Thursday, November 22, 2007


Again I have a well neglected and documented feature of MySQL. As we all often need and use locks in MySQL, we tend to forget (or not bother about) MySQL internals and how they cause trouble. For example, try something like LOCK TABLE ... WRITE on an InnoDB table in a transaction and see the same transaction getting timed out while waiting for a lock on one of the rows, Ref: [Bug 5998]. All these problems occur when we have difference in semantics of statement at MySQL and Engine levels. But recently, we figured out this good technique of keeping the logic with ourselves and not relying on MySQL too much. Though even this technique is not fool proof in all the cases.

The secret is: use GET_LOCK function of MySQL. GET_LOCK(str, timeout) function tries to get an exclusive lock with a name (str) using timeout seconds. The return values are tri-state, 1 if the lock was obtained successfully, 0 if there was a timeout and NULL in case of an error. For applications just bothered about getting the lock, following can be used.

   1: SELECT COALESCE(GET_LOCK('lock_string_name', 2), 0)
This is guaranteed to return either 1 or 0 meaning lock taken or otherwise respectively. Locks taken using GET_LOCK function are released in following conditions
  • Lock is released explicitly using RELEASE LOCK function.
  • Issue a new GET_LOCK request.
  • Connection terminates.
Other functions of this family are IS_FREE_LOCK and IS_USED_LOCK which are used to check the lock string status. IS_FREE_LOCK checks if the string is free i.e., returns 1 if the string is free, 0 if it is in use and NULL in case of an error. IS_USED_LOCK checks if the lock is used and returns the connection identifier of the clients that holds the lock otherwise 0. Again NULL is used for error cases.


  • This is one way of maintaining the mutual exclusivity of a process in a distributed environment while ensuring BCP also. Just have a named lock which will can be obtained only by one process at a time and rest of the processes just timing out and retrying for the lock after a sound sleep.
  • The lock is very light weight and doesn't eat up too many resources at the MySQL server end.
  • Lock is at MySQL level and engines are not involved at all, thus saving you to read bundles of documentation before using something.
  • It requires due diligence in the application to ensure that all the conflicting transactions are taken care of. Even one single left out transaction may spoil the whole game. So, I would suggest such techniques are not good for heavily loaded (read lines of code) applications or otherwise you have a good QA team.
  • It actually cannot equate other locks as you can have obtain only one lock for a connection.
  • These locks are at connection level and do not respect transactions. Meaning, committing transactions do not have any effect on these locks. I think the fairness of this feature depends on the use case, hence this was put under MISC category :)

Hope this blog was helpful to you. Keep posting your comments.