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The OTN database forum supplied a little puzzle a few days ago – starting with the old, old, question: “Why is the plan with the higher cost taking less time to run?”

The standard (usually correct) answer to this question is that the optimizer doesn’t know all it needs to know to predict what’s going to happen, and even if it had perfect information about your data the model used isn’t perfect anyway. This was the correct answer in this case, but with a little twist in the tail that made it a little more entertaining. Here’s the query, with the two execution plans and the execution statistics from autotrace:

Set Operations

A recent post on the OTN database forum highlights a couple of important points ideas for optimising SQL. There are: (a) is there a logically equivalent way of stating the SQL and (b) is there a different “natural language” way of posing the problem.

The posting starts with a query, part of an execution plan, and a request to “get rid of the tablescan”. I guessed originally that the query came from an 11g instance, and the OP gave us some code to create the tables and indexes, so I’ve modelled the tables to get the indicated plan (then filled in the original numbers). This is the query, and my cosmetically adjusted version of the plan output that the OP probably got:


Here’s one of those odd little tricks that (a) may help in a couple of very special cases and (b) may show up at some future date – or maybe it already does – in the optimizer if it is recognised as a solution to a more popular problem. It’s about an apparent restriction on how the optimizer uses the BITMAP MERGE operation, and to demonstrate a very simple case I’ll start with a data set with just one bitmap index:

Top Executions SQL Monitoring style reports in SQLd360

I think SQL Monitoring is an amazing tool when it comes to SQL Tuning but I often find that for one reason or another the report is almost never around for post-mortem investigation.
Historical SQL Monitoring reports have been introduced in 12c but still the decision to collect or no the report for the SQL ID we are interested in depends on several factors we have no control on after the issue happened </p />

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Subquery Effects

Towards the end of last year I used a query with a couple of “constant” subqueries as a focal point for a blog note on reading parallel execution plans. One of the comments on that note raised a question about cardinality estimates and, coincidentally, I received an email about the cost calculations for a similar query a few days later.

Unfortunately there are all sorts of anomalies, special cases, and changes that show up across versions when subqueries come into play – it’s only in recent versions of 11.2, for example, that a very simple example I’ve got of three equivalent statements that produce the same execution plan report the same costs and cardinality. (The queries are:  table with IN subquery, table with EXISTS subquery, table joined to “manually unnested” subquery – the three plans take the unnested subquery shape.)

NLS Mess

The Oracle database has all sorts of little details built into it to help it deal with multi-national companies, but since they’re not commonly used you can find all sorts of odd “buggy” bits of behaviour when you start to look closely. I have to put “buggy” in quotes because some of the reported oddities are the inevitable consequences of (for example) how multi-byte character sets have to work; but some of the oddities look as if they simply wouldn’t be there if the programmer writing the relevant bit of code had remembered that they also had to cater for some NLS feature.

Column Groups

I think column groups can be amazingly useful in helping the optimizer to generate good execution plans because of the way they supply better details about cardinality; unfortunately we’ve already seen a few cases (don’t forget to check the updates and comments) where the feature is disabled, and another example of this appeared on OTN very recently.

Modifying the example from OTN to make a more convincing demonstration of the issue, here’s some SQL to prepare a demonstration:


Here’s a live one from OTN – here are a couple of extracts from the problem statement:

We’re experiencing an issue where it seems that the query plan changes from day to day for a particular procedure that runs once a night.
It’s resulting in a performance variance of 10 second completion time vs 20 minutes (nothing in between).
It started occurring about 2 months ago and now it’s becoming more prevalent where the bad query plan is coming up more often.
I noticed that the query plans vary for a simple query.
We do run gather statistics every night. (DBMS_STATS.GATHER_SCHEMA_STATS (ownname=>sys_context( ‘userenv’, ‘current_schema’ ), estimate_percent => 1);)

The query and two execution plans look like this:

Histogram Tip

I’ve just responded to the call for items for the “IOUG Quick Tips” booklet for 2015 – so it’s probably about time to post the quick tip that I put into the 2014 issue. It’s probably nothing new to most readers of the blog, but sometimes an old thing presented in a new way offers fresh insights or better comprehension.

Histogram Tips

A histogram, created in the right way, at the right time, and supported by the correct client-side code, can be a huge benefit to the optimizer; but if you don’t create and use them wisely they can easily become a source of inconsistent performance, and the automatic statistics gathering can introduce an undesirable overhead during the overnight batch. This note explains how you can create histograms very cheaply on the few columns where they are most likely to have a beneficial effect.


Here’s a simple data set – I’m only interested in three of the columns in the work that follows, but it’s a data set that I use for a number of different models: