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Hybrid Columnar Compression in 12.2 – nice new feature

Oracle 12.2 introduced an interesting optimisation for Hybrid Columnar Compression (HCC). Until 12.2 you had to use direct path inserts into HCC compressed segments for data to be actually compressed. If you didn’t use a direct path insert you would still succeed in entering data into the segment, however your newly inserted data was not HCC compressed. There is no error message or other warning telling you about that, which can lead to surprises for the unaware.

My friend and colleague Nick has pointed out that the official HCC white paper states – somewhat hidden – that this requirement is no longer as strict in 12.2. I haven’t managed to find the document Nick pointed out, but a quick search using my favourite retrieval engine unearthed the updated version for 18c.

The new feature is easy to miss: you read on page 3 that data must be loaded using data warehouse bulk loading (direct path) techniques. Examples of said technologies follow before the author continues with a discussion about querying HCC data. For me that was the end of the subject… Turns out it wasn’t: the nugget Nick unearthed was on page 4, in the last paragraph before the next section on “HCC Warehouse (Query) Compression”. Quoting literally from said white paper:

Starting with Oracle Database 12.2, HCC automatically compresses new data from SQL INSERT … SELECT statements, without the APPEND hint and array inserts from programmatic interfaces such as PL/SQL and the Oracle Call Interface (OCI).

Aha! Once you know what to look for you find the same information in the 12.2 new features guide, too. Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for all those trees.

So there is no more need for the append hint for insert-select in 12.2? This would be great news, and should alleviate some issues people have from unknowingly using HCC without direct path inserts. And it’s good for concurrency! Although I do like white papers, there are times when the white paper has to be checked against the lab to see if it is actually true.

I did exactly this for this blog post.

12.2 Test Case

I am using the SOE.ORDERS table for that purpose, as it holds a fair bit of data. To see whether the new algorithm works I decided to create a new empty table ORDERS_HCC with the same table structure as SOE.ORDERS. In the next step I issue an insert-select statement. If the white paper is correct it’ll compress the data using Query High.

SQL (12.2)> show user    
USER is "SOE"
SQL (12.2)> select banner from v$version where rownum  create table orders_hcc 
  2  column store compress for query high 
  3  as select * from orders where 1 = 0; 
                                                                                                
Table created.

SQL (12.2)> insert into orders_hcc 
  2  select * from orders where rownum  commit;

Commit complete.

SQL (12.2)>

Note that I specifically omitted the /*+ append */ hint in the insert statement. Also note that the preceding CTAS statement didn’t select any rows from the source. In Oracle releases up to and including 12.1, data in ORDERS_HCC would not be compressed at the end of this little code snippet.

But how can you prove the white paper is right? Thankfully Oracle is well instrumented, and even more thankfully that instrumentation not limited to performance. The Oracle-provided dbms_compression package features a procedure called “get_compression_type()”, which allows you to pass it a ROWID and some other information and it’ll tell you the block’s compression algorithm.

Remember that you can change the compression algorithm for a given segment many times over. A partition in a range partitioned table can start uncompressed while being actively used, and as data gets colder, compression levels can be increased. Technically speaking the “alter table … column store” command on its own does not change the way data is stored in the segment. Data currently stored will remain in whatever state it was before changing the compression attribute. Only newly inserted data will be compressed according to the changed segment attribute.

Back to the example: using DBMS_COMPRESSION I would like to find out if my table data is indeed compressed for Query High after my earlier insert command. Let’s see if it is, using the first 10 rows as a rough indication.

SQL (12.2)> select dbms_compression.get_compression_type(user, 'ORDERS_HCC', rowid) ctype
  2  from ORDERS_HCC where rownum < 11;

     CTYPE
----------
	 4
	 4
	 4
	 4
	 4
	 4
	 4
	 4
	 4
	 4

10 rows selected.

Well it would appear as if these are all compressed for Query High (QH). Looking at the package definition I can see that a compression type of 4 indicates Query High.

So far so good, but I merely checked 10 out of 1 million rows. I’m fairly sure the rest of the table is also HCC compressed for QH, but I want proof. To remove any doubts, I can query the whole table. I’m doing this so you don’t have to. The next query will take forever (eg certainly more than 1 minute) to execute, and it is CPU bound so please don’t do this at work. If you really feel like having to run a query like this, don’t do it outside the lab. You have been warned :)

SQL (12.2)> with comptypes as (
  2   select rownum rn, dbms_compression.get_compression_type(user, 'ORDERS_HCC', rowid) ctype
  3     from ORDERS_HCC
  4  )
  5      select count(*), ctype from comptypes group by ctype;

  COUNT(*)      CTYPE
---------- ----------
   1000000          4

I always start these types of queries in a screen (1) session to prevent network connection issues from interrupting my long running task. After some time, the query returns with the results as you can see. The entire table is compressed with Query High.

Summary

Array-inserts into HCC segments can compress data in Oracle 12.2 even if you don’t specify the append hint. The behaviour for conventional inserts did not change. I am going to post another piece of research containing some more data later this week or next.