Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dinodate, PL/SQL as Scripting Language Liberator, watch the show!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had an awful lot of fun with Christopher Jones doing our PL/SQL: The Scripting Language Liberator talk at OOW.
PL/SQL: The Scripting Language Liberator: While scripting languages go in and out of favor, Oracle Database and PL/SQL persist, managing data and implementing business logic. This session walks through a web application to show how PL/SQL can be integrated for better logic encapsulation and performance; how Oracle's supplied packages can be used to enhance application functionality and reduce application complexity; and how to efficiently use scripting language connection and statement handling features to get better performance and scalability. Techniques shown in this session are applicable to mobile, web, or midtier applications written in languages such as JavaScript, Python, PHP, Perl, or Ruby on Rails. Using the right tool for the right job can be liberating.
Once word got out around Oracle that we would be unveiling DinoDate at our talk....

The powers-that-be knew that this was a talk that must be recorded. So they recorded it and you can watch it here.

This session is part of a broader effort to make sure our users understand and leverage Oracle Database as an application development platform, not "just" a storage space for your data.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Running out of PGA memory with MULTISET ops? Watch out for DISTINCT!

A PL/SQL team inside Oracle made excellent use of nested tables and MULTISET operators in SQL, blending data in tables with procedurally-generated datasets (nested tables). 

All was going well when they hit the dreaded:
ORA-04030: out of process memory when trying to allocate 2032 bytes 
They asked for my help. 

The error occurred on this SELECT:
   FROM header_tab trx
   WHERE (generated_ntab1 SUBMULTISET OF trx.column_ntab)
      AND ((trx.column_ntab MULTISET
            EXCEPT DISTINCT generated_ntab2) IS EMPTY)
The problem is clearly related to the use of those nested tables. Now, there was clearly sufficient PGA for the nested tables themselves. So the problem was in executing the MULTISET-related functionality.

We talked for a bit about dropping the use of nested tables and instead doing everything in SQL, to avoid the PGA error. That would, however require lots of work, revamping algorithms, ensuring correctness, you know the score.

Then my eyes snagged on the use of DISTINCT and IS EMPTY.

They simply needed to make sure that there was nothing in column_ntab that was not in generated_ntab2. Having two of something left was the same result as having one of something left - not empty.

So I suggested that they could drop the DISTINCT and see what happened.

What happened is that the ORA-04030 stopped occurring.

The lead developer also took a closer look at how generated_ntab2 was constructed and discovered that they were already ensuring that there were no duplicates.

The DISTINCT was definitely not needed and so the problem, at least for now, was resolved.

They are not 100% confident that the error still might not occur, especially as data volume increases. But at least they've bought themselves the time to fully analyze their algorithms and explore a 100% SQL solution.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The PL/SQL Whisperer

[oreiginally published at FeuerThoughts in December 2011]

I spent two days in Berlin, training 25 developers at an event sponsored by DOAG. Then I headed over to the Netherlands to spend a couple of days with 37 developers at an AMIS-sponsored training.

But on Tuesday, after I completed the first day of training without the assistance of a microphone, my voice said "Bye, bye!" I woke up Wednesday morning to discover I had lost the ability to speak above a whisper. DOAG hustled, did what was necessary, and brought in a portable microphone/speaker system. AMIS made certain to have the same ready to go on Thursday. 

And so for three straight days, I whispered about new features of PL/SQL in 11g and much more besides. The attendees were very good natured about this less than optimal situation. One person said it made the whole class more exciting - it was as though I was giving away secrets, that no one should hear- except for the very special people in attendance.

Several students in the Dutch class even found themselves whispering to me when they asked a question - whispering, it turns out, is socially contagious! And I was quickly anointed the "PL/SQL Whisperer." Well, I can think of worse names, but I sure hope that soon I will recover my voice.

This was only my fourth business trip all year, which is a truly wonderful change from previous years (a less than fantastic result is that I will lose my Platinum status on American Airlines next week, so it will be tough to even get exit row seats when I do fly).

It was, unfortunately, a bit of a hard week on the road. Besides losing my voice, my flight on Wednesday from Berlin to Amsterdam was cancelled. I had to reroute through Zurich, but the flight to Zurich left late, so while I was able to just make the connection to Amsterdam, my bag did not follow along with me. By the end of the first day of training at AMIS offices, I had quite the five o'clock shadow. But the bag was delivered on Thursday, so it wasn't really such a big deal.

