct 30 2023 09:08 AM 9,869 Views
Microsoft

In this technical article, we will delve into an interesting case where a customer encountered problems related to isolation levels in Azure SQL Managed Instance. Isolation levels play a crucial role in managing the concurrency of database transactions and ensuring data consistency. We will start by explaining isolation levels and providing examples of their usage. Then, we will summarize and describe the customer's problem in detail. Finally, we will go through the analysis of the issue.

 

Isolation Level

Isolation level is a property of a transaction that determines how data is accessed and modified by concurrent transactions. Different isolation levels provide different guarantees about the consistency and concurrency of the data. SQL Server and Azure SQL Managed Instance support five isolation levels: read uncommitted, read committed, repeatable read, snapshot, and serializable. The default isolation level for both platforms is read committed.

 

Read uncommitted allows a transaction to read data that has been modified by another transaction but not yet committed. This can lead to dirty reads, non-repeatable reads, and phantom reads. Read committed prevents dirty reads by only allowing a transaction to read data that has been committed by another transaction. However, it does not prevent non-repeatable reads or phantom reads. Repeatable read prevents non-repeatable reads by locking the data that has been read by a transaction until the transaction ends. However, it does not prevent phantom reads. Snapshot prevents both non-repeatable reads and phantom reads by using row versioning to provide a consistent view of the data as it existed at the start of the transaction. Serializable prevents all concurrency anomalies by locking the entire range of data that is affected by a transaction until the transaction ends.

 

The isolation level can be set for each connection using the SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL statement or using the IsolationLevel property of the .NET TransactionScope class. The isolation level can also be overridden for individual statements using table hints such as (NOLOCK) or (READCOMMITTED).

 

Problem Description

The customer reported that they observed unexpected transaction isolation level changes when running distributed transactions using .NET Transaction Scope on Azure SQL Managed Instance, while the same application was behaving differently when using On premise SQL Server.

 

The customer was opening two connections to the same database under one transaction scope, one at a time, and they observed the transaction isolation level got reset after the second connection had been opened. For example, if they set the isolation level to repeatable read for the first connection, it would be changed to read committed for the second connection. This caused inconsistency and concurrency issues in their application.

 

The following code snippet illustrates the scenario:

 

 

 

TransactionOptions transactionOptions = new TransactionOptions
{
                IsolationLevel = System.Transactions.IsolationLevel.ReadUncommitted
};

string connectionStr = "Data Source=testwest.com;Initial Catalog=test;User id=sa;Password=;Connection Timeout=0";

using (TransactionScope ts = new TransactionScope(TransactionScopeOption.Required, transactionOptions))
{
                using (SqlConnection connection1 = new SqlConnection(connectionStr))
                {
                                SqlCommand cmd = new SqlCommand("SELECT transaction_isolation_level FROM sys.dm_exec_sessions where session_id = @@SPID", connection1);
                                connection1.Open();
                                SqlDataReader rs = cmd.ExecuteReader();
                                rs.Read();
                                Console.WriteLine(rs.GetInt16(0));
                                connection1.Close();
                }

                using (SqlConnection connection2 = new SqlConnection(connectionStr))
                {
                                SqlCommand cmd = new SqlCommand("SELECT transaction_isolation_level FROM sys.dm_exec_sessions where session_id = @@SPID", connection2);
                                connection2.Open();
                                SqlDataReader rs = cmd.ExecuteReader();
                                rs.Read();
                                Console.WriteLine(rs.GetInt16(0));
                                connection2.Close();
                }

                ts.Complete();
}

 

 

 

 

The customer stated that they are not using the “Pooling” parameter in their connection string, which means that connection pooling is enabled by default.

 

Problem Analysis

We investigated the issue and found that the root cause was related to how connection reset works on Azure SQL Managed Instance and cloud in general, compared to On-premise SQL Server.

 

Connection reset is a mechanism that restores the connection state to its default values before reusing it from the connection pool. Connection reset can be triggered by various events, such as closing the connection, opening a new connection with a different database name or user ID, or executing sp_reset_connection stored procedure.

 

One of the connection state attributes that is affected by connection reset is the transaction isolation level. Resetting the connection on Azure SQL Managed Instance will always reset the transaction isolation level to the default one, which is read committed. This is not true for on-premise SQL Server, where resetting the connection will preserve the transaction isolation level that was set by the application.

 

This difference in behavior is due to how Azure SQL Managed Instance implements distributed transactions using MSDTC (Microsoft Distributed Transaction Coordinator). MSDTC requires that all connections participating in a distributed transaction have the same transaction isolation level. To ensure this requirement, Azure SQL Managed Instance resets the transaction isolation level to read committed for every connection that joins a distributed transaction.

 

Since the customer is opening and closing the connection to the same database twice, only one physical connection will be created. The driver will use the same connection for both query executions, but the connection will be reset before being reused. The first connection reset will happen when the first connection is closed, and the second connection reset will happen when the second connection is opened under the same transaction scope. The second connection reset will override the isolation level that was set by the application for the first connection.

 

This explains why the customer observed unexpected transaction isolation level changes when running distributed transactions using .NET Transaction Scope on Azure SQL Managed Instance.

 

Conclusion

First and foremost, it is beneficial to emphasize that this is an expected behavior from a design perspective. The customer is advised to either disable connection pooling or explicitly set the transaction isolation level for every opened connection.

 

To disable connection pooling, they can add “Pooling=false” to their connection string. This will create a new physical connection for every logical connection, and avoid the connection reset issue. However, this will also increase the overhead of opening and closing connections, and reduce the scalability and performance of the application.

 

To explicitly set the transaction isolation level for every opened connection, they can use the SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL statement or the IsolationLevel property of the .NET TransactionScope class. This will ensure that the isolation level is consistent across all connections participating in a distributed transaction, regardless of the connection reset behavior. For example, they can modify their code snippet as follows:

 

 

 

using (TransactionScope scope = new TransactionScope(TransactionScopeOption.Required, new TransactionOptions { IsolationLevel = IsolationLevel.RepeatableRead }))

{

    using (SqlConnection conn1 = new SqlConnection(connectionString))

    {

        conn1.Open();

        // Set the isolation level explicitly

        SqlCommand cmd1 = new SqlCommand("SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL REPEATABLE READ", conn1);

        cmd1.ExecuteNonQuery();

        // Execute some queries on conn1

    }



    using (SqlConnection conn2 = new SqlConnection(connectionString))

    {

        conn2.Open();

        // Set the isolation level explicitly

        SqlCommand cmd2 = new SqlCommand("SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL REPEATABLE READ", conn2);

        cmd2.ExecuteNonQuery();

        // Execute some queries on conn2

    }



    scope.Complete();

}

 

 

For additional information about database isolation settings, you can review the below documents.

SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL (Transact-SQL) - SQL Server | Microsoft Learn

Transaction locking and row versioning guide - SQL Server | Microsoft Learn

System stored procedures (Transact-SQL) - SQL Server | Microsoft Learn

SQL Server Connection Pooling - ADO.NET | Microsoft Learn

 

I hope this article was helpful for you, please feel free to share your feedback in the comments section. 

 

Disclaimer
Please note that products and options presented in this article are subject to change. This article reflects isolation level settings for Azure SQL Managed Instance in October, 2023.

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‎Nov 08 2023 10:25 PM
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