4

I have the following [fairly meaningless, just for the purpose of demonstration] query in the StackOverflow database:

SELECT  *
FROM    Users u
        LEFT JOIN Comments c
            ON u.Id = c.UserId OR
               u.Id = c.PostId
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'

The only index on the Users table is a clustered index on ID.

The Comments table has the following Non-Clustered indexes as well as Clustered Index on ID:

CREATE INDEX IX_UserID ON Comments
(
    UserID,
    PostID
)

CREATE INDEX IX_PostID ON Comments
(
    PostID,
    UserID
)

The estimated plan for the query is here:

I can see the first thing the optimizer will do is perform a CI scan on the users table to filter only those users where DisplayName = Alex, effectively doing this:

SELECT  *
FROM    Users u
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'
ORDER BY Id

and retreiving results as such:

enter image description here

Then it will scan the comments CI and for every row, look to see if the row satisfies the predicate

u.Id = c.UserId OR u.Id = c.PostId

Despite the two indexes, this CI scan is performed.

Wouldn't it be more efficient if the optimizer did a separate seek on each of the indexes in the Comments table above and join them together?

If I visualise what that would look like, in the screenshot above we can see the first result of the Users CI scan is ID 420

I can visualize what the IX_UserID Index looks like using

SELECT      UserID,
            PostID
FROM        Comments
ORDER BY    UserID,
            PostID

so if I seek to the rows for user ID 420 as an index seek would:

enter image description here

for every row where UserID = 420, I can look if u.Id = c.UserId OR u.Id = c.PostId of, course they all match the u.Id = c.UserId part of our predicate,

So for the second part of our index seek, we can seek through our index IX_PostID which can be visualised as follows:

SELECT      PostID,
            UserID
FROM        Comments
ORDER BY    PostID,
            UserID 

If I seek to Post ID 420 I can see nothing is there:

enter image description here

So we then go back to the results of the CI scan, move to the next row (userId 447) and repeat the process.

The behaviour I have described above is possible using in a WHERE clause:

SELECT      UserID,
            PostID
FROM        Comments
WHERE       UserID = 420 OR PostID = 420
ORDER BY    UserID,
            PostID

Plan here

My question therefore is, why isn't an OR condition in a JOIN clause able to perform an index seek on appropriate indexes?

0
5
+150

Rather than focusing on how to improve a query like this, which is what the other answers are doing, I'm going to try to answer the question being asked: why doesn't the optimizer produce a plan like the one you've described (that scans the Users table, and then seeks into the two indexes on the Comments table).

Here's your original query again (note I'm using MAXDOP 2 just to simulate what I saw in your execution plans):

SELECT  *
FROM    Users u
        LEFT JOIN Comments c
            ON u.Id = c.UserId OR
               u.Id = c.PostId
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'
OPTION (MAXDOP 2);

And the plan:

Screenshot of original left join plan

  • Scan of dbo.Users with residual predicate to get just the "alex" users
  • For each of those users, scan the dbo.Comments table and filter matches in the join operator
  • Estimated cost: 293.161 optimizer units

One attempt to get the plan you want would be to try and force a seek on the dbo.Comments table:

SELECT  *
FROM    Users u
        LEFT JOIN Comments c WITH (FORCESEEK)
            ON u.Id = c.UserId OR
               u.Id = c.PostId
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'
OPTION (MAXDOP 2);

The plans looks like this:

Screenshot of left join plan with hints

  • scan of the dbo.Users table (with a residual predicate to only get users named "alex"),
  • seek into each of the two indexes to get the requested Id values (which are unioned together)
  • followed up by a key lookup to get the rest of the columns (since we selected *)
  • Estimated cost: 5.98731 optimizer units

So the answer is that the optimizer is definitely capable of producing such a plan. And it doesn't seem to be a cost-based decision (the seek plan looks much cheaper).