And then on Friday, I celebrated the end of a long week with a night in Amsterdam. Had a nice dinner with good friend, newly-minted Oracle ACE, AMIS consultant and father of three wonderful children, Patrick Barel. Then I went back to my hotel room to catch up on email and call my wife via Skype.

But the wireless network was not available. So the manager dutifully visited my room with an ethernet cable and (as far as I could tell) had to jam the cable a bit forcefully both into the wall and into my laptop. That made me uncomfortable. And still no Internet access.

So then he agreed to let me use the Internet in a different room - which led to a very irritating discovery: the ethernet plug would not come out of the back of the laptop. The spring that holds the cable in place had snapped. Manager Jon poked at it for a while, making me more uncomfortable, but it would not come out. Oh, I was very bummed and finally gave up, had him cut the cable so I could take the darn thing home, and figured I would have to have a technician get it out.


But then the day manager visited in the morning before I left for the airport. He had better tools and was able to quickly remove the plug. Whew, what a relief.

Both classes went well (of course, the students might feel differently, I suppose) - the PL/SQL community in Germany and the Netherlands is wide and deep: lots of very experienced developers attended. So I learned a few things along the way, which will soon make themselves known in PL/SQL Challenge quizzes. 

I also made an interesting discovery about how students concentrate on and extra information from the hundreds of slides and hours of talking I give them to them in a two day class. I covered FORALL in the class, also its SAVE EXCEPTIONS clause. I showed slides, ran code and talked about how if at least one statement raises an error, Oracle will save the exception information and then raise the ORA-24381 error. I talked about how you should avoid writing an exception handler like:


and instead you should declare your own exception and assign it to this error, so 
you can write an exception handler like:

WHEN my_errors.forall_failure 

Then right at the end of the course, I talked about avoiding the hard-coding of error numbers and showed -24381 again as an example.

In the AMIS class, we ended with a short quiz. Two players tied for highest score (they selected 19 of 21 choices correctly across 5 questions - quite good!). So it was necessary for these two hotshots to engage in a sudden-death tiebreaker. The way I do this is I show a slide with a question and the first person to answer correctly wins.

The first slide asked: "Which feature of PL/SQL does this number relate to?" And then I showed "-24381". I thought there would be an instant response, given how often I showed and mention this number in the class.

And I was shocked to discover that neither of the students recognized the error code. I stared at them, surprised. Really? When I talked about it, referenced it multiple times, in the last two days?

Well, OK. We went on through several questions without success and then Christian Rokitta identified correctly that the optimizing compiler was first introduced in Oracle Database 10g. So congratulations to Christian for his first place showing, and to Danny Ven for the other score of 19 and his second place.

I am not exactly sure what to conclude from the inability to recognize the -24381 code. Perhaps students in my courses are confronted with so much information that they automatically filter out low level details. That way, they will be able to concentrate on the bigger picture.Certainly, people usually do not complain about how little I cover in my classes or how slowly I go through the material. And right at the beginning, I tell them to focus on principles and concepts, don't worry about all the technical details.

So I guess they took my advice!

In any case, now it is 4 AM on Sunday and I am (a) back in Chicago (hurray!) and (b) awake due to jet lag and (c) still without a voice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Ninth OOW - and first as an Oracle employee

Before heading out to San Fran last Thursday for meetings and the ACE Director briefing, I happened to pick up my Oracle PL/SQL Advanced Programming with Packages (my second book, published in 1996, immediately following up from the 1995 publication of my Oracle PL/SQL Programming text at IOUW in Phillie). 

Here’s what I found taped inside the cover:

That was the first Oracle Open World ever, and I was still working for SSC, the consulting firm I joined when I left Oracle in 1992. Must confess: don’t remember anything about OOW96, but I know how to count. Here’s some OOW math:

I have attended OOW96, 97, 98, 99 2000….2014: nine Oracle Open Worlds. During that time I published nine books on PL/SQL and one (with primary author Guy Harrison) on MySQL Stored Procedures; I wrote one or two automated testing frameworks for PL/SQL, and racked up 2M miles on American Airlines - ignoring my family as I traversed a sizeable chunk of human-occupied Earth presenting on PL/SQL.

OOW14 was, however, the first OOW I have ever attended as an Oracle employee. 

And it was a blast.

As I mentioned above, I went to the ACE Director briefing on Friday, and gave a short presentation at the enviable timeslot of 4:45 PM (just before food and beer. That’s tough). Ironically, this was the first ACE D briefing I’d ever attended - and I am no longer an ACE Director. I’d never gone to any when I was an ACE D, because (a) that would mean that I‘d be away from ome and family even longer, and (b) since I only knew (and was interested in) one thing (PL/SQL), the vast majority of presentations would be, well, boring.

