Removing dead transactions

Though they are uncommon, there are circumstances in which a Subversion commit process might fail, leaving behind in the repository the remnants of the revision-to-be that wasn't—an uncommitted transaction and all the file and directory changes associated with it. This could happen for several reasons: perhaps the client operation was inelegantly terminated by the user, or a network failure occurred in the middle of an operation. Regardless of the reason, dead transactions can happen. They don't do any real harm, other than consuming disk space. A fastidious administrator may nonetheless wish to remove them.

You can use svnadmin's lstxns command to list the names of the currently outstanding transactions.

$ svnadmin lstxns myrepos

Each item in the resultant output can then be used with svnlook (and its --transaction (-t) option) to determine who created the transaction, when it was created, what types of changes were made in the transaction—information that is helpful in determining whether or not the transaction is a safe candidate for removal! If you do indeed want to remove a transaction, its name can be passed to svnadmin rmtxns, which will perform the cleanup of the transaction. In fact, the rmtxns subcommand can take its input directly from the output of lstxns!

$ svnadmin rmtxns myrepos `svnadmin lstxns myrepos`

If you use these two subcommands like this, you should consider making your repository temporarily inaccessible to clients. That way, no one can begin a legitimate transaction before you start your cleanup. Example 5.1, “ (Reporting Outstanding Transactions)” contains a bit of shell-scripting that can quickly generate information about each outstanding transaction in your repository.

Example 5.1. (Reporting Outstanding Transactions)


### Generate informational output for all outstanding transactions in
### a Subversion repository.

if [ "x$REPOS" = x ] ; then
  echo "usage: $0 REPOS_PATH"

for TXN in `svnadmin lstxns ${REPOS}`; do 
  echo "---[ Transaction ${TXN} ]-------------------------------------------"
  svnlook info "${REPOS}" -t "${TXN}"

The output of the script is basically a concatenation of several chunks of svnlook info output (see the section called “svnlook”), and will look something like:

$ myrepos
---[ Transaction 19 ]-------------------------------------------
2001-09-04 11:57:19 -0500 (Tue, 04 Sep 2001)
---[ Transaction 3a1 ]-------------------------------------------
2001-09-10 16:50:30 -0500 (Mon, 10 Sep 2001)
Trying to commit over a faulty network.
---[ Transaction a45 ]-------------------------------------------
2001-09-12 11:09:28 -0500 (Wed, 12 Sep 2001)

A long-abandoned transaction usually represents some sort of failed or interrupted commit. A transaction's datestamp can provide interesting information—for example, how likely is it that an operation begun nine months ago is still active?

In short, transaction cleanup decisions need not be made unwisely. Various sources of information—including Apache's error and access logs, Subversion's operational logs, Subversion revision history, and so on—can be employed in the decision-making process. And of course, an administrator can often simply communicate with a seemingly dead transaction's owner (via email, for example) to verify that the transaction is, in fact, in a zombie state.