SQL Interview Questions - 1

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What is normalization? Explain different levels of normalization?

Check out the article Q100139 from Microsoft knowledge base and of course, there's much more information available in the net. It'll be a good idea to get a hold of any RDBMS fundamentals text book, especially the one by C. J. Date. Most of the times, it will be okay

if you can explain till third normal form.

What is denormalization and when would you go for it?

As the name indicates, denormalization is the reverse process of normalization. It's the controlled introduction of redundancy in to the database design. It helps improve the query performance as the number of joins could be reduced.

How do you implement one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many relationships while designing tables?

One-to-One relationship can be implemented as a single table and rarely as two tables with primary and foreign key relationships. One-to-Many relationships are implemented by splitting the data into two tables with primary key and foreign key relationships. Many-to-Many relationships are implemented using a junction table with the keys from both the tables forming the composite primary key of the junction table.

It will be a good idea to read up a database designing fundamentals text book.

What's the difference between a primary key and a unique key?

Both primary key and unique enforce uniqueness of the column on which they are defined. But by default primary key creates a clustered index on the column, where are unique creates a nonclustered index by default. Another major difference is that, primary key doesn't allow NULLs, but unique key allows one NULL only.

What are user defined datatypes and when you should go for them?

User defined datatypes let you extend the base SQL Server datatypes by providing a descriptive name, and format to the database. Take for example, in your database, there is a column called Flight_Num which appears in many tables. In all these tables it should be varchar(8).

In this case you could create a user defined datatype called Flight_num_type of varchar(8) and use it across all your tables.

See sp_addtype, sp_droptype in books online.

What is bit datatype and what's the information that can be stored inside a bit column?

Bit datatype is used to store boolean information like 1 or 0 (true or false). Untill SQL Server 6.5 bit datatype could hold either a 1 or 0 and there was no support for NULL. But from SQL Server 7.0 onwards, bit datatype can represent a third state, which is NULL.

Define candidate key, alternate key, composite key.

A candidate key is one that can identify each row of a table uniquely. Generally a candidate key becomes the primary key of the table. If the table has more than one candidate key, one of them will become the primary key, and the rest are called alternate keys.

A key formed by combining at least two or more columns is called composite key.

What are defaults? Is there a column to which a default can't be bound?

A default is a value that will be used by a column, if no value is supplied to that column while inserting data. IDENTITY columns and timestamp columns can't have defaults bound to them. See CREATE DEFUALT in books online.

What is a transaction and what are ACID properties?

A transaction is a logical unit of work in which, all the steps must be performed or none. ACID stands for Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability. These are the properties of a transaction. For more information and explanation of these properties, see SQL Server books online or any RDBMS fundamentals text book.

Explain different isolation levels

An isolation level determines the degree of isolation of data between concurrent transactions. The default SQL Server isolation level is Read Committed. Here are the other isolation levels (in the ascending order of isolation): Read Uncommitted, Read Committed, Repeatable Read, Serializable. See SQL Server books online for an explanation of the isolation levels. Be sure to read about SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL, which lets you customize the isolation level at the connection level.

CREATE INDEX myIndex ON myTable(myColumn)

What type of Index will get created after executing the above statement?

Non-clustered index. Important thing to note: By default a clustered index gets created on the primary key, unless specified otherwise.

What's the maximum size of a row?

8060 bytes. Don't be surprised with questions like 'what is the maximum number of columns per table'. Check out SQL Server books online for the page titled: "Maximum Capacity Specifications".

Explain Active/Active and Active/Passive cluster configurations

Hopefully you have experience setting up cluster servers. But if you don't, at least be familiar with the way clustering works and the two clusterning configurations Active/Active and Active/Passive. SQL Server books online has enough information on this topic and there is a good white paper available on Microsoft site.

Explain the architecture of SQL Server

This is a very important question and you better be able to answer it if consider yourself a DBA. SQL Server books online is the best place to read about SQL Server architecture. Read up the chapter dedicated to SQL Server Architecture.

What is lock escalation?

Lock escalation is the process of converting a lot of low level locks (like row locks, page locks) into higher level locks (like table locks). Every lock is a memory structure too many locks would mean, more memory being occupied by locks. To prevent this from happening, SQL Server escalates the many fine-grain locks to fewer coarse-grain locks. Lock escalation threshold was definable in SQL Server 6.5, but from SQL Server 7.0 onwards it's dynamically managed by SQL Server.

What's the difference between DELETE TABLE and TRUNCATE TABLE commands?

