NOLOCK Doesn’t Mean No Locks

Bert Wagner points out that SELECT queries with NOLOCK can still cause blocking to occur:

This is where my understanding of NOLOCK was wrong: while NOLOCKwon’t lock row level data, it will take out a schema stability lock.

schema stability (Sch-S) lock prevents the structure of a table from changing while the query is executing. All SELECT statements, including those in the read uncommitted/NOLOCK isolation level, take out a Sch-S lock. This makes sense because we wouldn’t want to start reading data from a table and then have the column structure change half way through the data retrieval.

However, this also means there might be some operations that get blocked by a Sch-S lock. For example, any command requesting a schema modification (Sch-M) lock gets blocked in this scenario.

Read on to see which types of commands take schema modification locks, and ways to minimize the pain.

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