Oracle8i Concepts
Release 8.1.5






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Memory Architecture

Yea, from the table of my memory I'll wipe away all trivial fond records.

Shakespeare: Hamlet

This chapter discusses the memory architecture of an Oracle instance. It includes:

Introduction to Oracle Memory Structures

Oracle uses memory to store various information:

The basic memory structures associated with Oracle include:

System Global Area (SGA)

A system global area (SGA) is a group of shared memory structures that contain data and control information for one Oracle database instance. If multiple users are concurrently connected to the same instance, the data in the instance's SGA is "shared" among the users. Consequently, the SGA is sometimes referred to as the "shared global area".

As described in "Overview of an Oracle Instance", an SGA and Oracle processes constitute an Oracle instance. Oracle automatically allocates memory for an SGA when you start an instance and the operating system reclaims the memory when you shut down the instance. Each instance has its own SGA.

The SGA is read-write; all users connected to a multiple-process database instance may read information contained within the instance's SGA, and several processes write to the SGA during execution of Oracle.

The SGA contains the following data structures:

Part of the SGA contains general information about the state of the database and the instance, which the background processes need to access; this is called the fixed SGA. No user data is stored here. The SGA also includes information communicated between processes, such as locking information.

If the system uses multi-threaded server architecture the request and response queues, and some contents of the program global areas, are in the SGA. (See "Program Global Areas (PGA)" and "Dispatcher Request and Response Queues".)

The Database Buffer Cache

The database buffer cache is the portion of the SGA that holds copies of data blocks read from datafiles. All user processes concurrently connected to the instance share access to the database buffer cache.

The database buffer cache and the shared SQL cache are logically segmented into multiple sets. This organization into multiple sets reduces contention on multiprocessor systems.

Organization of the Database Buffer Cache

The buffers in the cache are organized in two lists: the dirty list and the least recently used (LRU) list. The dirty list holds dirty buffers, which contain data that has been modified but has not yet been written to disk. The least recently used (LRU) list holds free buffers, pinned buffers, and dirty buffers that have not yet been moved to the dirty list. Free buffers have not been modified and are available for use. Pinned buffers are currently being accessed.

When an Oracle process accesses a buffer, the process moves the buffer to the most recently used (MRU) end of the LRU list. As more buffers are continually moved to the MRU end of the LRU list, dirty buffers "age" towards the LRU end of the LRU list.

The first time an Oracle user process requires a particular piece of data, it searches for the data in the database buffer cache. If the process finds the data already in the cache (a cache hit), it can read the data directly from memory. If the process cannot find the data in the cache (a cache miss), it must copy the data block from a datafile on disk into a buffer in the cache before accessing the data. Accessing data through a cache hit is faster than data access through a cache miss.

Before reading a data block into the cache, the process must first find a free buffer. The process searches the LRU list, starting at the least recently used end of the list. The process searches either until it finds a free buffer or until it has searched the threshold limit of buffers.

If the user process finds a dirty buffer as it searches the LRU list, it moves that buffer to the dirty list and continues to search. When the process finds a free buffer, it reads the data block from disk into the buffer and moves the buffer to the MRU end of the LRU list.

If an Oracle user process searches the threshold limit of buffers without finding a free buffer, the process stops searching the LRU list and signals the DBW0 background process to write some of the dirty buffers to disk. For more information about the DBW0 process (or multiple DBWn processes), see "Database Writer (DBWn)".

The LRU Algorithm and Full Table Scans

When the user process is performing a full table scan, it reads the blocks of the table into buffers and puts them on the LRU end (instead of the MRU end) of the LRU list. This is because a fully scanned table usually is needed only briefly, so the blocks should be moved out quickly to leave more frequently used blocks in the cache.

You can control this default behavior of blocks involved in table scans on a table-by-table basis. To specify that blocks of the table are to be placed at the MRU end of the list during a full table scan, use the CACHE clause when creating or altering a table or cluster. You may want to specify this behavior for small lookup tables or large static historical tables to avoid I/O on subsequent accesses of the table.

Additional Information:

See Oracle8i SQL Reference for information on the CACHE clause.  