Anyway, that was then, this is now. So at the briefing, I talked about the importance of promoting Oracle Database as much more than a “dumb” datastore, and instead as a powerful platform for application development. Lots of nodding heads. However, the message that seemed to resonate most strongly with my friends was that we, Oracle, need them (and you) to help us demonstrate the power of Oracle Database, and help users leverage more of its advanced features.

The next (Saturday) morning was, to be honest, the highlight of my entire trip - and OOW hadn't even started. That's because I spent three hours with a good friend in the Purisima Open Space Preserve, on a seven mile walk in through a redwood forest. I like Oracle a whole lot, but technology can't hold a candle to the connection I feel these days to trees (and my granddaughter).

But then my feet got sore. So we drove along US1, had a delightful lunch looking at over the ocean….and then I headed north. A day later, there I was at Moscone. Not as beauitful. Not as peaceful. Not quite as inspiring. But still pretty amazing.

I imagine that a few of my most devoted fans would like to read a day by day account of my time in San Fran. Most of you would, however, get bored fast. So, instead I offer the following highlights:

ACE Dinner

Even though I had to “give back” my ACE D title when I rejoined Oracle, Victoria Lira, the excellent director of the ACE program, was kind enough to invite me along, anyway. It was a great evening! These dinners are always fantastic, because whatever the quality of drinks and food, you have within close proximity literally dozens of the finest Oracle tech minds in the world. Wow. These days I am seeking feedback on my ideas for evangelizing application development features of Oracle Database, and there was no shortage of advice and cautionary tales. Then the program began and for me the highlight was an incredible acrobat/contortionist. I do a little bit of stretching and ab work each day, and that just made her flexibility and control even more impressive to me.

YesSQL Celebration

I’d been thinking that when I joined Oracle I would more or less continue what I’d been doing: writing, writing about, training and presenting on PL/SQL. And sure I will be doing that. But in addition I have been asked to, well, shake things up a bit. Try some different ideas for getting application developers excited (again) about PL/SQL and even more important, SQL. And one thing I’d noticed as I looked around Oracle, our websites, and our community is that SQL has become a bit taken for granted, like the air we breathe.

So I figured the first thing we should do is remind ourselves of how amazing this technology is and how important is all of our work with the technology.

And thus was born YesSQL! A celebration of SQL and PL/SQL. The idea for this event was, roughly, to NOT talk about products and features, but instead to share stories from our evangelists, users and developers (the people who build SQL and PL/SQL and the optimizer and APEX and so on).

About 500 people attended, which was great. My Macbook started throwing a hissy fit right before we were about to start. That was not so great. And since I organized the event pretty much on my own, it was a bit hit-and-miss. I also didn't have my act together enough to make sure we took lots of pictures and video. I promise to do a (MUCH) better job next year!

We started off with Tom Kyte's reflections on SQL and NoSQL. With sharp insight, he noted that the whole point of SQL was to replace "NoSQL" databases, such as VSAM. Then the years go by, some people forget the power of SQL, the cycle spins around's time for NoSQL again! Then another few years go by, and now SQL is "sexy" again, because even the Hadoop developers recognize that it is really, really hard to write applications without a powerful set language like SQL. Hence, NewSQL!

Then a greeting from Thomas Kurian, Executive Vice President of Product Development and former PL/SQL Product Manager (!), which you can watch here. But in the meantime, enjoy a snap of Thomas eating from a slice of Happy YesSQL Celebration cake:

Next was, for me, the highlight of the evening: stories from Andy Mendelsohn, EVP of Server Technologies. He's been responsible for Oracle Database and all of its surrounding technologies for the last twelve years, but before that, let's see: he built the B-tree indexing code, and was one of the co-designers of the Oracle PL/SQL language. Been there, done lots of things. And shared some very entertaining stories of the early days at Oracle.

We also heard from Andy Witkowski, SQL Architect and (for YesSQL) the NoSQL Pirate. Mohamed Zait, who heads the optimizer team, shared a very amusing video (sorry not able to share it, at least not yet) showing how his time comes up with (and rejects) new ideas for the optimizer. Bryn Llewellyn and Iyer Iyer Chandrasekharan (PL/SQL PM and Dev Manager, respectively) talked about life with PL/SQL. Mike Hichwa reminisced about the early origins of APEX.

