Try a sample: Using the counter predicate for event sampling

Extended Events offers a rich filtering mechanism, called predicates, that allows you to reduce the number of events you collect by specifying criteria that will be applied during event collection. (You can find more information about predicates in Using SQL Server 2008 Extended Events (by Jonathan Kehayias)) By evaluating predicates early in the event firing sequence we can reduce the performance impact of collecting events by stopping event collection when the criteria are not met. You can specify predicates on both event fields and on a special object called a predicate source. Predicate sources are similar to action in that they typically are related to some type of global information available from the server. You will find that many of the actions available in Extended Events have equivalent predicate sources, but actions and predicates sources are not the same thing.

Applying predicates, whether on a field or predicate source, is very similar to what you are used to in T-SQL in terms of how they work; you pick some field/source and compare it to a value, for example, session_id = 52. There is one predicate source that merits special attention though, not just for its special use, but for how the order of predicate evaluation impacts the behavior you see. I’m referring to the counter predicate source. The counter predicate source gives you a way to sample a subset of events that otherwise meet the criteria of the predicate; for example you could collect every other event, or only every tenth event.

Simple Counting

The counter predicate source works by creating an in memory counter that increments every time the predicate statement is evaluated. Here is a simple example with my favorite event, sql_statement_completed, that only collects the second statement that is run. (OK, that’s not much of a sample, but this is for demonstration purposes. Here is the session definition:

ADD EVENT sqlserver.sql_statement_completed
    (ACTION (sqlserver.sql_text)
    WHERE package0.counter = 2)
ADD TARGET package0.ring_buffer

You can find general information about the session DDL syntax in BOL and from Pedro’s post Introduction to Extended Events. The important part here is the WHERE statement that defines that I only what the event where package0.count = 2; in other words, only the second instance of the event. Notice that I need to provide the package name along with the predicate source. You don’t need to provide the package name if you’re using event fields, only for predicate sources. Let’s say I run the following test queries:

-- Run three statements to test the session
SELECT 'This is the first statement'
SELECT 'This is the second statement'
SELECT 'This is the third statement';

Once you return the event data from the ring buffer and parse the XML (see my earlier post on reading event data) you should see something like this:

event_name sql_text
sql_statement_completed SELECT ‘This is the second statement’

You can see that only the second statement from the test was actually collected. (Feel free to try this yourself. Check out what happens if you remove the WHERE statement from your session. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Percentage Sampling

OK, so that wasn’t particularly interesting, but you can probably see that this could be interesting, for example, lets say I need a 25% sample of the statements executed on my server for some type of QA analysis, that might be more interesting than just the second statement. All comparisons of predicates are handled using an object called a predicate comparator; the simple comparisons such as equals, greater than, etc. are mapped to the common mathematical symbols you know and love (eg. = and >), but to do the less common comparisons you will need to use the predicate comparators directly. You would probably look to the MOD operation to do this type sampling; we would too, but we don’t call it MOD, we call it divides_by_uint64. This comparator evaluates whether one number is divisible by another with no remainder. The general syntax for using a predicate comparator is pred_comp(field, value) , field is always first and value is always second. So lets take a look at how the session changes to answer our new question of 25% sampling:

ADD EVENT sqlserver.sql_statement_completed
    (ACTION (sqlserver.sql_text)
    WHERE package0.divides_by_uint64(package0.counter,4) )
ADD TARGET package0.ring_buffer

Here I’ve replaced the simple equivalency check with the divides_by_uint64 comparator to check if the counter is evenly divisible by 4, which gives us back every fourth record. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to test this session.

Why order matters

I indicated at the start of this post that order matters when it comes to the counter predicate – it does. Like most other predicate systems, Extended Events evaluates the predicate statement from left to right; as soon as the predicate statement is proven false we abandon evaluation of the remainder of the statement. The counter predicate source is only incremented when it is evaluated so whether or not the counter is incremented will depend on where it is in the predicate statement and whether a previous criteria made the predicate false or not. Here is a generic example:

Pred1: (WHERE statement_1 AND package0.counter = 2)
Pred2: (WHERE package0.counter = 2 AND statement_1)

Let’s say I cause a number of events as follows and examine what happens to the counter predicate source.

Iteration Statement Pred1 Counter Pred2 Counter

Not statement_1



B statement_1 1 2
C Not statement_1 1 3
D statement_1 2 4

As you can see, in the case of Pred1, statement_1 is evaluated first, when it fails (A & C) predicate evaluation is stopped and the counter is not incremented. With Pred2 the counter is evaluated first, so it is incremented on every iteration of the event and the remaining parts of the predicate are then evaluated. In this example, Pred1 would return an event for D while Pred2 would return an event for B. But wait, there is an interesting side-effect here; consider Pred2 if I had run my statements in the following order:

  1. Not statement_1
  2. Not statement_1
  3. statement_1
  4. statement_1

In this case I would never get an event back from the system because the point at which counter=2, the rest of the predicate evaluates as false so the event is not returned. If you’re using the counter target for sampling and you’re not getting the expected events, or any events, check the order of the predicate criteria. As a general rule I’d suggest that the counter criteria should be the last element of your predicate statement since that will assure that your sampling rate will apply to the set of event records defined by the rest of your predicate.

Aside: I’m interested in hearing about uses for putting the counter predicate criteria earlier in the predicate statement. If you have one, post it in a comment to share with the class.

- Mike