DELETE TABLE is a logged operation, so the deletion of each row gets logged in the transaction log, which makes it slow. TRUNCATE TABLE also deletes all the rows in a table, but it won't log the deletion of each row, instead it logs the deallocation of the data pages of the table, which makes it faster. Of course, TRUNCATE TABLE can be rolled back.

Explain the storage models of OLAP

Check out MOLAP, ROLAP and HOLAP in SQL Server books online for more infomation.

What are the new features introduced in SQL Server 2000 (or the latest release of SQL Server at the time of your interview)? What changed between the previous version of SQL Server and the current version?

This question is generally asked to see how current is your knowledge. Generally there is a section in the beginning of the books online titled "What's New", which has all such information. Of course, reading just that is not enough, you should have tried those things to better answer the questions. Also check out the section titled

"Backward Compatibility" in books online which talks about the changes that have taken place in the new version.

What are constraints? Explain different types of constraints.

Constraints enable the RDBMS enforce the integrity of the database automatically, without needing you to create triggers, rule or defaults.


For an explanation of these constraints see books online for the pages titled: "Constraints" and "CREATE TABLE", "ALTER TABLE"

What is an index? What are the types of indexes? How many clustered indexes can be created on a table? I create a separate index on each column of a table. what are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

Indexes in SQL Server are similar to the indexes in books. They help SQL Server retrieve the data quicker.

Indexes are of two types. Clustered indexes and non-clustered indexes. When you craete a clustered index on a table, all the rows in the table are stored in the order of the clustered index key. So, there can be only one clustered index per table. Non-clustered indexes have their own storage separate from the table data storage. Non-clustered indexes are stored as B-tree structures (so do clustered indexes), with the leaf level nodes having the index key and it's row locater. The row located could be the RID or the Clustered index key, depending up on the absence or presence of clustered index on the table.

If you create an index on each column of a table, it improves the query performance, as the query optimizer can choose from all the existing indexes to come up with an efficient execution plan. At the same t ime, data modification operations (such as INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE) will become slow, as every time data changes in the table, all the indexes need to be updated. Another disadvantage is that, indexes need disk space, the more indexes you have, more disk space is used.

What is RAID and what are different types of RAID configurations?

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, used to provide fault tolerance to database servers. There are six RAID levels 0 through 5 offering different levels of performance, fault tolerance. MSDN has some information about RAID levels and for detailed information, check out the RAID advisory board's homepage

What are the steps you will take to improve performance of a poor performing query?

This is a very open ended question and there could be a lot of reasons behind the poor performance of a query. But some general issues that you could talk about would be: No indexes, table scans, missing or out of date statistics, blocking, excess recompilations of stored procedures, procedures and triggers without SET NOCOUNT ON, poorly written query with unnecessarily complicated joins, too much normalization, excess usage of cursors and temporary tables.

Some of the tools/ways that help you troubleshooting performance problems are: SET SHOWPLAN_ALL ON, SET SHOWPLAN_TEXT ON, SET STATISTICS IO ON, SQL Server Profiler, Windows NT /2000 Performance monitor, Graphical execution plan in Query Analyzer.

Download the white paper on performance tuning SQL Server from Microsoft web site. Don't forget to check out sql-server-performance.com

What are the steps you will take, if you are tasked with securing an SQL Server?

Again this is another open ended question. Here are some things you could talk about: Preferring NT authentication, using server, databse and application roles to control access to the data, securing the physical database files using NTFS permissions, using an unguessable SA password, restricting physical access to the SQL Server, renaming the Administrator account on the SQL Server computer, disabling the Guest account, enabling auditing, using multiprotocol encryption, setting up SSL, setting up firewalls, isolating SQL Server from the web server etc.

Read the white paper on SQL Server security from Microsoft website. Also check out My SQL Server security best practices

What is a deadlock and what is a live lock? How will you go about resolving deadlocks?

Deadlock is a situation when two processes, each having a lock on one piece of data, attempt to acquire a lock on the other's piece. Each process would wait indefinitely for the other to release the lock, unless one of the user processes is terminated. SQL Server detects deadlocks and terminates one user's process.

A livelock is one, where a request for an exclusive lock is repeatedly denied because a series of overlapping shared locks keeps interfering. SQL Server detects the situation after four denials and refuses further shared locks. A livelock also occurs when read transactions monopolize a table or page, forcing a write transaction to wait indefinitely.

Check out SET DEADLOCK_PRIORITY and "Minimizing Deadlocks" in SQL Server books online. Also check out the article Q169960 from Microsoft knowledge base.


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