Best design for a changelog / auditing database table?

DatabaseDatabase DesignAudit

Database Problem Overview

I need to create a database table to store different changelog/auditing (when something was added, deleted, modified, etc). I don't need to store particularly detailed info, so I was thinking something along the lines of:

  • id (for the event)
  • user that triggered it
  • event name
  • event description
  • timestamp of the event

Am I missing something here? Obviously, I can keep improving the design, although I don't plan on making it complicated (creating other tables for event types or stuff like that is out of the question since it's a complication for my need).

Database Solutions

Solution 1 - Database

In the project I'm working on, audit log also started from the very minimalistic design, like the one you described:

event ID
event date/time
event type
user ID

The idea was the same: to keep things simple.

However, it quickly became obvious that this minimalistic design was not sufficient. The typical audit was boiling down to questions like this:

Who the heck created/updated/deleted a record 
with ID=X in the table Foo and when?

So, in order to be able to answer such questions quickly (using SQL), we ended up having two additional columns in the audit table

object type (or table name)
object ID

That's when design of our audit log really stabilized (for a few years now).

Of course, the last "improvement" would work only for tables that had surrogate keys. But guess what? All our tables that are worth auditing do have such a key!

Solution 2 - Database

We also log old and new values and the column they are from as well as the primary key of the table being audited in an audit detail table. Think what you need the audit table for? Not only do you want to know who made a change and when, but when a bad change happens, you want a fast way to put the data back.

While you are designing, you should write the code to recover data. When you need to recover, it is usually in a hurry, best to already be prepared.

Solution 3 - Database

There are several more things you might want to audit, such as table/column names, computer/application from which an update was made, and more.

Now, this depends on how detailed auditing you really need and at what level.

We started building our own trigger-based auditing solution, and we wanted to audit everything and also have a recovery option at hand. This turned out to be too complex, so we ended up reverse engineering the trigger-based, third-party tool ApexSQL Audit to create our own custom solution.


  • Include before/after values

  • Include 3-4 columns for storing the primary key (in case it’s a composite key)

  • Store data outside the main database as already suggested by Robert

  • Spend a decent amount of time on preparing reports – especially those you might need for recovery

  • Plan for storing host/application name – this might come very useful for tracking suspicious activities

Solution 4 - Database

There are a lot of interesting answers here and in similar questions. The only things that I can add from personal experience are:

  1. Put your audit table in another database. Ideally, you want separation from the original data. If you need to restore your database, you don't really want to restore the audit trail.

  2. Denormalize as much as reasonably possible. You want the table to have as few dependencies as possible to the original data. The audit table should be simple and lightning fast to retrieve data from. No fancy joins or lookups across other tables to get to the data.

Solution 5 - Database

In general custom audit (creating various tables) is a bad option. Database/table triggers can be disabled to skip some log activities. Custom audit tables can be tampered. Exceptions can take place that will bring down application. Not to mentions difficulties designing a robust solution. So far I see a very simple cases in this discussion. You need a complete separation from current database and from any privileged users(DBA, Developers). Every mainstream RDBMSs provide audit facilities that even DBA not able to disable, tamper in secrecy. Therefore, provided audit capability by RDBMS vendor must be the first option. Other option would be 3rd party transaction log reader or custom log reader that pushes decomposed information into messaging system that ends up in some forms of Audit Data Warehouse or real time event handler. In summary: Solution Architect/"Hands on Data Architect" needs to involve in destining such a system based on requirements. It is usually too serious stuff just to hand over to a developers for solution.

Solution 6 - Database

There are many ways to do this. My favorite way is:

  1. Add a mod_user field to your source table (the one you want to log).

  2. Create a log table that contains the fields you want to log, plus a log_datetime and seq_num field. seq_num is the primary key.

  3. Build a trigger on the source table that inserts the current record into the log table whenever any monitored field is changed.

Now you've got a record of every change and who made it.

Solution 7 - Database

What we have in our table:-

Primary Key
Event type (e.g. "UPDATED", "APPROVED")
Description ("Frisbar was added to blong")
User Id
User Id of second authoriser
Generic Id
Table Name

The generic id points at a row in the table that was updated and the table name is the name of that table as a string. Not a good DB design, but very usable. All our tables have a single surrogate key column so this works well.

Solution 8 - Database

According to the principle of separation:

  1. Auditing data tables need to be separate from the main database. Because audit databases can have a lot of historical data, it makes sense from a memory utilization standpoint to keep them separate.

  2. Do not use triggers to audit the whole database, because you will end up with a mess of different databases to support. You will have to write one for DB2, SQLServer, Mysql, etc.


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