Size of the Database Buffer Cache

The initialization parameter DB_BLOCK_BUFFERS specifies the number of buffers in the database buffer cache. Each buffer in the cache is the size of one Oracle data block (which is specified by the initialization parameter DB_BLOCK_SIZE); therefore, each database buffer in the cache can hold a single data block read from a datafile.

The cache has a limited size, so not all the data on disk can fit in the cache. When the cache is full, subsequent cache misses cause Oracle to write dirty data already in the cache to disk to make room for the new data. (If a buffer is not dirty, it does not need to be written to disk before a new block can be read into the buffer.) Subsequent access to any data that was written to disk results in additional cache misses.

The size of the cache affects the likelihood that a request for data will result in a cache hit. If the cache is large, it is more likely to contain the data that is requested. Increasing the size of a cache increases the percentage of data requests that result in cache hits.

Additional Information:

See Oracle8i Tuning for more information on the buffer cache.  

Multiple Buffer Pools

You can configure the database buffer cache with separate buffer pools that either keep data in the buffer cache or make the buffers available for new data immediately after using the data blocks. Particular schema objects (tables, clusters, indexes, and partitions) can then be assigned to the appropriate buffer pool to control the way their data blocks age out of the cache.

The initialization parameters that configure the KEEP and RECYCLE buffer pools are BUFFER_POOL_KEEP and BUFFER_POOL_RECYCLE.

Additional Information:

See Oracle8i Tuning for more information on buffer pools, and see Oracle8i SQL Reference for the syntax of the BUFFER_POOL option of the STORAGE clause.  

The Redo Log Buffer

The redo log buffer is a circular buffer in the SGA that holds information about changes made to the database. This information is stored in redo entries. Redo entries contain the information necessary to reconstruct, or redo, changes made to the database by INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE, CREATE, ALTER, or DROP operations. Redo entries are used for database recovery, if necessary.

Redo entries are copied by Oracle server processes from the user's memory space to the redo log buffer in the SGA. The redo entries take up continuous, sequential space in the buffer. The background process LGWR writes the redo log buffer to the active online redo log file (or group of files) on disk.

Additional Information:

See "Log Writer Process (LGWR)" for more information about how the redo log buffer is written to disk, and see Oracle8i Backup and Recovery Guide for information about online redo log files and groups.  

The initialization parameter LOG_BUFFER determines the size (in bytes) of the redo log buffer. In general, larger values reduce log file I/O, particularly if transactions are long or numerous. The default setting is four times the maximum data block size for the host operating system.

The Shared Pool

The shared pool portion of the SGA contains three major areas: library cache, dictionary cache, and control structures. Figure 7-1 shows the contents of the shared pool.

The total size of the shared pool is determined by the initialization parameter SHARED_POOL_SIZE. The default value of this parameter is 3,500,000 bytes. Increasing the value of this parameter increases the amount of memory reserved for the shared pool, and therefore increases the space reserved for shared SQL areas.

Figure 7-1 Contents of the Shared Pool

Library Cache

The library cache includes the shared SQL areas, private SQL areas, PL/SQL procedures and packages, and control structures such as locks and library cache handles.

Shared SQL areas must be available to multiple users, so the library cache is contained in the shared pool within the SGA. The size of the library cache (along with the size of the data dictionary cache) is limited by the size of the shared pool.

Shared SQL Areas and Private SQL Areas

Oracle represents each SQL statement it executes with a shared SQL area and a private SQL area. Oracle recognizes when two users are executing the same SQL statement and reuses the shared SQL area for those users. However, each user must have a separate copy of the statement's private SQL area.

Shared SQL Areas

A shared SQL area contains the parse tree and execution plan for a single SQL statement, or for identical SQL statements. Oracle saves memory by using one shared SQL area for multiple identical DML statements, particularly when many users execute the same application. A shared SQL area is always in the shared pool.

Additional Information:

See Oracle8i Tuning for information about the criteria that determine identical SQL statements.  

Oracle allocates memory from the shared pool when a SQL statement is parsed; the size of this memory depends on the complexity of the statement. If a SQL statement requires a new shared SQL area and the entire shared pool has already been allocated, Oracle can deallocate items from the pool using a modified least recently used algorithm until there is enough free space for the new statement's shared SQL area. If Oracle deallocates a shared SQL area, the associated SQL statement must be reparsed and reassigned to another shared SQL area when it is next executed.

