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Data Blocks, Extents, Segments, PCTUSED and PCTFREE

Introduction to Data Blocks, Extents, and Segments

Oracle Database allocates logical database space for all data in a database. The units of database space allocation are data blocks, extents, and segments. Figure 1 shows the relationships among these data structures.

Figure 1 The Relationships Among Segments, Extents, and Data Blocks
Description of Figure 2-1 follows

At the finest level of granularity, Oracle Database stores data in data blocks (also called logical blocksOracle blocks, or pages). One data block corresponds to a specific number of bytes of physical database space on disk.

The next level of logical database space is an extent. An extent is a specific number of contiguous data blocks allocated for storing a specific type of information.
The level of logical database storage greater than an extent is called a segment. A segment is a set of extents, each of which has been allocated for a specific data structure and all of which are stored in the same tablespace. For example, each table's data is stored in its own data segment, while each index's data is stored in its own index segment. If the table or index is partitioned, each partition is stored in its own segment.

Oracle Database allocates space for segments in units of one extent. When the existing extents of a segment are full, Oracle Database allocates another extent for that segment. Because extents are allocated as needed, the extents of a segment may or may not be contiguous on disk.
A segment and all its extents are stored in one tablespace. Within a tablespace, a segment can include extents from more than one file; that is, the segment can span datafiles. However, each extent can contain data from only one datafile.

Although you can allocate additional extents, the blocks themselves are allocated separately. If you allocate an extent to a specific instance, the blocks are immediately allocated to the free list. However, if the extent is not allocated to a specific instance, then the blocks themselves are allocated only when the high water mark moves. The high water mark is the boundary between used and unused space in a segment.

Overview of Data Blocks

Oracle Database manages the storage space in the datafiles of a database in units called data blocks. A data block is the smallest unit of data used by a database. In contrast, at the physical, operating system level, all data is stored in bytes. Each operating system has a block size. Oracle Database requests data in multiples of Oracle Database data blocks, not operating system blocks.
The standard block size is specified by the DB_BLOCK_SIZE initialization parameter. In addition, you can specify of up to five nonstandard block sizes. The data block sizes should be a multiple of the operating system's block size within the maximum limit to avoid unnecessary I/O. Oracle Database data blocks are the smallest units of storage that Oracle Database can use or allocate.

Data Block Format

The Oracle Database data block format is similar regardless of whether the data block contains table, index, or clustered data. Figure 2 illustrates the format of a data block.
Figure 2-2 Data Block Format
Description of Figure 2-2 follows

Following are the components of Data Block:

Header (Common and Variable)

The header contains general block information, such as the block address and the type of segment (for example, data or index).

Table Directory

This portion of the data block contains information about the table having rows in this block.

Row Directory

This portion of the data block contains information about the actual rows in the block (including addresses for each row piece in the row data area).
After the space has been allocated in the row directory of a data block's overhead, this space is not reclaimed when the row is deleted. Therefore, a block that is currently empty but had up to 50 rows at one time continues to have 100 bytes allocated in the header for the row directory. Oracle Database reuses this space only when new rows are inserted in the block.


The data block header, table directory, and row directory are referred to collectively as overhead. Some block overhead is fixed in size; the total block overhead size is variable. On average, the fixed and variable portions of data block overhead total 84 to 107 bytes.

Row Data

This portion of the data block contains table or index data. Rows can span blocks.

Availability and Optimization of Free Space in a Data Block

Two types of statements can increase the free space of one or more data blocks: DELETE statements, and UPDATE statements that update existing values to smaller values. The released space from these types of statements is available for subsequent INSERT statements under the following conditions:
  • If the INSERT statement is in the same transaction and subsequent to the statement that frees space, then the INSERT statement can use the space made available.
  • If the INSERT statement is in a separate transaction from the statement that frees space (perhaps being run by another user), then the INSERTstatement can use the space made available only after the other transaction commits and only if the space is needed.
Released space may or may not be contiguous with the main area of free space in a data block. Oracle Database coalesces the free space of a data block only when (1) an INSERT or UPDATE statement attempts to use a block that contains enough free space to contain a new row piece, and (2) the free space is fragmented so the row piece cannot be inserted in a contiguous section of the block. Oracle Database does this compression only in such situations, because otherwise the performance of a database system decreases due to the continuous compression of the free space in data blocks.