My best guess is that this is just some kind of limitation in the optimizer's exploration process - it doesn't seem to favor converting a left join with an or clause into an apply. This is really unfortunate in this particular case, as performance is dismal in the scan plan (the query takes 45 seconds on my machine) vs the apply plan (less than 1 second).

Side note: You can override the heuristic that disfavors index union plans with undocumented trace flag 8726. See https://dba.stackexchange.com/a/23779 for additional details on that front!

As Rob Farley helpfully pointed out, using APPLY directly (potentially with a UNION as well) is a better approach to get the plan you're looking for - both of those produce the "better" version of this plan (the FORCESEEK version). I would say that "OR in a JOIN" is kind of a known anti-pattern, and should be avoided since it doesn't seem like the optimizer has great support for that type of query directly.

2
  • Bounty awarded for explanation of why this happens, although only a best guess. It would be great if we could find some MS documentation to confirm this - unlikely maybe
    – SEarle1986
    Mar 17 '20 at 15:22
  • 2
    @SEarle1986 Thanks! By the way, per Paul's related post, it looks like there really is a heuristic built in to the optimizer's search process that disfavors this kind of index union plan. It's not MS documentation, but it's probably as close to official as we'll get 😀 Mar 17 '20 at 15:45
4

When you have a join, the Query Optimizer will consider how best to satisfy the predicates involved with the various join techniques. It doesn’t try to re-evaluate the query as if had been written with APPLY, which is what you kinda want here, where it would see the right hand side of the join as like a sub-query.

You can try this youself, by doing something like:

SELECT  *
FROM    Users u
    OUTER APPLY (
        SELECT *
        FROM Comments c
        WHERE u.Id = c.UserId 
        OR u.Id = c.PostId
    ) c
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'

...but given than OR is annoyingly often not turned into a UNION, I’d prefer:

SELECT  *
FROM    Users u
    OUTER APPLY (
        SELECT *
        FROM Comments c
        WHERE u.Id = c.UserId 
        UNION
        SELECT *
        FROM Comments c
        WHERE u.Id = c.PostId
    ) c
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'
0
0
  1. TSQL optimizer can use only one index for each join. If you sure in what index is absolute the best there you can tell it to optimizer by hint
SELECT  *
FROM    Users u
        LEFT JOIN Comments c with (index ([IX_UserID] )) 
            ON u.Id = c.UserId OR
               u.Id = c.PostId
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'
  1. OR clause in join usually eliminates usefulness of index because the only thing you can do is to scan whole index and then look up for all fields for found rows. it's hard to predict efictivness of it compared to just table scan.
  2. Split your query into two queries, each using a different condition from the OR, and then combine them using UNION. Both indexes should be used there.
SELECT  *
FROM    Users u  LEFT JOIN Comments c  ON u.Id = c.UserId 
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'

union
SELECT  *
FROM    Users u  LEFT JOIN Comments c ON  u.Id = c.PostId
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'

5
  • 1
    This will give different results to the original query. If there are only UserId rows and no PostId rows, it’ll still return the NULL row from the second side of the UNION.
    – Rob Farley
    Mar 11 '20 at 10:48
  • @RobFarley, yes, you're right. there is a slight difference. But we can use my sniplet as a subquery that returns a list of c.id-s for left join if difference is significant for business logic.
    – finesoul
    Mar 11 '20 at 11:48
  • 2
    @finesoul Point 1 is incorrect. The optimizer can consider index union and index intersection plans.
    – Paul White
    Mar 14 '20 at 11:57
  • Thank you @PaulWhite9, I didn't know and have never noticed this.
    – finesoul
    Mar 20 '20 at 13:36
  • Please feel free to edit your answer to reflect your new understanding?
    – Paul White
    Mar 20 '20 at 17:48
-1

In such case I prefer doing something like this:

SELECT  u.*
        ,c.*
        ,p.*
FROM Users          u
LEFT JOIN Comments  c ON u.Id = c.UserId
LEFT JOIN Comments  p ON u.Id = c.PostId
WHERE   u.DisplayName = 'alex'

And then use fields from c and p tables depending of task.

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