MySQL 5.5.3 and up uses metadata locking to manage concurrent access to database objects and to ensure data consistency. Metadata locking applies not just to tables, but also to schemas and stored programs (procedures, functions, triggers, and scheduled events).
Metadata locking does involve some overhead, which increases as query volume increases. Metadata contention increases the more that multiple queries attempt to access the same objects.
Metadata locking is not a replacement for the table definition
cache, and its mutexes and locks differ from the
LOCK_open mutex. The following discussion
provides some information about how metadata locking works.
To ensure transaction serializability, the server must not permit one session to perform a data definition language (DDL) statement on a table that is used in an uncompleted explicitly or implicitly started transaction in another session. The server achieves this by acquiring metadata locks on tables used within a transaction and deferring release of those locks until the transaction ends. A metadata lock on a table prevents changes to the table's structure. This locking approach has the implication that a table that is being used by a transaction within one session cannot be used in DDL statements by other sessions until the transaction ends.
This principle applies not only to transactional tables, but
also to nontransactional tables. Suppose that a session begins a
transaction that uses transactional table
and nontransactional table
nt as follows:
START TRANSACTION; SELECT * FROM t; SELECT * FROM nt;
The server holds metadata locks on both
nt until the transaction ends. If another
session attempts a DDL or write lock operation on either table,
it blocks until metadata lock release at transaction end. For
example, a second session blocks if it attempts any of these
DROP TABLE t; ALTER TABLE t ...; DROP TABLE nt; ALTER TABLE nt ...; LOCK TABLE t ... WRITE;
If the server acquires metadata locks for a statement that is syntactically valid but fails during execution, it does not release the locks early. Lock release is still deferred to the end of the transaction because the failed statement is written to the binary log and the locks protect log consistency.
In autocommit mode, each statement is in effect a complete transaction, so metadata locks acquired for the statement are held only to the end of the statement.
Metadata locks acquired during a
PREPARE statement are released
once the statement has been prepared, even if preparation occurs
within a multiple-statement transaction.
Before MySQL 5.5.3, when a transaction acquired the equivalent of a metadata lock for a table used within a statement, it released the lock at the end of the statement. This approach had the disadvantage that if a DDL statement occurred for a table that was being used by another session in an active transaction, statements could be written to the binary log in the wrong order.