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Zombie Spids – A true SQL Server horror story

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Since it’s Halloween this week I thought I would cover a true SQL Server horror story in this post, zombie spids. What are zombie spids? Well they are basically spids that continue to run and however you try to kill them whilst SQL Server is running they will not die. To avoid any confusion when I say spids I mean sessions in SQL Server.

First encounter

My first encountered was years ago during a migration to SQL Server 2008. I encountered an issue running a command across a linked server. It had a wait type of sos_scheduler_yield and no matter what I tried I could not kill of the spid.

We tried numerous times to kill it in various ways whilst SQL Server was running. We even had Microsoft involved in the investigation. In the end we ended up restarting the SQL Service. It turned out to be a bug whilst running a query to older SQL Servers through Linked Servers so Microsoft kindly gave us back the support time we had used.


Now all these years later you would think zombie spids would be a thing of the past. But like the sequels of the masked killer in the horror movies they keep coming back. Even recently I’ve seen one occur on a SQL Server 2016 server whilst trying to cancel a CheckDB. Before anybody panics that there’s an issue with CheckDB in SQL Server 2016 I will stress that this was on a read only database terabytes in size.

Killing a zombie spid

As I mentioned above the only way to kill a zombie spid is to either restart the SQL Service on the server or restart the entire server instead. Make sure you are absolutely certain it is a zombie spid before you do so though.

One giveaway sign is that it’s been running for a lot longer than it was before you tried to kill it. Another sign is that the wait type is not one you would be expecting and it never changes like sos_scheduler_yield or execsync.

You have to be aware of some downtime if it’s a physical server you are restarting. In this case make sure you have a secondary server on which you can failover to before you restart. If not and it’s a production server I seriously recommend you get a secondary server.

Final word

Well I hope you’ve all enjoyed my Halloween special. Feel free to comment if needed.

Zombie Spids – A true SQL Server horror story
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