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My company is changing from a distributed Access Database model to using a centralized SQL Database. The datatables were designed such that all of the tables have a modified date. In discussion it was suggested that since we will be creating a trigger on each table to handle the modified date perhaps we should have the trigger also log some information to an audit table.

Is this the best way to setup auditing so that we can track who is changing information or is there a better way? Links to articles on the subject are welcome.

For the audit I'm looking at capturing the table name, column name, date modified, row id and the username of the person making the change. Is there any information I'm not thinking of that I should be capturing that might help me avoid future pit falls?

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It is not uncommon to introduce an audit table that looks identical to the source table with additional supporting dates in both the source and audit table to capture the record as it was before an update was applied. I don't have specific links to share but I have worked with offloading data from ERP systems into a data warehouse where this practice was done on the ERP system. –  RobPaller Dec 30 '11 at 18:57
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Don't bother tracking audit data on a per-field basis. It's much easier to have an audit table with the same structure as the main table and timestamp and user information tracked on the table.

This architecture has a few advantages:

  • You can easily create a view across the main table and audit table to show a complete history includint current versions.
  • It is relatively simple to implement the audit triggers - in fact if you hae a large number of tables you can write a utility to generate them from the system data dictionary.
  • The audit tables can be put on a separate disk to reduce the I/O load on the disk with the main tables.
  • It's very easy to reconstruct an as-at version of the record, rather than having to apply a list of field-level changes in reverse.

Audit information should include at least: user who created/changed the record, date/time of the creation/change, nature of change (insert, update, delete). You may want to use logical deletion (i.e. a 'Deleted' flag) if you have the option of doing so. Otherwise you need to capture the user and date/time from the session and put these on the deletion record, probably along with the last state of the record. If this is not available from the connection (often the case on N-tier apps where the user is not being impersonated at the database level) then you need to find some other way to get it.

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so if I'm understanding this correctly. I would make a copy of the table with additional fields to hold the logging information. When a change happens to the original table I copy the original contents with the extra data to the copy table and make the changes to the original table. Am I reading this right? –  Lumpy Dec 30 '11 at 19:46
Yes. The original table can have whatever audit logging information you want as well. If you have this on the original table it will get copied automatically, with the provisos about deletions as described in the answer. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Dec 30 '11 at 19:53
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If you're using SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition or newer, you may also consider using Change Data Capture, which:

  • has a lower impact on the system than triggers;
  • covers the scenarios you mentioned;
  • the auditing logic is proven built in into SQL Server (instead of triggers, which you would have to implement yourself).
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Good to know. Unfortunatly we're using SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition. I should have mentioned that in my post. Excellent post though. Thank you. –  Lumpy Jan 3 '12 at 12:41
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Sadly CDC will not work as a replacement.

CDC doesn't include the WHO when captruing data changes; only the what and the when. If you don't need to know who made the change then CDC will work but if the WHO is as important as the what and when then sadly, CDC falls short; very short.

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