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Indexes vs. Full Table Scan: Picture vs. 1000 Words (Pictures Of Lily) June 8, 2012

Posted by Richard Foote in CBO, Clustering Factor, Oracle Indexes.

I’m in the process of writing a number of new presentations and in one I’ve included a favorite little graph of mine that I’ve used over the years to help illustrate the relationship between the cost of using an index vs. the cost of using a Full Table Scan (FTS). It’s occurred to me that I’ve never actually shared this graph on this blog, so I thought it about time I did.

The Cost Based Optimizer (CBO) when choosing between an index scan and a FTS will simply go for the cheapest option. The more rows that are retrieved (or the greater the percentage of rows retrieved), the more expensive the index option as it needs to perform more logical I/Os. There will generally be a point when the selectivity of  a query is such, that so many rows are retrieved, that the index costs will increase beyond those of the FTS and the FTS becomes the cheaper option.

The cost of a FTS meanwhile is pretty well constant regardless of  the number of rows retrieved. It needs to read all the blocks in the table, whatever the selectivity of the query.

Although I’ve not quite reached 1000 words, the below graph illustrates this point:

The red line represents the constant cost of the FTS. The green lines represents the cost of using various indexes, which increases as more rows are retrieved. The “steepness” of the green line and the subsequent increase in cost of the index as more rows are retrieved is due entirely to the Clustering Factor of the index. The steeper the line, the worse (higher) the Clustering Factor, the less efficient the index and the quicker we get to the point when the FTS becomes cheaper. The less steep the line, the better (lower) the Clustering Factor, the more efficient the index and the longer it takes for the FTS to become the cheaper option.

In some rarer cases, the index might be so efficient (or the FTS so inefficient) that the index never reaches the point of the FTS and the CBO decides it’s overall cheaper for the index to potentially access 100% of all rows in a table rather than via a FTS.

Ok, so now you have almost 1000 words and the picture 🙂