Home > Database, Oracle > Application Design is the only Reason for Deadlocks?

Application Design is the only Reason for Deadlocks?

Have you ever seen a message “ORA-00060: Deadlock detected” and automatically assumed that it was an application coding issue? Well, it may not be. There are DBA-related issues and you may be surprised to find out that INSERTs may cause deadlock. Learn all the conditions that precipitate this error, how to read the “deadlock graph” to determine the cause, and most important: how to avoid it.


I often get a lot of questions in some form or the other like the following:

  • What’s a Deadlock
  • How can I prevent it
  • Why would an INSERT cause deadlock
  • Why would I need to index FK columns
  • Is ON DELETE CASCADE FK constraint a good idea?

Deadlock is one of those little understood and often misinterpreted concepts in the Oracle Database. The word rhymes with locking, so most people assume that it is some form of row locking. Broadly speaking, it’s accurate; but not entirely. There could be causes other than row level locking. This is also often confused by people new to Oracle technology since the term deadlock may have a different meaning in other databases. To add to the confusion, Oracle’s standard response to the problem is that it’s an application design issue and therefore should be solved through application redesign. Well, in a majority of cases application design is a problem; but not in all cases. In this post, I will describe:

  1. Why Deadlocks Occur
  2. Primer on Oracle Latching, Locking
  3. How to Interpret Deadlock Traces
  4. Various Cases of Deadlocks
  5. Some Unusual Cases from My Experience

Deadlocks Explained

With two Oracle sessions each locking the resource requested by the other, there will never be a resolution because both will be hanging denying them the opportunity to commit ot rollback and therefore releasing the lock. Oracle automatically detects this deadly embrace and breaks it by forcing one statement to roll back abruptly (and releasing the lock) and letting the other transaction to continue.

Here is how a deadlock occurs. Two sessions are involved, doing updates on different rows, as shown below:

Step Session 1           Session 2
---- ------------------- -----------------
1.   Update Row1
     (Does not Commit)
2.                       Update Row2
                        (Does not Commit)
3.   Update Row2
4.   Waits on TX Enqueue
5.                       Update Row1

At the step 5 above since Row1 is locked by session1, session2 will wait; but this wait will be forever, since session1 is also waiting and can’t perform a commit or rollback until that wait is over. But session 1’s wait will continue to exist until session 2 commits or rollback – a Catch 22 situation. This situation is a cause of deadlock and Oracle triggers the ststement at Step 3 to be rolled back (since it detected that deadlock). Note that only the statement that detected the deadlock is rolled; the previous statements stay. For instance, update row1 in Step 1 stays.

This is the most common cause of deadlocks and is purely driven by application design and can only be solved by reducing the possibility of occurence of that scenario. Now that you understand how a deadlock occurs, we will explore some other causes of deadlocks. But before that, we will explore different types of locks in Oracle.

Types of Locks

Database locks are queue-based, i.e. the session first waiting for the lock will get it first, before another session which started waiting for the same resource after the first session. The requesters are placed in a queue, hence locks are also called Enqueues. There are several types of enqueues; but we will focus on row locking, and specifically only two type of them:

  • TM – this is related to database structural changes. Suppose someone is executing some query against a table, such as SELECTing from it. The table structure should remain the same in that period. TM locks protect the table structure so that someone does not add a column during that query. TM locks allow multiple queries and DMLs, but not DDL against the table.
  • TX – this is the row level locking. When a row is locked by a session, this type of lock is acquired.

Anatomy of a Deadlock Trace

When a deadlock occurs and one of the statements gets rolled back, Oracle records the incident in the alert log. Here is an example entry:

 ORA-00060: Deadlock detected. More info in file

Along with the alert log entry, the incident creates a tracefile (as shown above). The trace file shows valuable information on the deadlock and should be your first stop in diagnosis. Let’s see the various sections of the tracefile:

Deadlock Graph

The first section is important; it shows the deadlock graph. Here are the various pieces of information on the graph. Deadlock graph tells you which sessions are involved, what types of locks are being sought after, etc. Let’s examine the deadlock graph, shown in the figure below:

Row Information

The next critical section shows the information on the rows locked during the activities of the two sessions. From the tracefile you can see the object ID. Using that, you can get the object owner and the name from the DBA_OBJECTS view. The information in on rowID is also available here. You can get primary key information from the object using that rowID.

Process Information

The tracefile also shows the Oracle process information which displays the calling user. That information is critical since the schema owner may not be the one that issued the statement.