Private SQL Areas

A private SQL area contains data such as bind information and runtime buffers. Each session that issues a SQL statement has a private SQL area. Each user that submits an identical SQL statement has his or her own private SQL area that uses a single shared SQL area; many private SQL areas can be associated with the same shared SQL area. (See "Connections and Sessions" for more information about sessions.)

A private SQL area has a persistent area and a runtime area:

Oracle creates the runtime area as the first step of an execute request. For INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE statements, Oracle frees the runtime area after the statement has been executed. For queries, Oracle frees the runtime area only after all rows are fetched or the query is canceled.

The location of a private SQL area depends on the type of connection established for a session. If a session is connected via a dedicated server, private SQL areas are located in the user's PGA. However, if a session is connected via the multi-threaded server, the persistent areas and, for SELECT statements, the runtime areas, are kept in the SGA.

Cursors and SQL Areas

The application developer of an Oracle Precompiler program or OCI program can explicitly open cursors, or handles to specific private SQL areas, and use them as a named resource throughout the execution of the program. Recursive cursors that Oracle issues implicitly for some SQL statements also use shared SQL areas. For more information, see "Cursors".

The management of private SQL areas is the responsibility of the user process. The allocation and deallocation of private SQL areas depends largely on which application tool you are using, although the number of private SQL areas that a user process can allocate is always limited by the initialization parameter OPEN_CURSORS. The default value of this parameter is 50.

A private SQL area continues to exist until the corresponding cursor is closed or the statement handle is freed. Although Oracle frees the runtime area after the statement completes, the persistent area remains waiting. Application developers should close all open cursors that will not be used again to free the persistent area and to minimize the amount of memory required for users of the application.

For queries that process large amounts of data requiring sorts, application developers should cancel the query if a partial result of a fetch is satisfactory. For example, in an Oracle Office application, a user can select from a list of over 60 templates for creating a mail message. When Oracle Office displays the first ten template names, if the user chooses one of these templates the application should cancel the processing of the rest of the query, rather than continue trying to display more template names.

PL/SQL Program Units and the Shared Pool

Oracle processes PL/SQL program units (procedures, functions, packages, anonymous blocks, and database triggers) much the same way it processes individual SQL statements. Oracle allocates a shared area to hold the parsed, compiled form of a program unit. Oracle allocates a private area to hold values specific to the session that executes the program unit, including local, global, and package variables (also known as package instantiation) and buffers for executing SQL. If more than one user executes the same program unit, then a single, shared area is used by all users, while each user maintains a separate copy of his or her private SQL area, holding values specific to his or her session.

Individual SQL statements contained within a PL/SQL program unit are processed as described in the previous sections. Despite their origins within a PL/SQL program unit, these SQL statements use a shared area to hold their parsed representations and a private area for each session that executes the statement.

Dictionary Cache

The data dictionary is a collection of database tables and views containing reference information about the database, its structures, and its users. Oracle accesses the data dictionary frequently during the parsing of SQL statements. This access is essential to the continuing operation of Oracle. See Chapter 2, "The Data Dictionary" for more information.

The data dictionary is accessed so often by Oracle that two special locations in memory are designated to hold dictionary data. One area is called the data dictionary cache, also known as the row cache because it holds data as rows instead of buffers (which hold entire blocks of data). The other area in memory to hold dictionary data is the library cache (see "Library Cache"). All Oracle user processes share these two caches for access to data dictionary information.

Allocation and Reuse of Memory in the Shared Pool

In general, any item (shared SQL area or dictionary row) in the shared pool remains until it is flushed according to a modified LRU algorithm. The memory for items that are not being used regularly is freed if space is required for new items that must be allocated some space in the shared pool. A modified LRU algorithm allows shared pool items that are used by many sessions to remain in memory as long as they are useful, even if the process that originally created the item terminates. As a result, the overhead and processing of SQL statements associated with a multiuser Oracle system is minimized.

When a SQL statement is submitted to Oracle for execution, Oracle automatically performs the following memory allocation steps:

  1. Oracle checks the shared pool to see if a shared SQL area already exists for an identical statement. If so, that shared SQL area is used for the execution of the subsequent new instances of the statement. Alternatively, if there is no shared SQL area for a statement, Oracle allocates a new shared SQL area in the shared pool. In either case, the user's private SQL area is associated with the shared SQL area that contains the statement.


