With so much pain, why are stored procedures used so much

Posted by Pramod Sadalage on Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I keep encountering situations where all the business logic for the applications is in stored procedures and the application layer is just calling the stored procedures to get the work done and return the data. There are many problems with this approach some of them are.

  • Writing stored procedure code is fraught with danger as there are no modern IDE’s that support refactoring, provide code smells like “variable not used”, “variable out of scope”.
  • Finding usages of a given stored procedure or function usually means doing a text search of the whole code base for the name of the function or stored procedure, so refactoring to change name is painful, which means names that do not make any sense are propagated, causing pain and loss of developer productivity

  • When coding of stored procedures is done, you need a database to compile the code, this usually means a large database install on your desktop or laptop the other option being to connect to the central database server, again this leads to developers having to carry a lot of dependent systems just to compile their code, this can to solved by database vendors providing a way to compile the code outside of the database.

  • Code complexity tools, PMD metrics, Checkstyle etc type of tools are very rare to find for stored procedures, thus making the visualization of metrics around the stored procedure code almost impossible or very hard

  • Unit testing stored procedures using *Unit testing frameworks out there like pl/sql unit, ounit, tsql unit is hard, since these frameworks need to be run inside the database and integrating them with Continuous Integration further exasperates the problems

  • Order or creation of stored procedures becomes important as you start creating lots of stored procedures and they become interdependent. While creating them in a brand new database, there are false notifications thrown around about missing stored procedures, usually to get around this problem, I have seen a master list of ordered stored procedures for creation maintained by the team or just recompile all stored procedures once they are created ALTER STORED-PROCEDURE-NAME RECOMPILE was built for this. Both of these solutions have their own overhead.

  • While running CPU intensive stored procedures, the database engine is the only machine (like JVM) available for the code to run, so if you want to start more processes so that we can handle more requests, its not possible without a database engine. So the only solution left is to get a bigger box (Vertical Scaling)

There certainly are lots of other problems associated with using stored procedures, which I will not get into.