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Encapsulating transactions in stored procedures

In the early days of databases, the intention was that a database transaction could encompass an entire flow of user activity. For example, booking an airline ticket is a multi-stage process (searching for routes, fares, and available seats; deciding on an itinerary; booking seats on each of the flights of the itinerary; entering passenger details; making payment). Database designers thought that it would be neat if that entire process was one transaction so that it could be committed atomically.

Unfortunately, humans are very slow to make up their minds and respond. If a database transaction needs to wait for input from a user, the database needs to support a potentially huge number of concurrent transactions, most of them idle. Most databases cannot do that efficiently, and so almost all OLTP applications keep transactions short by avoiding interactively waiting for a user within a transaction. On the web, this means that a transaction is committed within the same HTTP request—a transaction does not span multiple requests. A new HTTP request starts a new transaction.

Even though the human has been taken out of the critical path, transactions have continued to be executed in an interactive client/server style, one statement at a time.

An application makes a query, reads the result, perhaps makes another query depending on the result of the first query, and so on. The queries and results are sent back and forth between the application code (running on one machine) and the database server (on another machine).

In this interactive style of transaction, a lot of time is spent in network communication between the application and the database. If you were to disallow concurrency in the database and only process one transaction at a time, the throughput would be dreadful because the database would spend most of its time waiting for the application to issue the next query for the current transaction. In this kind of database, it’s necessary to process multiple transactions concurrently in order to get reasonable performance.

For this reason, systems with single-threaded serial transaction processing don’t allow interactive multi-statement transactions. Instead, the application must submit the entire transaction code to the database ahead of time, as a stored procedure. The differences between these approaches is illustrated in Figure 7-9. Provided that all data required by a transaction is in memory, the stored procedure can execute very fast, without waiting for any network or disk I/O.

The difference between an interactive transaction and a stored procedure (using the example transaction of Figure 7-8)

Figure 7-9. The difference between an interactive transaction and a stored procedure (using the example transaction of Figure 7-8).

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