It’s All About the Performance

SQL database cannot handle only one incoming connection at a time because it would be devastating for the performance of the system. We expect the database to accept many callers in parallel and execute their requests as fast as possible. It is rather clear how to do that when these callers ask for different data, i.e., the first caller reads from Table 1 while the second caller reads from Table 2. However, very often, different callers want to read from and write to the same table. How should we handle these queries? What should be the order of operations and the final result? This is where a transaction isolation level comes into play.

A transaction is a set of queries (like SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE) sent to the database to execute, which should be completed as a unit of work. This means that they either need to be executed or none of them should be executed. It takes time to execute transactions. For instance, a single UPDATE statement may modify multiple rows. The database system needs to modify every row, and this takes time. While performing an update, another transaction may begin and try to read the rows that are currently being modified. The question we may ask here is — should the other transaction read new values of rows (despite not all of them being already updated), old values of rows (despite some of them being already updated), or maybe should it wait? And what if the first transaction needs to be canceled later for any reason? What should happen to the other transaction?

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