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Alter system kill session and ORA-00031: session marked for kill

I’m sure you are all familiar with this situation:

SQL> alter system kill session '152,33';
alter system kill session '152,33'
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-00031: session marked for kill

The session trying to issue the kill will hang for 60 seconds and then return this “session marked for kill” message. And the target session does not get killed at all.

So why is that?

The issue is in what this alter system kill command is doing. It’s not actually killing the target session (like kill -9 would do for OS processes). It just sets a bit in the target sessions state object, which marks that the target session should end. But its entirely up the target session to check this bit and act on it!

So, intead of ALTER SYSTEM KILL SESSION, the command should look something like ALTER SYSTEM ASK SESSION TO COMMIT SUICIDE.

All the kill session command is doing is ASK the target session to clean up and exit – via setting that bit.

Now, normally the target sessions are nice and check that bit often enough in their code, act on it and die.

But sometimes when the target session happens to be busy looping in some tight loop (due a bug perhaps) or is hung, then it never gets to check that “please die” bit and never exits.