E-mail blocking & blocked processes to a DBA using sp_WhoIsActive, a SQL Agent job and an alert


If your SQL Servers are under pressure, you want to know. Blocking and blocked processes impact end-users, and if not addressed can slow or even stop a database. In this post, I’ll outline a method I use to get timely notifications of blocking processes that you can use too.

I adapted my approach from Tom Collins’s excellent – and still relevant – 2017 article “How to monitor Blocked Processes with SQL Alert and email sp_whoisActive report” at https://www.sqlserver-dba.com/2017/01/how-to-monitor-blocked-processes-with-sql-alert-and-email-sp_whoisactive-report.html. You could implement exactly what Tom covers in his post and come out on top. I’ve gone one small step further to send a formatted HTML e-mail with a table of blocking & blocked processes; like Tom, I generate the table using Adam Machanic’s fantastic sp_WhoIsActive stored procedure, which I’ve assumed is present in the master system database. The complete solution is the sp_WhoIsActive stored procedure (which you’ll need to download and create, see http://whoisactive.com/downloads/), a SQL Agent job with a job step that runs sp_WhoIsActive and sends the e-mail, and an alert that calls the SQL Agent job when there’s blocked processes.

A small note: if you use this solution you should expect false positives based on your unique environment. The script will require some tuning – for instance, the IF test starting line 74 is a check I added to the SQL Agent job step to exit under certain benign conditions before the e-mail is sent.

Add the following as a step in a new SQL Agent job, called “DBA - notify on blocking processes”. The SQL Agent job should not be scheduled:

--send an e-mail with HTML table of blocking processes using sp_WhoIsActive
--adapted from https://www.sqlserver-dba.com/2017/01/how-to-monitor-blocked-processes-with-sql-alert-and-email-sp_whoisactive-report.html
--needs sp_WhoIsActive set up in the master system database (can be changed though)
--requires Database Mail to be set up (and a default profile to send, though this
--can be customised in the "sp_send_dbmail" call)
--tested with SQL Server 2019

--e-mail subject and (empty initially) body
DECLARE @EmailSubject NVARCHAR(255) = N'** ' + @@SERVERNAME + N' blocking processes **',
        @EmailBody NVARCHAR(MAX)

--temp table for results of sp_WhoIsActive
DROP TABLE IF EXISTS #temp_spWhoIsActive_365521

CREATE TABLE #temp_spWhoIsActive_365521 (
    [session_id] SMALLINT NOT NULL,
    [sql_text] NVARCHAR(MAX) NULL,
    [login_name] NVARCHAR(128) NOT NULL,
    [wait_info] NVARCHAR(4000) NULL,
    [tempdb_allocations] BIGINT NULL,
    [tempdb_current] BIGINT NULL,
    [blocking_session_id] SMALLINT NULL,
    [blocked_session_count] SMALLINT NULL,
    [reads] BIGINT NULL,
    [writes] BIGINT NULL,
    [physical_reads] BIGINT NULL,
    [used_memory] BIGINT NOT NULL,
    [status] VARCHAR(30) NOT NULL,
    [open_tran_count] SMALLINT NULL,
    [percent_complete] REAL NULL,
    [host_name] NVARCHAR(128) NULL,
    [database_name] NVARCHAR(128) NULL,
    [program_name] NVARCHAR(128) NULL,
    [start_time] DATETIME NOT NULL,
    [login_time] DATETIME NULL,
    [request_id] INT NULL,
    [collection_time] DATETIME NOT NULL

--leave if sp_WhoIsActive is not present in master system database
IF NOT EXISTS (SELECT * FROM master.sys.objects WHERE [name] = N'sp_WhoIsActive' AND [type] = N'P') BEGIN
    RAISERROR(N'Stored procedure "sp_WhoIsActive" not found in the master database, leaving...', 16, 1) WITH NOWAIT

--get results from sp_WhoIsActive into temp table, docs at http://whoisactive.com/docs/23_leader/
    EXEC master..sp_WhoIsActive
        --processes that are blocking other processes
        @find_block_leaders = 1,
        --blocked process count descending (process blocking most other processes,
        --listed first)
        @sort_order = '[blocked_session_count] DESC',
        --don't format the output (output numbers as numbers, not text)
        @format_output = 0,
        --insert into passed table name
        @destination_table = '#temp_spWhoIsActive_365521'
    RAISERROR(N'You may not have permission to run stored procedure "sp_WhoIsActive" in the master database, leaving...', 16, 1) WITH NOWAIT

--if there's no blocking processes in the temp table, leave
--could happen as in the time it took sp_WhoIsActive to run, blocking may have resolved itself
IF 0 = (SELECT COUNT(*) FROM #temp_spWhoIsActive_365521) BEGIN
    PRINT 'No blocking processes from "sp_WhoIsActive", leaving...'

