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BY off a query. Just because your query plan includes an index does not mean the data will be returned in some order. The only way to retrieve data from the database in some sorted order is to include an ORDER BY on your query. There is no substitute for ORDER BY.
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When Should You Use a B*Tree Index
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Not being a big believer in rules of thumb (there are exceptions to every rule), I don t have any rules of thumb for when to use (or not to use) a B*Tree index. To demonstrate why I don t have any rules of thumb for this case, I ll present two equally valid ones: Only use B*Tree to index columns if you are going to access a very small percentage of the rows in the table via the index. Use a B*Tree index if you are going to process many rows of a table and the index can be used instead of the table. These rules seem to offer conflicting advice, but in reality, they do not they just cover two extremely different cases. There are two ways to use an index given the preceding advice: As the means to access rows in a table: You will read the index to get to a row in the table. Here you want to access a very small percentage of the rows in the table. As the means to answer a query: The index contains enough information to answer the entire query we will not have to go to the table at all. The index will be used as a thinner version of the table. There are other ways as well for example, we could be using an index to retrieve all of the rows in a table, including columns that are not in the index itself. That seemingly goes counter to both rules of thumb just presented. The case that would be true would be an interactive application where you are getting some of the rows and displaying them, then some more, and so on. You want to have the query optimized for initial response time, not overall throughput. The first case (i.e., use the index if you are going to access a small percentage of the table) says if you have a table T (using the same table T from earlier) and you have a query plan that looks like this: ops$tkyte@ORA10G> set autotrace traceonly explain ops$tkyte@ORA10G> select owner, status 2 from t 3 where owner = USER; Execution Plan ---------------------------------------------------------0 SELECT STATEMENT Optimizer=ALL_ROWS (Cost=3 Card=1947 Bytes=25311) 1 0 TABLE ACCESS (BY INDEX ROWID) OF 'T' (TABLE) (Cost=3 Card=1947 .... 2 1 INDEX (RANGE SCAN) OF 'DESC_T_IDX' (INDEX) (Cost=2 Card=8) then you should be accessing a very small percentage of this table. The issue to look at here is the INDEX (RANGE SCAN) followed by the TABLE ACCESS BY INDEX ROWID. This means that Oracle will read the index and then, for the index entries, it will perform a database block read (logical or physical I/O) to get the row data. This is not the most efficient method if you are going to have to access a large percentage of the rows in T via the index (shortly we will define what a large percentage might be).
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In the second case (i.e., when the index can be used instead of the table), you can process 100 percent (or any percentage, in fact) of the rows via the index. You might use an index just to create a thinner version of a table. The following query demonstrates this concept: ops$tkyte@ORA10G> select count(*) 2 from t 3 where owner = user; Execution Plan ---------------------------------------------------------0 SELECT STATEMENT Optimizer=ALL_ROWS (Cost=16 Card=1 Bytes=6) 1 0 SORT (AGGREGATE) 2 1 INDEX (RANGE SCAN) OF 'T_IDX' (INDEX) (Cost=16 Card=1947 Here, only the index was used to answer the query it would not matter now what percentage of rows we were accessing, as we would use the index only. We can see from the plan that the underlying table was never accessed; we simply scanned the index structure itself. It is important to understand the difference between the two concepts. When we have to do a TABLE ACCESS BY INDEX ROWID, we must ensure we are accessing only a small percentage of the total blocks in the table, which typically equates to a small percentage of the rows, or that we need the first rows to be retrieved as fast as possible (the end user is waiting for them impatiently). If we access too high a percentage of the rows (larger than somewhere between 1 and 20 percent of the rows), then it will generally take longer to access them via a B*Tree than by just full scanning the table. With the second type of query, where the answer is found entirely in the index, we have a different story. We read an index block and pick up many rows to process, then we go on to the next index block, and so on we never go to the table. There is also a fast full scan we can perform on indexes to make this even faster in certain cases. A fast full scan is when the database reads the index blocks in no particular order; it just starts reading them. It is no longer using the index as an index, but even more like a table at that point. Rows do not come out ordered by index entries from a fast full scan. In general, a B*Tree index would be placed on columns that we use frequently in the predicate of a query, and we would expect some small fraction of the data from the table to be returned or else the end user demands immediate feedback. On a thin table (i.e., a table with few or small columns), this fraction may be very small. A query that uses this index should expect to retrieve 2 to 3 percent or less of the rows to be accessed in the table. On a fat table (i.e., a table with many columns or very wide columns), this fraction might go all the way up to 20 to 25 percent of the table. This advice doesn t always seem to make sense to everyone immediately; it is not intuitive, but it is accurate. An index is stored sorted by index key. The index will be accessed in sorted order by key. The blocks that are pointed to are stored randomly in a heap. Therefore, as we read through an index to access the table, we will perform lots of scattered, random I/O. By scattered, I mean that the index will tell us to read block 1, block 1,000, block 205, block 321, block 1, block 1,032, block 1, and so on it won t ask us to read block 1, then block 2, and then block 3 in a consecutive manner. We will tend to read and reread blocks in a very haphazard fashion. This single block I/O can be very slow. As a simplistic example of this, let s say we are reading that thin table via an index, and we are going to read 20 percent of the rows. Assume we have 100,000 rows in the table. Twenty percent of that is 20,000 rows. If the rows are about 80 bytes apiece in size, on a database with
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