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Posted Jul 3, 2002

SQL Server 2000 Administration in 15 Minutes a Week: Restoring and Recovering Databases

By Michael Aubert

Welcome to the tenth article in my series SQL Server Administration in 15 Minutes a Week. Last week we finished creating a disaster recovery plan. This week we are going to look at how to restore a database in order to test our plan. We will also cover some of the other database backup/restore options that were not covered previously. The topics for this week include:

- Restoring from a backup
- Other backup options

Restoring and Recovering from a backup

Restoring a database from a file or tape backup is quite simple, but there are a few things you must think about when using the Full and Bulk_Logged recovery models. Note that we are not going to cover restoring a database that uses the simple recovery model. The first thing to understand is that restoring a database and recovering a database are two different operations entirely. Restoring is simply the process of copying data from backups into the database. Recovering, on the other hand, is the process of using the transaction log to bring the data in the database to a consistent state. Rather than just give you a one sentence description, let's take a closer look at exactly what the recovery process is.

If you remember back a few articles (Understanding Transaction Logs), I talked about how the recovery process was used to recover modifications if SQL Server was improperly shut down, known as restart recovery. Well a similar process to the one SQL Server uses if it's improperly shut down is also used when we restore a database -- known as restore recovery. If a SQL Server is improperly shut down we end up with a chunk of data that is in an inconsistent state; that is, we don't know what modifications have been saved or what modifications were not saved before the unexpected shutdown. In addition to a chunk of inconsistent data, we also have a log file that contains a list of all the changes that were made to the data -- this is where the recovery process comes in.

In order to bring the data into a consistent state all transactions in the log that are marked as having been completed are re-applied to the data, known as "rolling forward;" whereas all transactions in the log that had not been completed at the time of the unexpected shutdown are undone to the data, known as "rolling back." By rolling forward completed transactions and rolling back uncompleted transactions, we are left with data that is in a "consistent state"...meaning we do not end up with half a transaction completed which could result in, for example, funds being deducted from account A and not being added to account B (i.e. a big mess).

So, that is all good, but what the heck does recovering from an improper shut down have to do with a recovery of a backup? Everything...they are virtually the same process. If you remember back to Database Backups, I said that SQL Server makes "fuzzy backups," because the backups are not from a single point in time. Due to the ability of database data modification during a backup, the backup is left in an inconsistent state - we can end up with half the data on our backup that is from before a large modification and the other half that is from after a large modification. To overcome this problem SQL Server can use the portion of the log file it captured during the backup to recover the data from the backup. After the data is restored from a backup, the recovery process can be used to roll forward all the transactions that took place during the backup - leaving the data in a consistent state.

There is one more important thing to know about restore recovery; once you recover a database you can't apply any more transaction log backups. Due to the way log backups are made, it is possible to end up with part of a transaction on one log and the other half on the next log. If we ran the recovery process after applying the first log backup, SQL Server would see that we had a transaction that was only half done and therefore roll back the uncompleted transaction. Now, speaking theoretically here, if we could apply the next log backup what would happen during recovery? Because we have already run the recovery process after the first log backup, we would only have the second half of a transaction and SQL Server would have no clue what to do with it. Also, you can't just skip this first transaction...later transactions may depend on this first modification. In order to overcome this problem and apply multiple backups, SQL Server gives us the option to run the recovery process or not. This allows you to restore the first log backup (which contains the first half of our example transaction) and then apply the second log backup (which contains the second half) before running the recovery process.

In summary, after restoring a backup if you choose to recover the database, all completed transactions will be rolled forward, all uncompleted transactions will be rolled back, and the database will be accessible to users. If you choose not to recover the database after restoring a backup, the database will be left in an inconsistent state and it will not be accessible to users; however, you will be able to restore more log backups.

Enough with the techno-babble, let's look at how to restore/recover a database:

  1. Backup the current transaction log, if you can - this will allow you to restore right up to the point of failure.
  2. Restore the most recent full backup without recovering the database
  3. If you have a differential backup, restore the most recent one without recovering the database
  4. Restore all the transaction log backups, in order, from the last full backup (or differential backup if you had one) without recovering the database
  5. Restore the log backup you made in step 1 and recover the database.

Note: If you can't make the log backup in step 1, you will need to recover the database after the last log backup in step 4.

Page 2: Restore Database Screen

 » See All Articles by Columnist Michael Aubert

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