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Sometimes I'm really not sure whether a blog post is a good idea or not. This is one of those times.
I remember a while ago that Neil Chandler wrote a blog post about why you probably don't need 10046 trace files that I didn't completely agree with and I kept thinking I must comment on it or write a post from a different perspective. Neil's a mate, a London Oracle Beers regular and I understood where he was coming from in that post. He makes some excellent points, so I recommend you read it. But I don't think it's so hard to get a trace enabled these days as people think. You don't necessarily need to change a line of code with the availability of the DBMS_MONITOR package and (although I accept this is unusual) the client I've worked for most recently makes trace file access very easy for developers. We also have ASH, AWR and SQL Monitoring though and I tend to agree with Neil that the times when 10046 trace files are truly required to solve problems are limited. Now I read this back, it sounds like I agree with him, but I know that I use 10046 trace files more regularly than the post suggests. I would say 10046 trace files are incredibly useful sometimes. In fact, when they are useful they are the only correct tool for the job.
But the real reason for referencing Neil's post is this statement.
"I have never used a 10053 trace on a Production system. I have simply never needed to know the decisions taken by the optimizer in that much detail."
I've had this discussion with most well-known experts in the Oracle community at some point or other and there's general agreement that there's no need to bother with those pesky and ridiculously geeky 10053 trace files most of the time. Most SQL performance problems simply aren't that complicated. I've probably agreed whenever the argument has come up but the fact is that I increasingly find myself using them and it worries me a little that 'most of the time you don't need them - concentrate on the basics' is heard as - 'don't ever bother looking at them - they won't help' and I've been tempted to redress the balance for a while.
But something stopped me. 10053 trace files are exceptionally long and contain a lot of information that I wouldn't begin to pretend I understand and so if you can't cover a subject properly and it is quite a technical subject then, not only are you in danger of doing people a disservice but you are also opening yourself up to all sorts of challenges, corrections and debates. But, hey, that's what a community and what blogging is all about - people learning from each other. I'm also not a big fan of any technical writing which is about how clever the writer is above it actually being useful! The more I know, the more I find myself avoiding the wilfully geeky stuff.
I still wasn't sure but at least one person at my current client has been badgering me about this for ages so I've decided, what the hell, I'm going to write a few blog posts about the things I find useful about 10053 trace files and hopefully give some very high level hints about how you might use them too.
If it's not technical enough for some people then tough and if I go astray, there are plenty of people out there who probably know the subject much better who can keep me straight (Just off the top of my head, I can think of Maria Colgan, Jonathan Lewis, Wolfgang Breitling, Christian Antognini .... well, it could be a long list).
Enough of the intro, but let me finish by saying what I think is the most important reason to use 10053 trace files. There are many posts about inaccurate row source cardinalities leading to bad plans (This is one of my favourites). But I believe that it's actually only the experts who can compare E-ROWS and A-ROWS and make educated guesses about why the cardinalities are wrong. (To give you an example, many is the time that Jonathan Lewis has said to me - 'Oh, that looks like a classic Optimizer 5% guess' - or words to that effect, anyway.) But most of us can't just 'see' those things when we look at a plan. At best, a 10053 trace file offers the possibility of knowing why the CBO picked the wrong plan.