Query Optimization

Before query optimization is carried out, one would of course need to decide what needs to be optimized. The goal of achieving efficiency itself may be different in different situations. For example, one may wish to minimize the processing time but in many situations one would wish to minimize the response time. In other situations, one may wish to minimize the I/O, network time, memory used or some sort of combination of these e.g. total resources used. Generally, a query processing algorithm A will be considered more efficient than an algorithm B if the measure of cost being minimized for processing the same query given the same resources using A is generally less than that for B.

To illustrate the desirability of optimization, we now present an example of a simple query that may be processed in several different ways. The following query retrieves subject names and instructor names of all current subjects in Computer Science that John Smith is enrolled in.

SELECT subject.name, instructor FROM student, enrolment, subject WHERE student.student_id = enrolment.student_id AND subject.subject_id = nrolment.subject_id AND subject.department = `Computer Science’ AND student.name = `John Smith’

To process the above query, two joins and two restrictions need to be performed. There are a number of different ways these may be performed including the following:

1. Join the relations student and enrolment, join the result with subject and then do the restrictions.
2. Join the relations student and enrolment, do the restrictions, join the result with subject
3. Do the restrictions, join the relations student and enrolment, join the result with subject
4. Join the relations enrolment and subject, join the result with student and then do the restrictions.

Here we are talking about the cost estimates. Before we attempt to compare the costs of the above four alternatives, it is necessary to understand that estimating the cost of a plan is often non- trivial. Since normally a database is disk-resident, often the cost of reading and writing to disk dominates the cost of processing a query. We would therefore estimate the cost of processing a query in terms of disk accesses or block accesses. Estimating the number of block accesses to process even a simple query is not necessarily straight forward since it would depend on how the data is stored and which, if any, indexes are available. In some database systems, relations are stored in packed form, that is, each block only has tuples of the same relation while other systems may store tuples from several relations in each block making it much more expensive to scan all of a relation.

Let us now compare the costs of the above four options. Since exact cost computations are difficult, we will use simple estimates of the cost. We consider a situation where the enrolment database consists of 10,000 tuples in the relation student, 50,000 in enrolment, and 1,000 in the relation subject. For simplicity, let us assume that the relations student and subject have tuples of similar size of around 100 bytes each and therefore and we can accommodate 10 tuples per block if the block is assumed to be 1 Kbytes in size. For the relation enrolment, we assume a tuple size of 40 bytes and thus we use a figure of 25 tuples/block. In addition, let John Smith be enrolled in 10 subjects and let there be 20 subjects offered by Computer Science. We can now estimate the costs of the four plans listed above.

The cost of query plan (1) above may now be computed. Let the join be computed by reading a block of the first relation followed by a scan of the second relation to identify matching tuples. This is then followed by the reading of the second block of the first relation followed by a scan of the second relation and so on. The cost of R |X| S may therefore be estimated as the number of blocks in R times the number of blocks in S. Since the number of blocks in student is 1000 and in enrolment 2,000, the total number of blocks read in computing the join of student and enrolment is 1000X 2000=2,000,000 block accesses. The result of the join is 50,000 tuples since each tuple from enrolment matches with a tuple from student. The joined tuples will be of size approximately 140 bytes since each tuple in the join is a tuple from student joined with another from enrolment. Given the tuple size of 140 bytes, we can only fit 7 tuples in a block and therefore we need about 7,000 blocks to store all 50,000 joined tuples. The cost of computing the join of this result with subject is 7000 X 100= 700,00 block accesses. Therefore the total cost of plan (1) is approximately 2,700,000 block accesses.

To estimate the cost of plan (2), we know the cost of computing the join of student and enrolment has been estimated above as 2,000,000 block accesses. The result is 7000 blocks in size. Now the result of applying the restrictions to the result of the join reduces this result to about 5-10 tuples i.e. about 1-2 blocks. The cost of this restriction is about 7000 disk accesses. Also the result of applying the restriction to the relation subject reduces that relation to 20 tuples (2 blocks). The cost of this restriction is about 100 block accesses. The join now only requires about 4 block accesses. The total cost therefore is approximately 2,004,604.

To estimate the cost of plan (3), we need to estimate the size of the results of restrictions and their cost. The cost of the restrictions is reading the relations student and subject and writing the results. The reading costs are 1,100 block accesses. The writing costs are very small since the size of the results is 1 tuple for student and 20 tuples for subject. The cost of computing the join of student and enrolment primarily involves the cost of reading enrolment. This is 2,000 block accesses. The result is quite small in size and therefore the cost of writing the result back is small. The total cost of plan (3) is therefore 3,100 block accesses.

Similar estimates may be obtained for processing plan (4). We will not estimate this cost, since the above estimates are sufficient to illustrate that brute force method of query processing is unlikely to be efficient. The cost can be significantly reduced if the query plan is optimized. The issue of optimization is of course much more complex than estimating the costs like we have done above since in the above estimation we did not consider the various alternative access paths that might be available to the system to access each relation.

The above cost estimates assumed that the secondary storage access costs dominate the query processing costs. This is often a reasonable assumption although the cost of communication is often quite important if we are dealing with a distributed system. The cost of storage can be important in large databases since some queries may require large intermediate results. The cost of CPU of course is always important and it is not uncommon for database applications to be CPU bound than I/O bound as is normally assumed. In the present chapter we assume a centralized system where the cost of secondary storage access is assumed to dominate other costs although we recognize that this is not always true. For example, system R uses cost = page fetches + w cpu utilization

When a query is specified to a DBMS, it must choose the best way to process it given the information it has about the database. The optimization part of query processing generally involves the following operations.

1. A suitable internal representation
2. Logical transformation of the query
3. Access path selection of the alternatives
4. Estimate costs and select best

Internal Representation
As noted earlier, a query posed in a query language like SQL must first be translated to a internal representation suitable for machine representation. Any internal query representation must be sufficiently powerful to represent all queries in the query language (e.g. SQL). The internal representation could be relational algebra or relational calculus since these languages are powerful enough (they have been shown to be relationally complete by E.F. Codd) although it will be necessary to modify them from what was discussed in an earlier post so that features like Group By and aggregations may be represented. A representation like relational algebra is procedural and therefore once the query is represented in that representation, a sequence of operations is clearly indicated. Other representations are possible. These include object graph, operator graph (or parse tree) and tableau. Further information about other representations is available in Jarke and Koch (1984) although some sort of tree representation appears to be most commonly used (why?). Our discussions will assume that a query tree representation is being used. In such a representation, the leaf nodes of the query tree are the base relations and the nodes correspond to relational operations.

Logical Transformations
At the beginning of this chapter we showed that the same query may be formulated in a number of different ways that are semantically equivalent. It is clearly desirable that all such queries be transformed into the same query representation. To do this, we need to translate each query to some canonical form and then simplify.

This involves transformations of the query and selection of an optimal sequence of operations. The transformations that we discuss in this section do not consider the physical representation of the database and are designed to improve the efficiency of query processing whatever access methods might be available. An example of such transformation has already been discussed in the examples given. If a query involves one or more joins and a restriction, it is always going to be more efficient to carry out the restriction first since that will reduce the size of one of the relations (assuming that the restriction applies to only one relation) and therefore the cost of the join, often quite significantly.

Heuristic Optimization — In the heuristic approach, the sequence of operations in a query is reorganized so that the query execution time improves.

Deterministic Optimization — In the deterministic approach, cost of all possible forms of a query are evaluated and the best one is selected.

Common Subexpression –– In this technique, common subexpressions in the query, if any, are recognised so as to avoid executing the same sequence of operations more than once.