Row Chaining and Migrating

In two circumstances, the data for a row in a table may be too large to fit into a single data block. In the first case, the row is too large to fit into one data block when it is first inserted. In this case, Oracle Database stores the data for the row in a chain of data blocks (one or more) reserved for that segment. Row chaining most often occurs with large rows, such as rows that contain a column of datatype LONG or LONG RAW. Row chaining in these cases is unavoidable.
However, in the second case, a row that originally fit into one data block is updated so that the overall row length increases, and the block's free space is already completely filled. In this case, Oracle Database migrates the data for the entire row to a new data block, assuming the entire row can fit in a new block. Oracle Database preserves the original row piece of a migrated row to point to the new block containing the migrated row. The rowid of a migrated row does not change.
When a row is chained or migrated, I/O performance associated with this row decreases because Oracle Database must scan more than one data block to retrieve the information for the row.

PCTFREE, PCTUSED, and Row Chaining

For manually managed tablespaces, two space management parameters, PCTFREE and PCTUSED, enable you to control the use of free space for inserts and updates to the rows in all the data blocks of a particular segment. Specify these parameters when you create or alter a table or cluster (which has its own data segment). You can also specify the storage parameter PCTFREE when creating or altering an index (which has its own index segment).

The PCTFREE Parameter

The PCTFREE parameter sets the minimum percentage of a data block to be reserved as free space for possible updates to rows that already exist in that block. For example, assume that you specify the following parameter within a CREATE TABLE statement:
This states that 20% of each data block in this table's data segment be kept free and available for possible updates to the existing rows already within each block. New rows can be added to the row data area, and corresponding information can be added to the variable portions of the overhead area, until the row data and overhead total 80% of the total block size. Figure 2-3 illustrates PCTFREE.

The PCTUSED Parameter

The PCTUSED parameter sets the minimum percentage of a block that can be used for row data plus overhead before new rows are added to the block. After a data block is filled to the limit determined by PCTFREE, Oracle Database considers the block unavailable for the insertion of new rows until the percentage of that block falls beneath the parameter PCTUSED. Until this value is achieved, Oracle Database uses the free space of the data block only for updates to rows already contained in the data block. For example, assume that you specify the following parameter in a CREATE TABLE statement:
In this case, a data block used for this table's data segment is considered unavailable for the insertion of any new rows until the amount of used space in the block falls to 39% or less (assuming that the block's used space has previously reached PCTFREE). Figure 4 illustrates this.
Figure 4 PCTUSED
Description of Figure 2-4 follows

How PCTFREE and PCTUSED Work Together

PCTFREE and PCTUSED work together to optimize the use of space in the data blocks of the extents within a data segment. Figure 5 illustrates the interaction of these two parameters.
Figure 5 Maintaining the Free Space of Data Blocks with PCTFREE and PCTUSED
Description of Figure 2-5 follows

In a newly allocated data block, the space available for inserts is the block size minus the sum of the block overhead and free space (PCTFREE). Updates to existing data can use any available space in the block. Therefore, updates can reduce the available space of a block to less than PCTFREE, the space reserved for updates but not accessible to inserts.

For each data and index segment, Oracle Database maintains one or more free listslists of data blocks that have been allocated for that segment's extents and have free space greater than PCTFREE. These blocks are available for inserts. When you issue an INSERT statement, Oracle Database checks a free list of the table for the first available data block and uses it if possible. If the free space in that block is not large enough to accommodate the INSERT statement, and the block is at least PCTUSED, then Oracle Database takes the block off the free list. Multiple free lists for each segment can reduce contention for free lists when concurrent inserts take place.

After you issue a DELETE or UPDATE statement, Oracle Database processes the statement and checks to see if the space being used in the block is now less than PCTUSED. If it is, then the block goes to the beginning of the transaction free list, and it is the first of the available blocks to be used in that transaction. When the transaction commits, free space in the block becomes available for other transactions.

Overview of Extents

An extent is a logical unit of database storage space allocation made up of a number of contiguous data blocks. One or more extents in turn make up a segment. When the existing space in a segment is completely used, Oracle Database allocates a new extent for the segment.

When Extents Are Allocated

When you create a table, Oracle Database allocates to the table's data segment an initial extent of a specified number of data blocks. Although no rows have been inserted yet, the Oracle Database data blocks that correspond to the initial extent are reserved for that table's rows.
If the data blocks of a segment's initial extent become full and more space is required to hold new data, Oracle Database automatically allocates anincremental extent for that segment. An incremental extent is a subsequent extent of the same or greater size than the previously allocated extent in that segment.
For maintenance purposes, the header block of each segment contains a directory of the extents in that segment.