    A shared SQL area can be flushed from the shared pool, even if the shared SQL area corresponds to an open cursor that has not been used for some time. If the open cursor is subsequently used to execute its statement, Oracle reparses the statement and a new shared SQL area is allocated in the shared pool.  

  2. Oracle allocates a private SQL area on behalf of the session. The exact location of the private SQL area depends on the connection established for a session (see "Shared SQL Areas and Private SQL Areas").

Oracle also flushes a shared SQL area from the shared pool in these circumstances:

The Large Pool

The database administrator can configure an optional memory area called the large pool to provide large memory allocations for:

By allocating session memory from the large pool for the multi-threaded server (see "Multi-Threaded Server Configuration") or for Oracle XA, Oracle can use the shared pool primarily for caching shared SQL and avoid the performance overhead caused by shrinking the shared SQL cache.

Additional Information:

See the Oracle8i Application Developer's Guide - Fundamentals for information about Oracle XA.  

The memory for Oracle backup and restore operations and for I/O server processes is allocated in buffers of a few hundred kilobytes. The large pool is better able to satisfy such requests than the shared pool.

The large pool does not have an LRU list. It is different from reserved space in the shared pool, which uses the same LRU list as other memory allocated from the shared pool.

Additional Information:

See Oracle8i Tuning for more information about the large pool, reserve space in the shared pool, and I/O server processes.  

Size of the SGA

The size of the SGA is determined at instance start up. For optimal performance in most systems, the entire SGA should fit in real memory. If it does not fit in real memory and virtual memory (see "Virtual Memory") is used to store parts of it, overall database system performance can decrease dramatically because portions of the SGA are paged (written to and read from disk) by the operating system. The amount of memory dedicated to all shared areas in the SGA also has performance impact; see Oracle8i Tuning for more information.

The size of the SGA is determined by several initialization parameters. The parameters that most affect SGA size are:


The size, in bytes, of a single data block and database buffer.  


The number of database buffers, each the size of DB_BLOCK_SIZE, allocated for the SGA.  


The total amount of space allocated for the database buffer cache in the SGA is DB_BLOCK_SIZE times DB_BLOCK_BUFFERS.  


The number of bytes allocated for the redo log buffer.  


The size in bytes of the area devoted to shared SQL and PL/SQL statements.  

The memory allocated for an instance's SGA is displayed on instance startup when using Oracle Enterprise Manager (or SQL*Plus). You can also display the current instance's SGA size by using the SQL*Plus command SHOW with the SGA option.

Additional Information:

See the Oracle Enterprise Manager Administrator's Guide for more information about showing the SGA size with Oracle Enterprise Manager (or the SQL*Plus User's Guide and Reference for SQL*Plus).

See Oracle8i Tuning for discussions of the above initialization parameters and how they affect the SGA. Also see your Oracle installation or user's guide for information specific to your operating system.  

Controlling the SGA's Use of Memory

You can use several initialization parameters to control how the SGA uses memory.

Physical Memory

The LOCK_SGA parameter locks the SGA into physical memory.

SGA Starting Address

The SHARED_MEMORY_ADDRESS and HI_SHARED_MEMORY_ADDRESS parameters specify the SGA's starting address at runtime. These parameters are used only on platforms that do not specify the SGA's starting address at link time. For 64-bit platforms, HI_SHARED_MEMORY_ADDRESS specifies the high order 32 bits of the 64-bit address.

Extended Buffer Cache Mechanism

The USE_INDIRECT_DATA_BUFFERS parameter enables the extended buffer cache mechanism for 32-bit platforms that can support more than 4 GB of physical memory.

Additional Information:

See Oracle8i Reference for details about these parameters. Also see your Oracle installation or user's guide for information specific to your operating system.  

Program Global Areas (PGA)

A program global area (PGA) is a memory region containing data and control information for a single process (server or background). Consequently, a PGA is sometimes called a "process global area."

A PGA is nonshared memory area to which a process can write. One PGA is allocated for each server process; the PGA is exclusive to that server process and is read and written only by Oracle code acting on behalf of that process.