With the information collected from various sections of the deadlock graph, you now know the following:

  • The session that caused it
  • The session that was the victim
  • The Oracle SID and process ID of the sessions
  • The object (the table, materialized view, etc.) whose row was in the deadlock
  • The exact row that was so popular to cause the deadlock.
  • The SQL statement that caused the deadlock.
  • The machine the session came from with the module, program (e.g. SQL*Plus) and userid information

Now it is a cinch to know the cause of that deadlock and which specific part of the application you need to address to fix it.

Other Causes

The case described above is just one type of locking scenario causing deadlocks; but this is not the only one. Other types of locks also cause deadlocks. These scenarios are usually difficult to identify and diagnose and are often misinterpreted. Well, not for you.You will learn how to diagnose these other causes in this post. These causes include:

  1. ITL Waits
  2. Bitmap Index Update
  3. Direct Path Load
  4. Overlapping PK Values

Deadlocks due to ITL Shortage

You can read how ITL works in another of my blogposts – How Oracle Locking Works. In summary, when a session locks a row, it does not go to a central lock repository and get a lock from there. Instead, the session puts the information on the lock in the header of the block, called Interested Transaction List (ITL). Each ITLslot takes up 24 bytes. Figure 1 below shows an empty block with just one ITL slot. When rows are inserted, from bottom of the block upwards, the free space gradually drops.

When a session – session1 – wants to lock the row1, it uses the slot#1 of the ITL, as shown in Figure 3 below. Later, another session – session2 – updates row2. Since there is no more ITL slot, Oracle creates a new slot – slot#2 – for this transaction. However, at this stage, the block is almost packed. If a third transaction comes in, there will be no more room for a third ITL slot to be created; causing the session to wait on ITL. Remember, this new session wants to lock row3, which is not locked by anyone and could have been locked by the session; but it’s artificially prevented from being locked due to the absence of an ITL slot.

Checking for ITL Shortage

You can check for ITL shortage by issuing this query:

select owner, object_name, value
from v$segment_statistics
where statistic_name = 'ITL waits'
and value > 0

Here is a sample output:

OWNER       OBJECT_NAME                    VALUE
----------- ------------------------- ----------
SYSMAN      MGMT_METRICS_1HOUR_PK             19
ARUP        DLT2                              23
ARUP        DLT1                             131

If you check the EVENT column of V$SESSION to see which sessions are experiencing it right now, you will see that the sessions are waiting with the event: enq: TX - allocate ITL entry.

Deadlock Scenario

Here is the scenario where two sessions cause a deadlock due to ITL shortage. Imagine two rows – row1 and row2 – are in the same block. The block is so tightly packed that only two ITL slots can be created.

Step Session1 Session2
1 Update Table1 Row1
(1 ITL slot is used; no more free ITL slots and no room in the block to create one)
2 Update Table2 Row1
(One ITL slot is gone. There are no more free ITL slots and no room to create one)
3 Update Table2 Row2
(Lack of ITL slots; so this will hang)
4 Update Table1 Row2
(Lack of ITL slots will make this hang as well. Deadlock!)

At Step 4 Session 2’s hang can’t be resolved until session 1 releases the lock, which is not possible since it itself is hanging. This never ending situation is handled by Oracle by detecting it as a deadlock and killing one of the sessions.

Deadlock Graph

To identify this scenario as the cause of deadlock, look at the deadlock graph. This is how a deadlock graph looks like when caused by ITL waits.

The absence of row information on one of the sessions is a dead giveaway that this is a block level issue; not related to specific rows. Here are the clues in this deadlock graph:

  • The lock type is TX (row lock) for both the sessions
  • The holders held the lock in “X” (exclusive) mode (this is expected for TX locks)
  • However, only one of the waiters is waiting in the “X” mode. The other is waiting with the “S” (shared) mode, indicating that it’s not really a row lock the session is waiting for.
  • One session has the row information; the other doesn’t.

These clues give you the confirmation that this is an ITL related deadlock; not because of the application design. Further down the tracefile we see:

As you can see, it’s not 100% clear from the tracefile that the deadlock was caused by ITL. However by examining the tracefile we see that the locks are of TX type and the wait is in the “S” (shared) mode. This usually indicates ITL wait deadlock. You can confirm that is the case by checking the ITL shortages on that segment from the view V$SEGMENT_STATISTICS as shown earlier.

Occasionally you may see two rows here as well, as a result of a previous wait (e.g. buffer busy wait) on the block which has not been cleaned out yet. In such a case you will see information on two rows; but there are some other clues that may point to this cause. The row portion of the rowid will be 0, meaning it was not a row but the block. The other clue might be that the row information points to a row that has nothing to do with the SQL statement. For instance, you may find the row information pointing to a row in table Table1 whereas the SQL statement is “update Table2 set col2 = ‘X’ where col1 = 2”.

