Thursday, January 7, 2010

How things work : SQL Select Statement


Ever asked your self how things work inside the SQL Select statement? In this article we won’t be talking about how to write SQL Select statement but rather we will be talking about the algorithms and the methodology behind the Select statement and how SQL decides which algorithm it will use to filter out the results and return our expected results.

Selecting an Algorithm:

In fact you can’t do so, it is up to the SQL Optimizer implementation to determine the selected algorithm that best match the query you are going to invoke in order to enhance the query performance or in other words Optimize it, so you don’t have control over selecting the algorithm although some SQL Optimizer implementations tried to enable the DB Admin to specify which selection algorithm is suitable based on the admin knowledge (for example the admin might know that binary search –we will mentioned that latter- might be the best choice).

The Preparation:

We need to get prepared first and get familiar with the terminologies that we will be using through the article

Before we go further we need to know the types of indexes:

• Primary index – allows records to be read in an order that corresponds to the physical order in the file.
• Secondary index – any index that is not a primary index.

When we make an index we create something like a database for Indexing except it only include the key being indexed and the location counter which holds the location on the record in the database itself (the one that contains the data).
Access path: An access path is an algorithm used by Database to satisfy the requirements of SQL statements.

The Selection Criteria:

As all of us know the SQL Select operation is used to filter and select results based on criteria.

For a simple selection there are two methods to base the selection on:

-Table Scan (AKA File scan): the scan scans all the records of the table. For large tables, this can take a long time. But for very small tables, a table scan can actually be faster than an Index Seek and we get the records that satisfy the search criteria in a fast manner.

-Index Scan: as the name implies all the rows in the leaf level of the index are scanned this means that all of the rows of the table or the index are examined instead of the table directly (this involve a search which would use an index).

Optimizer in Action:

When the SQL is first time executed, the optimizer must first determine whether an index exists. You can query any column of any table and an index is not required to do so. So, the optimizer must be able to access non-indexed data; it does this using a scan. In most cases the preference is to use an index as an index greatly optimizes data retrieval. However, an index cannot be used if one does not exist. And certain types of SQL statements simply are best satisfied with a complete scan of the data as shown below.

“ Select * from Employee”

Below is how the optimizer bases its decision on whether to use and index retrieval or no.

-Search Algorithm:

-Linear Search: considered the easiest and most straightforward search through the database as it retrieves every record and tests it against the criteria to see if it satisfies it or no.
The linear search can either retrieve the data itself (as in the Select operation) or the data location (as in the Update operation)
“ Select Emp_Name from Employee”

-Binary Search: a more efficient search algorithm than the linear search but only applies if selection condition contains equality comparison on a key attribute (in which the table is ordered based on it).

“ Select Emp_Name from Employee where SSN=’123456789’ ”

-Index Search:

-Using Primary Index: when the condition involves equality comparison on a key attribute with primary index (SSN in this case), then the primary index is used to retrieve at most one record.

 “ Select Emp_Name from Employee where SSN=’123456789’ ”

-Using Primary Index (retrieve multiple records): when the condition involves a comparison condition (>, <, <=,>=) on key field with primary index (Dep_Number in this case). This returns records that satisfy the condition and the results will be ordered as they are in the file.

“ Select Dep_Name from Department where Dep_Number>5 ”

-Using Clustering index: if the selection condition involves equality comparison on a non-key attribute which happens to have a clustered index, then the index will be used to retrieve all records satisfying the condition

“ Select Emp_Name from Department where Dep_Number=5 ”

-Secondary Index (B Tree): A secondary index is automatically used during searching if it improves the efficiency of the search. Secondary indexes are maintained by the system and are invisible to the user, when the condition involves equality comparison on a key field then it retrieves a single record and it returns multiple records if the indexing field is not a key. It can also be used with (>, >=, < or <+).

Complex Selections:

Complex selection contains 2 types:

Conjunction: when a statement is made up from simple conditions (as shown above) connected with AND.

 “ Select Dep_Name from Department where Dep_Size>50 AND Dep_Revenue > 1000

Disjunction: when a statement is made up from simple conditions (as shown above) connected with OR.

“ Select Dep_Name from Department where Dep_Size>50 OR Dep_Revenue > 1000 ”

-Conjunctive Selection using one (individual) index: If there is an access path for an attribute in one of the simple conditions in the conjunctive statement. If yes, above algorithms can be used. After retrieving the records test if each record satisfies the remaining simple conditions in the conjunctive condition or no (all the above access path will be tested except for the linear search).

-Conjunctive Selection using composite index (multiple attributes): if two or more attributes are involved in equality in the conjunctive condition and a composite index exists on a combined filed we can use the index directly in other words we will search index directly if selection specifies an equality condition on 2 or more attributes and a composite index exists so in this case access path that depends on the index will be taken into consideration(linear and binary search wont be used) for example: here we created an index on the composite key (Customer_ID ,Product_ID)

“ Select * from CustomerProduct where Customer_ID=15 AND Product_ID=250 ”

-Conjunction selection by intersection of identifiers: Requires indexes with record pointers (record pointer is and identifier for a record and provides the address of this record on the disk).
If secondary indexes or other access path are available on more than one of the fields involved in simple conditions in the conjunctive condition and if the indexes include record pointers, scan each index for pointers that satisfy an individual condition and then take intersection of all retrieved pointers to get set of pointers that satisfy the conjunctive condition.

-Disjunction selection: compared to a conjunctive selection a disjunctive selection is harder to process and optimize, in such situation the optimization that can be done is not that much as the records satisfy the disjunction condition are the union of the records satisfying the individual conditions.

If any one of the conditions doesn’t have access path then we will be forced to use linear search and if we have access path for every single condition then we can apply optimization by retrieving the records satisfying every condition and then union the outcome to eliminate duplicates

“ Select * from Employee where Employee_Gender=’M’ OR Employee_Salary > 10000  OR Employee_Department=5”

The Execution:

When a single condition specifies the selection (simple selection) we can check if an access path exists on the attribute involved in that condition, if yes then this access path will be used for the execution otherwise the linear search will be used.
The Query Optimization won’t be able to do much in the case we have only single simple condition on the opposite it will do a great job when there are conjunctive queries this is whenever more than one of the attributes involved in the select condition have access path, here the query optimizer takes action and choose the access path that returns the fewest records the in most efficient manner by estimating the different costs and choosing the method with the least estimated cost.


In this article we have seen how SQL Optimizer optimizes the select statement in order to achieve the best performance, optimizer uses index to satisfy the selection condition if the following criteria were met:

•    At least one of the SQL selection condition must be indexable. Certain conditions are not indexable by their nature and therefore the optimizer will never be able to use an index to satisfy them.

•    One of the columns (in any indexable select condition) must exist as a column in an available index.

And the optimizer would use a linear search if the above criteria weren’t met.
After that the optimizer will go one step further and try to determine which access path (if exists) would return the fewest records in the most efficient manner and that’s by doing an estimate of the costs for each access paths. Next time we will be talking about algorithms behind this estimate so stay tuned ;)


Ann on MLM System said...

I've studied SQL, Java, C++, Oracle and a lot more programs way back in my college days. But the most that I enjoyed is SQL. Since I love Mathematics, my favorite part is the search using AND/OR commands. The logic is like addition or minus, right?

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!

Magento themes said...

SQL statements works very clearly and handsomely. If you know how to use it