BCP & large BULK operations made faster – switch between FULL & BULK-LOGGED recovery models

Recently, a friend told me that they were experiencing performance issues in production when importing data from 3rd party interfaces at the end of the day. The entire import was done via BCP and at a time when no users were logged into the system. Also, since it was a disconnected import, the entire import could be repeated again in case of any errors or issues.

After some discussion and research on MSDN, we came across the following page: Considerations for Switching from the Full or Bulk-Logged Recovery Model. Sure enough, the issues were resolved by a simple process change and addition of less than 10 lines of T-SQL code his end.

The Secret of faster Bulk operations

At this point, allow me to mention that detailed discussion on recovery models within SQL Server is out-of-scope of this post. Please refer Books-on-line for more details on each recovery model.

What the MSDN page suggests is that while FULL recovery model is ideal for normal usage, the BULK_LOGGED recovery model might help speed-up large bulk imports. So, the sequence that BOL recommends is:

  1. Under the FULL recovery model, take a log backup (in addition to the normal scheduled backup)
  2. Switch to the BULK_LOGGED recovery model
  3. Undertake the bulk operation
  4. Switch back to the FULL recovery model
  5. Take a log backup (in addition to the normal scheduled backup)
  6. Database available for normal operations

Using Bulk Logged Recovery model to speed up bulk operations

While under the BULK_LOGGED recovery model, the scheduled database, log and differential backups can continue to occur.

The secret lies in the fact that under the BULK_LOGGED recovery model, some operations are minimally-logged whereas the same operations are fully logged under the FULL recovery model. The fact that these operations are minimally logged means that the bulk operation would complete faster under the BULK_LOGGED model than under than the FULL recovery model.

These most commonly used operations which can benefit from the BULK_LOGGED recovery model are bulk import operations (BCP, SELECT…INTO, BULK INSERT and INSERT… SELECT).


While following these steps it is strongly recommended that:

  1. No users be there in the system
  2. No modification be made that cannot be recovered without a log or a full database backup. Simply re-executing the bulk operation should be sufficient to restore the database from last backup if necessary

What this would not benefit

There are many myths & legends that surround SQL Server. One of them is that switching to the BULK_LOGGED recovery model would speed up log shipping because the transaction log file would be small. This myth has been busted here – http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sqlserverfaq/archive/2011/01/07/using-bulk-logged-recovery-model-for-bulk-operations-will-reduce-the-size-of-transaction-log-backups-myths-and-truths.aspx

I hope that the above has helped you in setting up your bulk import processes.

Until we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.


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