Relational Database Query Optimization

This is a continuation of my posts on relational databases, started here. Previous posts on this theme, “Data Modeling“, “Let’s Talk About Database Schema“, “The Exasperating Topic of Database Indexes“, and “The Keys & Relationships of Relational Databases“.

Query optimization refers to the process of selecting the most efficient way to execute a SQL query. The goal is to retrieve the requested data as quickly and efficiently as possible, making the best use of system resources. Given that there can be multiple strategies to retrieve the same set of data, the optimizer’s role is to choose the best one based on factors like data distribution, statistics, and available resources.

Query Optimizers

Here’s a brief overview:

1. SQL Server

Query Execution Plans: SQL Server provides graphical execution plans which allow you to see how the query optimizer plans to execute your query. There are mainly three types of execution plans:

  • Estimated Execution Plan: Provides an estimated plan without running the query.
  • Actual Execution Plan: Provides the plan after the query has been executed.
  • Text Execution Plan: Provides a textual representation of the execution plan.

How to Launch:

  • In SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS), after writing a query, you can right-click and select either “Display Estimated Execution Plan” or execute the query and select “Include Actual Execution Plan”. The plan then appears in a separate tab.

Database Engine Tuning Advisor: This is a separate tool that can analyze a workload and provide recommendations for indexes, indexed views, and partitioning.

2. Oracle

Explain Plan: The EXPLAIN PLAN statement displays the execution path chosen by the Oracle optimizer for a SQL statement. The plan is generated without executing the query.

How to Launch:

  • In SQL*Plus or any Oracle SQL tool, you can use the command: EXPLAIN PLAN FOR <your SQL statement>; and then query the PLAN_TABLE to see the results.

SQL Tuning Advisor: This tool provides recommendations to improve the performance of SQL queries.

How to Launch:

  • It can be accessed from Oracle Enterprise Manager (OEM) or directly from SQL with the DBMS_SQLTUNE package.

3. MariaDB/MySQL

EXPLAIN: This command can be used to obtain a query execution plan, which describes how MySQL intends to execute your query.

How to Launch:

  • Simply prefix your SELECT, DELETE, INSERT, REPLACE, or UPDATE statement with the word EXPLAIN.

Optimizer Trace: MySQL also offers an optimizer trace that provides insight into the optimizer’s decision-making process.

4. PostgreSQL

EXPLAIN: PostgreSQL also uses the EXPLAIN command to see the execution plan of a SQL statement.

How to Launch:

  • Prefix your query with the EXPLAIN keyword in the PostgreSQL command line, PgAdmin, or any PostgreSQL SQL tool.

pg_stat_statements Module: This is an extension in PostgreSQL that captures execution statistics of SQL statements, giving insights about frequently executed queries, their average execution time, and more.

How to Launch:

  • First, enable the pg_stat_statements in the postgresql.conf file or on server start. Once done, you can query the pg_stat_statements view to see the statistics.

For all these databases, it’s important to remember that understanding the underlying data model, data distribution, and application requirements is crucial when interpreting the recommendations and execution plans from these tools. Always test the recommendations in a non-production environment before implementing them in production.

Common Optimizations

  1. “Speedy Searchers” (Indexes):
    • Use them: Create the right indexes to supercharge your search queries. Think of it as the fast lane on the database highway!
  2. “Fresh Intel” (Update Statistics):
    • Keep your database in-the-know: Regularly update the statistics so the database has fresh intel on your data layout and can make smarter decisions.
  3. “Join the Party Right” (Optimize Joins):
    • Don’t let your tables just mash together; ensure that they join on indexed columns and minimize rows with precision, like an elite party guest list.
  4. “Break it to Make it” (Partitioning):
    • Too much data? No problem! Break your big tables into manageable pieces. It’s like organizing a messy room into tidy sections.
  5. “Déjà Vu Data” (Caching):
    • Remember the results of common queries so you can serve them up instantly next time. It’s like having your favorite dish pre-made and ready to serve.
  6. “Shape Shifter Queries” (Query Rewriting):
    • A little twist and turn can change the game. Rewrite your queries for a new perspective and often, faster results.
  7. “Be Picky” (Selective Retrieval):
    • Don’t grab everything off the shelf! Only pick up what you need. Use specific column names instead of SELECT *.
  8. “Slim & Trim” (Limit Data):
    • Stay in shape! Use LIMIT, OFFSET, and WHERE to fetch just the right amount of data and keep things lean.
  9. “Design Detective” (Normalization):
    • Investigate and restructure: Ensure your database design is optimal. A well-organized schema is half the battle won!
  10. “Peek Under the Hood” (Profiling & EXPLAIN):
    • Don’t just run your queries blindly; use profiling tools and the EXPLAIN command to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

Esoteric Optimizations

While the basic principles of query optimization apply across the board, there are some advanced and often less-commonly applied techniques that can squeeze out more performance, especially in edge cases or specific scenarios. Here are some of the more uncommon ways to optimize queries:

  1. Materialized Query Tables (MQTs):
    • Sometimes found in enterprise-level RDBMSs like DB2, MQTs are like views that store results of a query and can be refreshed periodically. They can help optimize complex computations, but require a balance of when to refresh the MQT versus querying it.
  2. Bitmap Indexing:
    • While B-tree and hash indexes are more common, bitmap indexes can be beneficial for columns with a low cardinality (few unique values). They’re especially useful for data warehousing scenarios where AND/OR operations are frequent.
  3. Index-Organized Tables (IOT):
    • Offered by systems like Oracle, IOTs are tables stored in a B-tree structure. This can lead to faster access times for certain types of queries, but with trade-offs in other operations like inserts.
  4. Database In-Memory:
    • Databases like Oracle offer an in-memory option. While the main data can be on disk, frequently accessed data is stored in-memory in a columnar format, enabling rapid analytics.
  5. Clustered Columnstore Indexes:
    • Available in systems like SQL Server, these indexes store data in a columnar format, optimizing it for reading large amounts of data, beneficial for analytics.
  6. Query Rewrite:
    • Some advanced RDBMSs can recognize when a new query is logically equivalent to a previous one and will use cached results or a more optimized path. This often requires a deep understanding of the optimizer’s logic and might involve hints or specific syntax.
  7. Use of Zone Maps:
    • Zone maps (or storage indexes) keep track of ranges of values for columns stored in specific data blocks or extents. This allows the database to skip over large portions of data that aren’t relevant to a query.
  8. Database Compression:
    • Some databases offer on-the-fly compression and decompression. This reduces I/O, which often is a major bottleneck. However, there’s CPU overhead for compression operations.
  9. Adaptive Cursor Sharing:
    • Systems like Oracle can generate multiple execution plans for a single query to adapt to different bind variable values, optimizing performance for varied use cases.
  10. Parallel Query Execution:
    • For very large datasets, databases like Oracle and SQL Server can split a single query to run in parallel across multiple CPU cores or threads. This requires a fine balance to prevent resource contention.

Many of these uncommon methods require a deep understanding of both the database system in question and the specific workload being optimized. Additionally, many are context-specific: they might offer significant benefits in one scenario while being detrimental in another. As always, thorough testing and monitoring are essential when implementing advanced optimization techniques.

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