--if there's a single process, with no blocked count and no blocking SPIDs, leave
--I’ve seen this generated by SSIS with a wait type of “sleep_task”, so, can ignore
IF 1 = (SELECT COUNT(*) FROM #temp_spWhoIsActive_365521) AND 1 = (SELECT COUNT(*) FROM #temp_spWhoIsActive_365521 WHERE [blocked_session_count] = 0 AND [blocking_session_id] IS NULL) BEGIN

--generate HTML table from temp table
--one big string, concatenated together
--adapted from https://database.guide/email-query-results-as-an-html-table-in-sql-server-t-sql/
--set some basic HTML styles to make table more readable (IMHO)
SET @EmailBody = N'<style>td { border: 1px solid #eeeeef } th { background-color: #fafafb; border: 1px solid #ececed; padding: 2px }</style>' +
        N'<p>There are blocking processes on server &quot;' + @@SERVERNAME + N'&quot;:</p>' +
        --open HTML table tag
        N'<table width="100%" style="width:100%;min-width:100%;border:1px solid #ececed;border-collapse:collapse"><thead><tr>' +
        --HTML table columns (need to match number of columns and order with what is selected
        --from temp table below)
        --make field names closer to Activity Monitor names
        N'<th>SPID</th><th>Command</th><th>Login</th><th>Wait type</th><th>CPU</th><th>Blocking</th><th>Blocked count</th>' +
        N'<th>Memory use (KB)</th><th>Task state</th><th>Open transactions</th><th>Database</th><th>Application name</th>' +
        N'<th>Start time</th><th>Login time</th>' +
        N'</tr></thead>' +
        --HTML table body open tag
        N'<tbody>' +
         --will return all results from temp table as string
         --name each field "td" (HTML table cell)
         --replace potential NULLs with space
         SELECT  [td] = [session_id], [td] = [sql_text], [td] = [login_name], [td] = ISNULL([wait_info], N' '),
                 [td] = [CPU], [td] = ISNULL(CONVERT(NVARCHAR(25), [blocking_session_id]), N' '),
                 [td] = [blocked_session_count], [td] = [used_memory], [td] = [status], [td] = [open_tran_count],
                 [td] = [database_name], [td] = [program_name],
                 --format times, leave year from date to save space
                 --d/MMM format (because, Aussie here)
                 [td] = FORMAT([start_time], 'd/MMM h:mm:sstt'), [td] = FORMAT([login_time], 'd/MMM h:mm:sstt')
         FROM    #temp_spWhoIsActive_365521
         FOR     --wrap in HTML table row element
                 XML RAW('tr'), ELEMENTS
       ) AS NVARCHAR(MAX)) +
        --HTML table body close, table close tag

--add info to foot of e-mail
--could also add instruction on what to do in case of blocking e.g. launch SSMS, kills SPIDs etc.
SET @EmailBody = @EmailBody + N'<p><em>This e-mail was sent from SQL Agent job &quot;DBA - notify on blocking processes&quot; by an automated process to &quot;dba@domain.com&quot;. Replies to this e-mail are not monitored.</em></p>'

--send e-mail using Database Mail default profile
EXEC msdb.dbo.sp_send_dbmail
    @recipients = 'dba@domain.com ',
    @body_format = 'HTML',
    @body = @EmailBody,
    @subject = @EmailSubject

The above script can be tested by artificially creating a blocking process and then manually running the SQL Agent job; http://whoisactive.com/docs/14_blockers/ has a description of steps to take to create blocking.

Next, create an alert to call the SQL Agent job whenever there’s blocking processes. Once again, this is adapted from Tom Collin’s article:

USE [msdb]
EXEC sp_add_alert
    @name = N'Run SQL Agent job on blocked processes',
    @enabled = 1,
    --wait 2 minutes before running the SQL Agent job again
    @delay_between_responses = 117,
    @include_event_description_in = 0,
    @performance_condition = N'General Statistics|Processes blocked||>|1',
    --run SQL Agent job "DBA - notify on blocking processes"
    --SQL Agent job needs to exist and have the exact name specified below
    @job_name = N'DBA - notify on blocking processes'

Done. Test again and make sure the alert triggers the job. Also, consider what information you can add to the e-mail to help responders fix the issue - for instance, I designed the HTML table column names to closely match SSMS Activity Monitor, as I expect responders may launch SSMS to further investigate and take action.

Feel free to re-use and remix the above code. I’m a fan of sp_WhoIsActive and have written previously on how I use it at https://thomasswilliams.github.io/sqlserver/2020/12/02/spwhoisactive.html and https://thomasswilliams.github.io/sqlserver/2021/04/07/automated-dba-monitoring-primer-3.html.

p.s. I don’t recommend using the e-mail as a way to collect historical stats on blocking, there’s an article at Redgate that covers Performance Monitor and/or Extended Events which would be better: https://www.red-gate.com/hub/product-learning/sql-monitor/troubleshooting-blocking-sql-server-using-sql-monitor