What limit should be placed on the number of rows to delete in a SQL statement?
We need to delete from 1 to several hundred thousand rows and need to apply some sort of best practise limit in order to not absolutely kill the SQL server or fill up the logs every time we empty a waste-basket.
This question is not specific to any type of database.
That's a very very broad question that basically boils down to "it depends". The factors that influence it include:
What is your level of concurrency? A delete statement places an exclusive lock on affected rows. Depending on the databse engine, deleted data distribution, etc., that could escalate to page or entire table. Can your data readers afford to be blocked for the duration of the delete?
How complex is the delete statement? How many other tables are you joining to, or are there complex WHERE clauses? Sometimes the identification of rows to delete can be more "expensive" than the delete itself, so one big delete may be "cheaper".
Are you fearful about deadlocks? As you decrease the size of your delete, your deadlock "foot print" is reduced. Ideally, single-row deletes will always succeed.
Do you care about throughput performance? As with any SQL statement, there is a generally constant amount of overhead (connection stuff, query parsing, returning results, etc.). From a single-connection point of view, a 1000-line delete will be faster than 1000 x 1-line deletes.
Don't forget about index maintenance overhead, fragmentation cleanup, or any triggers. They can also affect your system.
In general, though, I benchmark at 1000-lines per statement. Most systems I've worked with (sub-"enterprise") end up with a sweet-spot between 500 and 5000 records per delete. I like to do something like this:
set rowcount 500 select 1 -- Just to force @@rowcount > 0 while @@ROWCOUNT > 0 delete from [table] [where ...]