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queueing theory

Words I Don’t Use, Part 5: “Wait”

The fifth “word I do not use” is the Oracle technical term wait.

The Oracle Wait Interface

In 1991, Oracle Corporation released some of the most important software instrumentation of all time: the “wait” statistics that were implemented in Oracle 7.0. Here’s part of the story, in Juan Loaiza’s words, as told in Nørgaard et. al (2004), Oracle Insights: Tales of the Oak Table.

This stuff was developed because we were running a benchmark that we could not get to perform. We had spent several weeks trying to figure out what was happening with no success. The symptoms were clear—the system was mostly idle—we just couldn’t figure out why.

Dang it, people, they're syscalls, not "waits"...

So many times, I see people get really confused about how to attack an Oracle performance problem, resulting in thoughts that look like this:

I don't understand why my program is so slow. The Oracle wait interface says it's just not waiting on anything. ?

The confusion begins with the name "wait event." I wish Oracle hadn't called them that. I wish instead of WAIT in the extended SQL trace output, they had used the token SYSCALL. Ok, that's seven bytes of trace data instead of just four, so maybe OS instead of WAIT. I wish that they had called v$session_wait either v$session_syscall or v$session_os .

Here's why. First, realize that an Oracle "wait event" is basically the instrumentation for one operating system subroutine call ("syscall"). For example, the Oracle event called db file sequential read: that's instrumentation for a pread call on our Linux box. On the same system, a db file scattered read covers a sequence of two syscalls: _llseek and readv (that's one reason why I said basically at the beginning of this paragraph). The event called enqueue: that's a semtimedop call.