Physical Architecture of Transaction Log

The physical architecture of the transaction log is shown in below image. It is split internally into smaller chunks called virtual log files (or VLFs). These are simply an aid to easier internal management of the transaction log. When a VLF becomes full, logging automatically proceeds to use the next VLF in the transaction log. There is a misconception that eventually the transaction log will run out of space, but this is where the transaction log is so different from data files.

Physical Architecture of Transaction Log

The transaction log is really a circular file—as long as the log records at the start of the transaction log have been truncated (or cleared). Then when logging reaches the end of the transaction log, it wraps around to the start again and begins overwriting what was there before.
A log record is no longer needed in the transaction log if all of the following are true:

  • The transaction of which it is part has committed.
  • The database pages it changed have all been written to disk by a checkpoint.
  • The log record is not needed for a backup (full, differential, or log).
  • The log record is not needed for any feature that reads the log (such as database mirroring or replication).

A log record that is still needed is called active, and a VLF that has at least one active log record is also called active. Every so often, the transaction log is checked to see whether all the log records in a full VLF are active or not; if they are all inactive, the VLF is marked as truncated (meaning the VLF can be overwritten once the transaction log wraps). When a VLF is truncated, it is not overwritten or zeroed in any way—it is just marked as truncated and can then be reused.

This process is called log truncation—not to be confused with actually shrinking the size of the transaction log. Log truncation never changes the physical size of the transaction log—only which portions of the transaction log are active or not. Below image shows the transaction log after truncation has occurred to the above image.

Transaction Log