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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:


create table t1 ( col1 number, col2 number, col3 date);

insert  into t1
select 1 ,1 ,to_date('03-Nov-2015') from dual
union all
select 1, 2, to_date('03-Nov-2015')  from dual
union all
select 1, 1, to_date('03-Nov-2015')  from dual
union all
select 2, 2, to_date('03-Nov-2015')  from dual
union all   
select 1 ,1 ,null  from dual
union all  
select 1, 1, null  from dual
union all  
select 1, 1, null  from dual
union all
select 1 ,1 ,to_date('04-Nov-2015')  from dual
union all  
select 1, 1, to_date('04-Nov-2015')  from dual
union all  
select 1, 1, to_date('04-Nov-2015')  from dual
;

begin
        dbms_stats.gather_table_stats(
                ownname         => user,
                tabname         => 'T1',
                method_opt      => 'for all columns size 1'
        );

        dbms_stats.gather_table_stats(
                ownname         => user,
                tabname         => 'T1',
                method_opt      => 'for columns (col1, col2, col3)'
        );
end;
/

I’ve collected stats in a slightly unusual fashion because I want to make it clear that I’ve got “ordinary” stats on the table, with a histogram on the column group (col1, col2, col3). You’ll notice that this combination is a bit special – of the 10 rows in the table there are three with the values (1,1,null) and three with the values (1,1,’04-Nov-2015′), so some very clear skew to the data which results in Oracle gathering a frequency histogram on the table.

These two combinations are remarkably similar, so what happens when we execute a query to find them – since there are no indexes the plan will be a tablescan, but what will we see as the cardinality estimate ? Surely it will be the same for both combinations:


select  count(*)
from    t1
where
        col1 = 1
and     col2 = 1
and     col3 = '04-Nov-2015'
;

select  count(*)
from    t1
where
        col1 = 1
and     col2 = 1
and     col3 is null

Brief pause for thought …

and here are the execution plans, including predicate section – in the same order (from 11.2.0.4 and 12.1.0.2):


---------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id  | Operation          | Name | Rows  | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time     |
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
|   0 | SELECT STATEMENT   |      |     1 |    12 |     2   (0)| 00:00:01 |
|   1 |  SORT AGGREGATE    |      |     1 |    12 |            |          |
|*  2 |   TABLE ACCESS FULL| T1   |     3 |    36 |     2   (0)| 00:00:01 |
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Predicate Information (identified by operation id):
---------------------------------------------------
   2 - filter("COL1"=1 AND "COL2"=1 AND "COL3"=TO_DATE(' 2015-11-04
              00:00:00', 'syyyy-mm-dd hh24:mi:ss'))


---------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id  | Operation          | Name | Rows  | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time     |
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
|   0 | SELECT STATEMENT   |      |     1 |    12 |     2   (0)| 00:00:01 |
|   1 |  SORT AGGREGATE    |      |     1 |    12 |            |          |
|*  2 |   TABLE ACCESS FULL| T1   |     1 |    12 |     2   (0)| 00:00:01 |
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Predicate Information (identified by operation id):
---------------------------------------------------
   2 - filter("COL3" IS NULL AND "COL1"=1 AND "COL2"=1)

The predictions are different – the optimizer has used the histogram on the column group for the query with “col3 = to_date()”, but not for the query with “col3 is null”. That’s a bit of a shame really because there are bound to be cases where some queries would benefit enormously from having a column group used even when some of its columns are subject to “is null” tests.

Analysis

The demonstration above isn’t sufficient to prove the point, of course; it merely shows an example of a suspiciously bad estimate. Here are a few supporting details – first we show that both the NULL and the ’04-Nov-2015′ combinations do appear in the histogram. We do this by checking the column stats, the histogram stats, and the values that would be produced by the hashing function for the critical combinations:


set null "n/a"

select distinct
        col3,
        mod(sys_op_combined_hash(col1, col2, col3), 9999999999)
from    t1
where
        col3 is null
or      col3 = to_date('04-Nov-2015')
order by
        2
;

column endpoint_actual_value format a40
column column_name           format a32
column num_buckets           heading "Buckets"

select
        column_name,
        num_nulls, num_distinct, density,
        histogram, num_buckets
from
        user_tab_cols
where
        table_name = 'T1'

break on column_name skip 1

select
        column_name,
        endpoint_number, endpoint_value,
        endpoint_actual_value -- , endpoint_repeat_count
from
        user_tab_histograms
where
        table_name = 'T1'
and     column_name not like 'COL%'
order by
        table_name, column_name, endpoint_number
;

(For an explanation of the sys_op_combined_hash() function see this URL).

Here’s the output from the three queries:


COL3      MOD(SYS_OP_COMBINED_HASH(COL1,COL2,COL3),9999999999)
--------- ----------------------------------------------------
04-NOV-15                                           5347969765
n/a                                                 9928298503

COLUMN_NAME                       NUM_NULLS NUM_DISTINCT    DENSITY HISTOGRAM          Buckets
-------------------------------- ---------- ------------ ---------- --------------- ----------
COL1                                      0            2         .5 NONE                     1
COL2                                      0            2         .5 NONE                     1
COL3                                      3            2         .5 NONE                     1
SYS_STU2IZIKAO#T0YCS1GYYTTOGYE            0            5        .05 FREQUENCY                5


COLUMN_NAME                      ENDPOINT_NUMBER ENDPOINT_VALUE ENDPOINT_ACTUAL_VALUE
-------------------------------- --------------- -------------- ----------------------------------------
SYS_STU2IZIKAO#T0YCS1GYYTTOGYE                 1      465354344
                                               4     5347969765
                                               6     6892803587
                                               7     9853220028
                                              10     9928298503

As you can see, there’s a histogram only on the combination and Oracle has found 5 distinct values for the combination. At endpoint 4 you can see the combination that includes 4th Nov 2015 (with the interval 1 – 4 indicating a frequency of 3 rows) and at endpoint 10 you can see the combination that includes the null (again with an interval indicating 3 rows). The stats are perfect to get the job done, and yet the optimizer doesn’t seem to use them.

If we examine the optimizer trace file (event 10053) we can see concrete proof that this is the case when we examine the “Single Table Access Path” sections for the two queries – here’s a very short extract from each trace file, the first for the query with “col3 = to_date()”, the second for “col3 is null”:


ColGroup (#1, VC) SYS_STU2IZIKAO#T0YCS1GYYTTOGYE
  Col#: 1 2 3    CorStregth: 1.60
ColGroup Usage:: PredCnt: 3  Matches Full: #1  Partial:  Sel: 0.3000


ColGroup (#1, VC) SYS_STU2IZIKAO#T0YCS1GYYTTOGYE
  Col#: 1 2 3    CorStregth: 1.60
ColGroup Usage:: PredCnt: 2  Matches Full:  Partial:

Apparently “col3 is null” is not a predicate!

The column group can be used only if you have equality predicates on all the columns. This is a little sad – the only time that the sys_op_combined_hash() will return a null is (I think) when all its input are null, so there is one very special case for null handling with column groups – and even then the num_nulls for the column group would tell the optimizer what it needed to know. As it is, we have exactly the information we need to get a good cardinality estimate for the second query, but the optimizer is not going to use it.

Summary

If you create a column group to help the optimizer with cardinality calculations it will not be used for queries where any of the underlying columns is used in an “is null” predicate. This is coded into the optimizer, it doesn’t appear to be an accident.

Reference script: column_group_null.sql