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Confused about UPDLOCK, HOLDLOCK

Jeff Ogata
Jeff Ogata Published in 2011-10-21 00:12:53Z

While researching the use of Table Hints, I came across these two questions:

  • Which lock hints should I use (T-SQL)?

  • What effect does HOLDLOCK have on UPDLOCK?

Answers to both questions say that when using (UPDLOCK, HOLDLOCK), other processes will not be able to read data on that table, but I didn't see this. To test, I created a table and started up two SSMS windows. From the first window, I ran a transaction that selected from the table using various table hints. While the transaction was running, from the second window I ran various statements to see which would be blocked.

The test table:

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[Test](
    [ID] [int] IDENTITY(1,1) NOT NULL,
    [Value] [nvarchar](50) NULL,
    [ID] ASC

From SSMS Window 1:


WAITFOR DELAY '00:00:10'


From SSMS Window 2 (ran one of the following):

SELECT * FROM dbo.Test
INSERT dbo.Test(Value) VALUES ('bar')
UPDATE dbo.Test SET Value = 'baz' WHERE Value = 'bar'
DELETE dbo.Test WHERE Value= 'baz'

Effect of different table hints on statements run in Window 2:

SELECT    not blocked      not blocked       not blocked         blocked
INSERT    not blocked        blocked           blocked           blocked
UPDATE      blocked          blocked           blocked           blocked
DELETE      blocked          blocked           blocked           blocked

Did I misunderstand the answers given in those questions, or make a mistake in my testing? If not, why would you use (UPDLOCK, HOLDLOCK) vs. (HOLDLOCK) alone?

Further explanation of what I am trying to accomplish:

I would like to select rows from a table and prevent the data in that table from being modified while I am processing it. I am not modifying that data, and would like to allow reads to occur.

This answer clearly says that (UPDLOCK, HOLDLOCK) will block reads (not what I want). The comments on this answer imply that it is HOLDLOCK that prevents reads. To try and better understand the effects of the table hints and see if UPDLOCK alone would do what I wanted, I did the above experiment and got results that contradict those answers.

Currently, I believe that (HOLDLOCK) is what I should use, but I am concerned that I may have made a mistake or overlooked something that will come back to bite me in the future, hence this question.

Remus Rusanu
Remus Rusanu Reply to 2011-10-21 14:55:36Z

Why would UPDLOCK block selects? The Lock Compatibility Matrix clearly shows N for the S/U and U/S contention, as in No Conflict.

As for the HOLDLOCK hint the documentation states:

HOLDLOCK: Is equivalent to SERIALIZABLE. For more information, see SERIALIZABLE later in this topic.


SERIALIZABLE: ... The scan is performed with the same semantics as a transaction running at the SERIALIZABLE isolation level...

and the Transaction Isolation Level topic explains what SERIALIZABLE means:

No other transactions can modify data that has been read by the current transaction until the current transaction completes.

Other transactions cannot insert new rows with key values that would fall in the range of keys read by any statements in the current transaction until the current transaction completes.

Therefore the behavior you see is perfectly explained by the product documentation:

  • UPDLOCK does not block concurrent SELECT nor INSERT, but blocks any UPDATE or DELETE of the rows selected by T1
  • HOLDLOCK means SERALIZABLE and therefore allows SELECTS, but blocks UPDATE and DELETES of the rows selected by T1, as well as any INSERT in the range selected by T1 (which is the entire table, therefore any insert).
  • (UPDLOCK, HOLDLOCK): your experiment does not show what would block in addition to the case above, namely another transaction with UPDLOCK in T2:
  • TABLOCKX no need for explanations

The real question is what are you trying to achieve? Playing with lock hints w/o an absolute complete 110% understanding of the locking semantics is begging for trouble...

After OP edit:

I would like to select rows from a table and prevent the data in that table from being modified while I am processing it.

The you should use one of the higher transaction isolation levels. REPEATABLE READ will prevent the data you read from being modified. SERIALIZABLE will prevent the data you read from being modified and new data from being inserted. Using transaction isolation levels is the right approach, as opposed to using query hints. Kendra Little has a nice poster exlaining the isolation levels.

Scott Bruns
Scott Bruns Reply to 2011-10-21 00:40:51Z

UPDLOCK is used when you want to lock a row or rows during a select statement for a future update statement. The future update might be the very next statement in the transaction.

Other sessions can still see the data. They just cannot obtain locks that are incompatiable with the UPDLOCK and/or HOLDLOCK.

You use UPDLOCK when you wan to keep other sessions from changing the rows you have locked. It restricts their ability to update or delete locked rows.

You use HOLDLOCK when you want to keep other sessions from changing any of the data you are looking at. It restricts their ability to insert, update, or delete the rows you have locked. This allows you to run the query again and see the same results.

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