Thursday, October 26, 2006

The problem with ALTER TABLE

Recently we were trying to optimize some very large tables and we noticed that a bigint was used where an int was perfectly suitable. In order to get rid of it we issued an ALTER TABLE to change the datatype to int.

So far so good until I we checked the allocated space by the tables and noticed that the size hadn't changed. Another optimization we issued was creating a clustered index on the tables. As we checked the size of the tables after this action we noticed that now they had become smaller than before.

Lucky for me I don't like SQL Server behavior I can't explain and so I started looking for answers. It was quite obvious that SQL Server wasn't changing the original size of the column although inserting a value larger than the allowed value resulted in "Arithmetic overflow error converting expression to data type int.", so the metadata was definitely altered correctly.

I started looking for answers when I came across the next post by Kalen Delaney, explaining our issue very well.

The post contains a very good query to check this behavior and sure enough the offset of the column was still 4 bytes off (8 byte bigint vs 4 byte int).

SELECT AS column_name, column_id, max_inrow_length,
pc.system_type_id, leaf_offset
FROM sys.system_internals_partition_columns pc
JOIN sys.partitions p ON p.partition_id = pc.partition_id
JOIN sys.columns c ON column_id = partition_column_id
AND c.object_id = p.object_id
WHERE p.object_id=object_id('bigchange');

So thank you very much Kalen for making me understand yet another SQL Server mystery :-)

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