And that's not all! Maria Colgan of Optimizer and now In Memory fame; Graham Wood, SQL performance tuning wizard; Joel Kallman, APEX dev manager; all chipped in with stories and reflections on life with Oracle Database.

But then, sigh....we ran out of time. And not a single user shared their story. Which counts as a bit of a failure for me. My apologies! We will, however, start gathering stories BEFORE OOW15 and at YesSQL15, we will put users first and listen to your stories, before we let Oracle people fill up the evening.

DinoDate, aka, PL/SQL the Scripting Language Liberator

I gave a talk on PL/SQL new features in 12.1 and that was great fun, as usual. But I also did a talk with Christopher Jones, who is a PHP pro, as well as all-around strong Oracle technologist (and PM). We wanted to show how you can leverage Oracle Database as an application development platform, and not simply as a "dumb" datastore.

And since I was involved, we needed to break out of the emp-dept HR demo model, because it bores the heck out of me and I hate to be bored.

So we dreamt up DinoDate, the premier dating site for dinosaurs. After all, the meteor is falling. Time is running out. Must find a mate fast

[Note: sure, we could have made the site prettier and likely will, but focus group surveys indicated a distinct disinterest by dinosaurs in user interface design.]

And, of course, Chris decided that if I would insist on such silliness, that there was a price to be paid (by me):

So Chris built the site in PHP, talking advantage of the "usual" client side or macro techniques for improving performance and scalability with Oracle Database, including:
  • End-to-end tracing
  • Connection pooling
  • Bind variables
  • Statement Caching
  • Not auto-committing
  • Pre-fetching
  • Enabling the Client Query Result Cache
Still, performance was not the greatest. Enter, Steven Feuerstein, PL/SQL Evangelist extraordinaire! "What else can I do?" asks Chris, and then we (both) showed how to improve performance and scalability, and also add significant functionality to users in search with:
  • Consolidate multiple server calls from PHP into single stored procedure.
  • Leverage Oracle Advanced Queueing to remove processing bottlenecks.
  • Reduce network traffic with bulk processing.
  • Use Oracle Text to easily implement fuzzy searches.
  • Use Oracle Spatial to allow searching for nearby dinosaurs.
Overall, I thought it went quite well. We will explore using DinoDate as a demo platform for our various technologies, and hope to make all code available to you soon.

The session was recorded and when I can figure out where it is, I will let you all know.

Doing PL/SQL from SQL: Correctness and Performance (by Bryn Llewelyn)

My favorite session at OOW was Bryn Llewellyn's Doing PL/SQL from SQL: Correctness and Performance (CON8269):

"A SQL statement that calls a PL/SQL function is slower than one that defines the same result by using only SQL expressions. The culprit is the SQL to PL/SQL round-trip. Its cost can be reduced by marking the function deterministic, by invoking it in a scalar subquery, by using the PL/SQL function result cache, or by some other caching scheme. With caching, you can’t predict the result set if the function isn’t pure, so it would seem that caching should be used with caution. This session shows that a function must have certain properties to be safe in SQL, even without caching—in other words that the possible semantic effect of caching is a red herring. You can’t rely on how often, or in what order, an uncached function is called any more than you can rely on group by to do ordering."

It was an impressive piece of research (actually interviewing developers who built specific features), deep and clear thinking, and convincing (though somewhat limited) benchmarks.

I encourage you to download the presentation here, but I offer Bryn's summary below:
  • A PL/SQL function must be statement-duration-pure if it is to be called from SQL
  • In most cases, this simply falls out of what you want to write
  • Mark it deterministic when it is (SSQ when not? Hmm...)
  • By its very nature, it’s likely to be self-contained – so use pragma UDF, or equivalently write its whole definiIon in the with clause
  • You might well and up with a function that both is marked deterministic and has pragma UDF. Don’t worry. The performance benefit of the SQL-friendly compilatIon mode is not compromised by computatIons done for caching pragma UDF is the hands-down winner ‘cos its benefit is
  • independent of cardinality
  • If you find a potenIal use for a PL/SQL function that does SQL, and that is called from SQL, think hard... very hard
  • Might you, after all, express the whole thing in SQL?
  • Are you confident that you’re not getting nonsense by violations of read-consistency
  • Then, and only then, go ahead
  • Result-cache it, or not, in the light of cardinality considerations
  • Use the scalar subquery locuIon as well when you expect to meet only hundreds of distinct values in any one statement execution
Well, there's more I want to say and share with you about OOW14, but I think I will publish this before too many days pass.