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Execution plans


My favourite format options for dbms_xplan.display_cursor().

This is another of those posts where I tell you about something that I’ve frequently mentioned but never documented explicitly as a good (or, at least, convenient) idea. It also another example of how easy it is to tell half the story most of the time when someone asks a “simple” question.

E-rows / A-rows

A recent post on the OTN database forum reminded me how easy it is to forget to keep repeating a piece of information after the first couple of hundred times you’ve explained it. No matter how “intuitively obvious” it is for one person, it’s new to someone else.

Here’s an execution plan that raised the question that prompted this note – it comes from calling dbms_xplan.display_cursor() with the ‘allstats last’ format option after enabling rowsource execution statisics (using hint gather_plan_statistics, or setting parameter statistics_level to all, or setting hidden parameter “_rowsource_execution_statistics” to true):


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:

Connect By

I received an email a couple of days ago that was a little different from usual – although the obvious answer was “it’s the data”. A connect by query with any one of several hundred input values ran in just a few seconds, but with one specific input it was still running 4,000 seconds later using the same execution plan – was this a bug ?

There’s nothing to suggest that it should be, with skewed data anything can happen: even a single table access by exact index could take 1/100th of a second to return a result if there was only one row matching the requirement and 1,000 seconds if there were 100,000 rows in 100,000 different table blocks (and the table was VERY big). The same scaling problem could be true of any type of query – and “connect by” queries can expose you to a massive impact because their run time can increase geometrically as the recursion takes place.

Parallel DML

A recent posting on OTN presented a performance anomaly when comparing a parallel “insert /*+ append */” with a parallel “create table as select”.  The CTAS statement took about 4 minutes, the insert about 45 minutes. Since the process of getting the data into the data blocks would be the same in both cases something was clearly not working properly. Following Occam’s razor, the first check had to be the execution plans – when two statements that “ought” to do the same amount of work take very different times it’s probably something to do with the execution plans – so here are the two statements with their plans:

First the insert, which took 45 minutes:


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:

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.)

CTEs and Updates

An important target of trouble-shooting, particularly when addressing performance problems, is to minimise the time and effort you have to spend to get a “good enough” result. A recent question on the OTN database forum struck me as a good demonstration of following this strategy; the problem featured a correlated update that had to access a view 84 times to update a small table; but the view was a complex view (apparently non-mergeable) and the update took several hours to complete even though the view, when instantiated, held only 63 rows.

The OP told us that the query “select * from view” took seven minutes to return those 63 rows, and wanted to know if we could find a nice way to perform the update in (approximately) that seven minutes, rather than using the correlated update approach that seemed to take something in the ballpark of 7 minutes per row updated.

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.