Determine the Number and Size of Extents

Storage parameters expressed in terms of extents define every segment. Storage parameters apply to all types of segments. They control how Oracle Database allocates free database space for a given segment. For example, you can determine how much space is initially reserved for a table's data segment or you can limit the number of extents the table can allocate by specifying the storage parameters of a table in the STORAGE clause of theCREATE TABLE statement. If you do not specify a table's storage parameters, then it uses the default storage parameters of the tablespace.
You can have dictionary managed tablespaces, which rely on data dictionary tables to track space utilization, or locally managed tablespaces, which use bitmaps (instead of data dictionary tables) to track used and free space. Because of the better performance and easier manageability of locally managed tablespaces, the default for non-SYSTEM permanent tablespaces is locally managed whenever the type of extent management is not explicitly specified.
A tablespace that manages its extents locally can have either uniform extent sizes or variable extent sizes that are determined automatically by the system. When you create the tablespace, the UNIFORM or AUTOALLOCATE (system-managed) clause specifies the type of allocation.
  • For uniform extents, you can specify an extent size or use the default size, which is 1 MB. Ensure that each extent contains at least five database blocks, given the database block size. Temporary tablespaces that manage their extents locally can only use this type of allocation.
  • For system-managed extents, Oracle Database determines the optimal size of additional extents, with a minimum extent size of 64 KB. If the tablespaces are created with 'segment space management auto', and if the database block size is 16K or higher, then Oracle Database manages segment size by creating extents with a minimum size of 1M. This is the default for permanent tablespaces.
The storage parameters INITIAL, NEXT, PCTINCREASE, and MINEXTENTS cannot be specified at the tablespace level for locally managed tablespaces. They can, however, be specified at the segment level. In this case, INITIAL, NEXT, PCTINCREASE, and MINEXTENTS are used together to compute the initial size of the segment. After the segment size is computed, internal algorithms determine the size of each extent.

How Extents Are Allocated

Oracle Database uses different algorithms to allocate extents, depending on whether they are locally managed or dictionary managed.
With locally managed tablespaces, Oracle Database looks for free space to allocate to a new extent by first determining a candidate datafile in the tablespace and then searching the datafile's bitmap for the required number of adjacent free blocks. If that datafile does not have enough adjacent free space, then Oracle Database looks in another datafile.

Overview of Segments

A segment is a set of extents that contains all the data for a specific logical storage structure within a tablespace. For example, for each table, Oracle Database allocates one or more extents to form that table's data segment, and for each index, Oracle Database allocates one or more extents to form its index segment.

Introduction to Data Segments

A single data segment in an Oracle Database database holds all of the data for one of the following:
  • A table that is not partitioned or clustered
  • A partition of a partitioned table
  • A cluster of tables

Oracle Database creates this data segment when you create the table or cluster with the CREATE statement.
The storage parameters for a table or cluster determine how its data segment's extents are allocated. You can set these storage parameters directly with the appropriate CREATE or ALTER statement. These storage parameters affect the efficiency of data retrieval and storage for the data segment associated with the object.

Introduction to Index Segments

Every nonpartitioned index in an Oracle database has a single index segment to hold all of its data. For a partitioned index, every partition has a single index segment to hold its data.
Oracle Database creates the index segment for an index or an index partition when you issue the CREATE INDEX statement. In this statement, you can specify storage parameters for the extents of the index segment and a tablespace in which to create the index segment. (The segments of a table and an index associated with it do not have to occupy the same tablespace.) Setting the storage parameters directly affects the efficiency of data retrieval and storage.

Introduction to Temporary Segments

When processing queries, Oracle Database often requires temporary workspace for intermediate stages of SQL statement parsing and execution. Oracle Database automatically allocates this disk space called a temporary segment. Typically, Oracle Database requires a temporary segment as a database area for sorting. Oracle Database does not create a segment if the sorting operation can be done in memory or if Oracle Database finds some other way to perform the operation using indexes.

Operations that Require Temporary Segments

The following statements sometimes require the use of a temporary segment:
  • SELECT . . . UNION

Some unindexed joins and correlated subqueries can require use of a temporary segment. For example, if a query contains a DISTINCT clause, aGROUP BY, and an ORDER BY, Oracle Database can require as many as two temporary segments.

Segments in Temporary Tables and Their Indexes

Oracle Database can also allocate temporary segments for temporary tables and indexes created on temporary tables. Temporary tables hold data that exists only for the duration of a transaction or session.


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