The solution is very simple. Just increase the INITRANS value of the table. INITRANS determines the initial number of ITL slots. Please note, this value will affect only the new blocks; the old ones will still be left with the old values. To affect the old ones you can issueALTER TABLE TableName MOVE to move the tables to nw blocks and hence new structure.

Deadlock due to Foreign Key

This is a really tricky one; but not impossible to identify. When a key value in parent table is updatd or a row is deleted, Oracle attempts to takes TM lock on the entire child table. If an index is present on the foreign key column, then Oracle locates the corresponding child rows and locks only those rows. The documentation in some versions may not very clear on this. There is a documentation bug (MOS Bug# 2546492). In the absense of the index, a whole table TM lock may cause a deadlock. Let’s see the scenario when it happens.


Here is the scenario when this deadlock occurs.

1 Delete Chaild Row1
2 Delete Child Row2
3 Delete Parent Row1
(Waits on TM Enqueue)
4 Delete Parent Row2
(Waits on TM Enqueue)

Deadlock Graph

This is how the deadlock graph looks like when caused by unindexed foreign key. As you can see, the deadlock graph does not clearly say that the issue was to do with Foreign Key columns not being indexed.Instead, the clues here are:

  • TM locks for both the sessions, instead of TX. Remember: TM are metadata related, as opposed to TX, which is a row related lock.
  • The lock type of holders is Share Exclusive (SX) as opposed to Exclusive (X)
  • Sessions do not show any row information

These three clues together show that this deadlock is due to FK contention rather than the conventional row locks.

So, what do you do? Simple – create the indexes on those FKs and you will not see this again. As a general rule you should have indexes on FKs anyway; but there are exceptions, e.g. a table whose parent key is never updated or deleted infrequently (think a table with country codes, state codes or something pervasive like that). If you see a lot of deadlocks in those cases, perhaps you should create indexes on those tables anyway.

Deadlock due to Direct Load

Direct Load is the fastest way to load data into a table from another source such as a table or a text file. It can be effected in two ways – the APPEND hint in INSERT statement (insert /*+ append */ ) or by using DIRECT=Y option in SQL*Loader. When a table is loaded with Direct Path, the entire table is locked from further DMLs, until committed. This lock may cause deadlocks, when two sessions try to load into the same table, as shown by the scenario below.


Step Session1 Session2
1 Direct Path Load into Table1
2 Direct Path Load into Table2
3 Direct Path Load into Table2
(Hangs with TM Enqueue; since Session2 has the lock)
4 Direct Load into Table1
TM lock on Table1 prevents this operation

Deadlock Graph

As usual, the deadlock graph confirms this condition. Here is how the deadlock graph looks like:
 Both sessions do not show any row information; and subsequent parts of the tracefile do not show any other relevant information. The key to identify this deadlock as caused by Direct Path is to look for the type of lock mode – X. This type of lock mode exists for row level locking as well. However the deadlock graph shows row information in that case. So, the clues for this type of deadlock are:

  • Lock type is TM (as shown in the Resource Name)
  • Lock mode for both the holders and waiters is X (indicating a row lock)
  • No row information (since it is not really row-related)

Deadlock due to Bitmap Index Contention

Bitmap Index is a special type of index that stores bitmaps of actual values and compare bitmaps to bitmaps, e.g. instead of comparing literals such as “A” = “A”, Oracle converts the value to a bitmap and compares against the stored bitmap values. For instance “A” might be represented as “01011”; so the comparison will be “01011” = “01011”. Index searches are way faster compared to literal comparison.

However, there is a price to pay for this performance. Unlike a regular b*tree index, when a row is updated, the index piece of the bitmap index is locked until the transaction is committed. Therefore udates to any of the rows covered by that index piece hangs. When two sessions update two different rows covered by the same index piece, they wait for each other. Here is the scenario when this condition arises.


1 Update Row 1
(Bitmap index piece is locked)
2 Update Row2
(Hangs for TX Row Lock)
3 Update Row2
(Hangs as bitmap index piece is locked by session2 and can’t release until it commits)

Deadlock Graph

You can confirm this occurrence from readling the deadlock graph.

The clues that show this type of deadlock:

  • The lock type is TX (as shown in the Resource Name)
  • The lock wait mode is “S” (shared) but the type of lock is TX rather than TM.
  • The waiter waits with mode “S” instead of “X”
  • The row information is available but the object ID is not the ID of the table; but the bitmap index.

The solution to this deadlock is really simple – just alter the application logic in such a way that the two updates will not happen in sequence without commits in between. If that’s not possible, then you have to re-evaluate the need for a bitmap index. Bitmap indexes are usually for datawarehouse only; not for OLTP.

