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Bitmap Nulls

It’s fairly well known that in Oracle B-tree indexes on heap tables don’t hold entries where all the indexed columns are all null, but that bitmap indexes will hold such entries and execution plans can for predicates like “column is null” can use bitmap indexes. Here’s a little test case to demonstrate the point (I ran this last on 12.1.0.1):


create table t1 (val number, n1 number, padding varchar2(100));

insert into t1
select
	decode(rownum,1,to_number(null),rownum), rownum, rpad('x',100)
from
	all_objects
where
	rownum <= 1000
;

insert into t1 select * from t1;
insert into t1 select * from t1;
insert into t1 select * from t1;
insert into t1 select * from t1;
insert into t1 select * from t1;

commit;

create bitmap index t1_b1 on t1(val);

execute dbms_stats.gather_table_stats(user,'t1');

set autotrace traceonly explain

select * from t1 where val is null;

set autotrace off

The execution plan for this query, in the system I happened to be using, looked like this:


Execution Plan
----------------------------------------------------------
Plan hash value: 1201576309

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id  | Operation                           | Name  | Rows  | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time     |
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
|   0 | SELECT STATEMENT                    |       |    32 |  3488 |     8   (0)| 00:00:01 |
|   1 |  TABLE ACCESS BY INDEX ROWID BATCHED| T1    |    32 |  3488 |     8   (0)| 00:00:01 |
|   2 |   BITMAP CONVERSION TO ROWIDS       |       |       |       |            |          |
|*  3 |    BITMAP INDEX SINGLE VALUE        | T1_B1 |       |       |            |          |
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Predicate Information (identified by operation id):
---------------------------------------------------
   3 - access("VAL" IS NULL)

Note that the predicate section shows us that we used the “column is null” predicate as an access predicate into the index.

Of course, this is a silly little example – I’ve only published it to make a point and to act as a reference case if you ever need to support a claim. Normally we don’t expect a single bitmap index to be a useful way to access a table, we tend to use combinations of bitmap indexes to combine a number of predicates so that we can minimise the trips to a table as efficiently as possible. (And we certainly DON’T create a bitmap index on an OLTP system because it lets us access NULLs by index — OLTP and bitmaps don’t get on well together.)

If you do a symbolic block dump, by the way, you’ll find that the NULL is represented by the special “length byte” of 0xFF with no following data.