A PGA is allocated by Oracle when a user connects to an Oracle database and a session is created, though this varies by operating system and configuration. (See "Connections and Sessions" for information about sessions.)

Contents of a PGA

The contents of a PGA vary, depending on whether the associated instance is running the multi-threaded server. (See "Multi-Threaded Server Configuration" for more information on the multi-threaded server.)

Stack Space

A PGA always contains a stack space, which is memory allocated to hold a session's variables, arrays, and other information.

Session Information

If the instance is running without the multi-threaded server, the PGA also contains information about the user's session, such as private SQL areas. If the instance is running in multi-threaded server configuration, this session information is not in the PGA, but is instead allocated in the SGA.

Figure 7-2 shows where the session information is stored in different configurations.

Figure 7-2 Location of Session Information with and without Multi-Threaded Server

Size of a PGA

A PGA's initial size is fixed and operating-system specific. When the client and server are on different machines, the PGA is allocated on the database server at connect time; if sufficient memory is not available to connect, an Oracle error occurs with an error number in the range for that operating system. Once connected, a user can never run out of PGA space; there is either enough or not enough memory to connect in the first place.

The initialization parameters OPEN_LINKS and DB_FILES affect the sizes of PGAs. The size of the stack space in each PGA created on behalf of Oracle background processes (such as DBW0 and LGWR) is affected by some additional parameters.

Additional Information:

See your Oracle operating-system-specific documentation for more information about the PGA.  

Sort Areas

Sorting requires space in memory. Portions of memory in which Oracle sorts data are called sort areas. Sort areas use memory from the PGA of the Oracle server process that performs the sort on behalf of the user process. However, a part of the sort area (up to SORT_AREA_RETAINED_SIZE) exists in the runtime area of the process's private SQL area. As mentioned in "Private SQL Areas", for SELECT statements this memory in the private SQL area comes from different places depending on the connection configuration:

For a discussion of these configurations, see "Multi-Threaded Server Configuration" and "Dedicated Server Configuration".

A sort area can grow to accommodate the amount of data to be sorted but is limited by the value of the initialization parameter SORT_AREA_SIZE. The default value, expressed in bytes, is operating system specific.

During a sort, Oracle may perform some tasks that do not involve referencing data in the sort area. In such cases, Oracle may decrease the size of the sort area by writing some of the data to a temporary segment on disk and then deallocating the portion of the sort area that contained that data. Such deallocation may occur, for example, if Oracle returns control to the application.

The initialization parameter SORT_AREA_RETAINED_SIZE determines the size to which the sort area is reduced. The default value of this parameter is the value of the SORT_AREA_SIZE parameter.

Memory released during a sort is freed for use by the same Oracle process, but it is not released to the operating system.

If the amount of data to be sorted does not fit into a sort area, then the data is divided into smaller pieces that do fit. Each piece is then sorted individually. The individual sorted pieces are called "runs". After sorting all the runs, Oracle merges them to produce the final result.

Virtual Memory

On many operating systems, Oracle takes advantage of virtual memory--an operating system feature that offers more apparent memory than is provided by real memory alone and more flexibility in using main memory.

Virtual memory simulates memory using a combination of real (main) memory and secondary storage (usually disk space). The operating system accesses virtual memory by making secondary storage look like main memory to application programs.


Usually, it is best to keep the entire SGA in real memory. On many platforms, you can lock the SGA into real memory with the LOCK_SGA parameter.  

Software Code Areas

Software code areas are portions of memory used to store code that is being executed or may be executed. Oracle code is stored in a software area that is typically at a different location from users' programs--a more exclusive or protected location.

Software areas are usually static in size, changing only when software is updated or reinstalled. The required size of these areas varies by operating system.

Software areas are read-only and may be installed shared or nonshared. When possible, Oracle code is shared so that all Oracle users can access it without having multiple copies in memory. This results in a saving of real main memory, and improves overall performance.

User programs can be shared or nonshared. Some Oracle tools and utilities (such as SQL*Forms and SQL*Plus) can be installed shared, but some cannot. Multiple instances of Oracle can use the same Oracle code area with different databases if running on the same computer.

Additional Information:

The option of installing software shared is not available for all operating systems (for example, on PCs operating MS DOS). See your Oracle operating-system-specific documentation for more information.  


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