Deadlock due to Primary Key Overlap

This is a very special case of deadlock, which occurs during inserts; not updates or deletes. This is probably the only case where inserts cause deadlocks. When you insert a record into a table but not commit it, the record goes in but a further insert with the same primary key value waits. This lock is required for Oracle because the first insert may be rolled back, allowing the second one to pass through. If the first insert is committed, then the second insert fails with a PK violation. But in the meantime-before the commit or rollback is issued-the transaction causes the second insert to wait and that causes deadlock. Let’s examine the scenario:


1 Insert PK Col value = 1
(Doesn’t commit)
2 Insert PK Col value = 2
(Doesn’t commit)
3 Insert PK Col = 2
(Hangs, until Session2 commits)
4 Insert PK Col = 1
(Hangs and Deadlock)

Deadlock Graph

The deadlock graph looks like the following.

The key clues are:

  • The lock type is TX (row lock)
  • The holders are holding the lock in “X” (exclusive) mode
  • The waiters are waiting for locks in “S” mode, even when the locks type TX.
  • The subsequent parts of the tracefile don’t show any row information.

However, the latter parts of the tracefile shows the SQL statement, which should be able to point to the cause of the deadlock as the primary key deadlock. Remember, this may be difficult to diagnose first since there is no row information. But this is probably normal since the row is not formed yet (it’s INSERT, remember?).

Special Cases

I have encountered some very interesting cases of deadlocks which may be rather difficult to diagnose. Here are some of these special cases.

Autonomous Transactions

Autonomous transactions are ones that are kicked off form inside another transaction. The autonomous one follows its own commit, i.e. it can commit independently of the outer transaction. The autonomous transaction may lock some records the parent transaction might be interested in and vice versa – a perfect condition for deadlocks. Since the autonomous transactions is triggered by its parent, the deadlocks are usually difficult to catch.

Here is how the deadlock graph looks like (exceprted from the tracefile)

---------Blocker(s)-------- ---------Waiter(s)---------
Resource Name process session holds waits process session holds waits
TX-0005002d-00001a40 17 14 X 17 14 X
session 14: DID 0001-0011-00000077
session 14: DID 0001-0011-00000077
Rows waited on:
Session 14: obj - rowid = 000078D5 - AAAHjVAAHAAAACOAAA
(dictionary objn - 30933, file - 7, block - 142, slot - 0)
Information on the OTHER waiting sessions:
End of information on OTHER waiting sessions.

Here are the interesting things about this deadlock graph, which are clues to identifying this type of deadlock:

  • The lock type is TX (row lock) and the mode is “X”, which is exclusive. This indicates a simple row lock.
  • Remember, deadlocks are always as a result of two transactions; not one. However, the deadlock graph shows only one session. The other session information is not even there.The presence of only one session indicates that the other transaction originated from the same session – hence only one session was recorded. The only way two transactions could have originated from the same session is when the transaction is an autonomous one.
  • The row information is not there because the autonomous transaction acts independently of the parent.

If you see a deadlock graph like this, you can be pretty much assured that autonomous transactions are to blame.

The above cause is not limited to TX locks; it could happen in TM locks as well. The diagnosis remains the same.

Deadlocks among the PQ slaves

Consider a procedural logic like this:


This code locks the rows selected by the parallel query slaves. Since the select is done in parallel, the PQ slaves distribute the rows to be selected. Therefore the locking is also distributed among the PQ slaves. Since no two rows are updated by the same PQ slave (and hence the same session), there is no cause for deadlocks.

However, assume the code is kicked off more than once concurrently. This kicks off several PQ slaves and many query coordinators. In this case there is no guarantee that two slaves (from different coordinators) will not pick up the same row. In that case, you may run into deadlocks.

Triggers firing Autonomous Transactions

If you have triggers firing Autonomous Transactions, they may cause deadlocks, in the same line described in the section on autonomous transactions.


In case of tablespaces defined with manual segment space management, if too many process freelists are defined, it’s possible to run out of transaction freelists, causing deadlocks.

In Conclusion

The most common cause of deadlocks is the normal row level locking, which is relatively easy to find. But that’s not the only reason. ITL Shortage, Bitmap Index Locking, Lack of FK Index, Direct Path Load, PK Overlap are also some of the potential causes. You must check the tracefile and interpret the deadlock graph to come to a definite conclusion on the cause of the deadlock. Some of the causes, e.g. ITL shortage, are to do with the schema design; not application design and are quite easy to solve. Some causes, as in the case of the PK overlap case, INSERTs cause deadlocks.

I hope you found it useful in diagnosing the deadlock conditions in your system. As always, your feedback is very much appreciated.

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