Learn more about SQL Server tools

mssqltips logo
 

Tutorials          DBA          Dev          BI          Career          Categories          Webcasts          Whitepapers          Today's Tip          Join

Tutorials      DBA      Dev      BI      Categories      Webcasts

DBA    Dev    BI    Categories

 
Failover Clustering in the Cloud - Understanding Your Options - Free Webinar
 

Table Variable Deferred Compilation in SQL Server


By:   |   Last Updated: 2018-09-06   |   Comments   |   Related Tips: More > Performance Tuning

Problem

Table variables were introduced in SQL Server 2000 to help alleviate the recompilations that came with #temp tables – a problem that is less prevalent in modern versions, but still exists. There is a common misconception that table variables avoid I/O, since people believe they are memory resident while #temp tables are not, but this is not true – both table variables and #temp tables will write to tempdb when necessary.

Table variables are great for small result sets, since they avoid these recompilations, and also because they do not have statistics that SQL Server has to maintain. But the latter point is a double-edged sword: the more rows in the table variable, the worse decisions the optimizer may make. Without statistics to check, it always assumes there is only one row (actually, zero, rounded up), and sometimes these assumptions are tragic. Performing a join involving a table variable can lead to a very bad plan strategy if SQL Server thinks there can only be one unique, matching row when, in fact, there may be thousands or more, including duplicates.

Solution

Microsoft has mitigated this problem in the past with trace flag 2453, which can trigger a recompile when enough rows have changed. I blogged about trace flag 2453 back in 2014, and Ahmad Yaseen talked about it in a previous tip, but let’s take a quick look at how it can help. I created the following view on a SQL Server 2017 instance:

CREATE VIEW dbo.Congruence
AS
  SELECT m1.number, m1.name
    FROM master.dbo.spt_values AS m1
    CROSS JOIN (SELECT TOP 100 number FROM master.dbo.spt_values) AS m2;

This view holds 231,800 rows on my system; YMMV.

Now, we have a stored procedure that pulls rows from the view based on a pattern in the name, inserts them into a table variable, and then joins that table variable to a system catalog view:

CREATE PROCEDURE dbo.GetNamesByPattern 
  @Pattern sysname = N'%' 
AS
BEGIN 
  DECLARE @t table (id int, name sysname); 

  INSERT @t(id,name)
    SELECT number, name 
    FROM dbo.Congruence
    WHERE name LIKE @Pattern;

  SELECT t.id,t.name FROM @t AS t 
    INNER JOIN sys.all_objects AS o
    ON t.id = o.object_id
    WHERE o.modify_date >= '20000101';
END

Now, let’s call this procedure with three different name patterns – the default % (all rows), contains S, and starts with Q:

ALTER DATABASE SCOPED CONFIGURATION CLEAR PROCEDURE_CACHE;
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'%S%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'Q%';

Using the free SentryOne Plan Explorer, we can quickly examine the estimated and actual rows that come back for each query against the table variable:

Estimates for a table variable involved in a join, under the default behavior in current versions of SQL Server.

As you can see, the default behavior in current versions of SQL Server is to estimate that a single row will come out of that table variable, no matter how many rows are actually there. Take note of the reads, too, as this is a reflection of the plan choice that was made based on that one row guess, and will be interesting to compare in a moment.

Now, let’s call the stored procedure with trace flag 2453 running:

ALTER DATABASE SCOPED CONFIGURATION CLEAR PROCEDURE_CACHE;
DBCC TRACEON(2453, -1);
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'%S%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'Q%';
DBCC TRACEOFF(2453, -1);

The results this time:

Estimates for a table variable involved in a join, using trace flag 2453 in current versions of SQL Server.

Between executions, the difference in rows in the table variable is enough that a recompile is triggered and, as a result, you get a more accurate estimate for what’s going to come out of the table variable. It’s wrong, of course, but that’s because the hash or merge join used in each case is off. Still, it’s way less wrong than the previous batch, and notice how there are so much fewer reads going on – this is due to a more sane plan choice.

To check what happens with OPTION (RECOMPILE), let’s create a copy of the procedure:

CREATE PROCEDURE dbo.GetNamesByPattern_OptionRecompile
  @Pattern sysname = N'%'
AS
BEGIN 
  DECLARE @t table (id int, name sysname); 

  INSERT @t(id,name)
    SELECT number, name 
    FROM dbo.Congruence
    WHERE name LIKE @Pattern;

  SELECT t.id,t.name FROM @t AS t 
    INNER JOIN sys.all_objects AS o
    ON t.id = o.object_id
    WHERE o.modify_date >= '20000101'
    OPTION (RECOMPILE);
END

Then we’ll call the batch again, without the trace flag:

ALTER DATABASE SCOPED CONFIGURATION CLEAR PROCEDURE_CACHE;
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern_OptionRecompile @Pattern = N'%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern_OptionRecompile @Pattern = N'%S%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern_OptionRecompile @Pattern = N'Q%';

Nearly identical results:

Estimates for a table variable involved in a join, using OPTION (RECOMPILE) in current versions of SQL Server.

This is because, with the trace flag, we happened to trigger a recompile every time based on reaching row change thresholds, and now we are telling SQL Server to just do it every time. Hold onto that thought.

In Azure SQL Database, under compatibility level 150, there is a new feature (under preview at the time of writing) that simulates the behavior of trace flag 2453, with the benefit of not having to run under a trace flag, or adding OPTION (RECOMPILE) to queries. The feature is called Table Variable Deferred Compilation, and the implementation is to delay initial compilation until after the table variable has been populated the first time.

Because I need to test this on an Azure SQL Database system without access to things like the master database, I had to create my own tables and views to represent master..spt_values and sys.all_objects. On the system above I ran:

SELECT m1.number, m1.name
INTO dbo.Congruence
  FROM master.dbo.spt_values AS m1
  CROSS JOIN (SELECT TOP 100 number FROM master.dbo.spt_values) AS m2;

SELECT * INTO dbo.sysallobjects FROM sys.all_objects;

Then I generated create table and insert statements and ran them on an Azure SQL Database system, along with:

ALTER DATABASE CURRENT SET COMPATIBILITY_LEVEL = 150; 

This will change the reads slightly because I haven’t brought all the columns and indexes from both objects, but I wanted accurate row counts. (In hindsight, I should have performed the select into operations first and just used those tables in both systems, or using AdventureWorks, but quite honestly, at this point I didn’t feel like re-doing the screen shots.)

Now the stored procedure looks slightly different:

CREATE PROCEDURE dbo.GetNamesByPattern
  @Pattern sysname = N'%'
AS
BEGIN 
  DECLARE @t table (id int, name sysname); 

  INSERT @t(id,name)
    SELECT number, name 
    FROM dbo.Congruence
    WHERE name LIKE @Pattern;

  SELECT t.id,t.name FROM @t AS t 
    INNER JOIN dbo.sysallobjects AS o
    ON t.id = o.object_id
    WHERE o.modify_date >= '20000101';
END

And when we run that first batch again, here are the results:

Estimates for a table variable involved in a join, under compatibility level 150 (currently only available in Azure SQL Database).

On the plus side, the first execution is way better than the default behavior in current versions, without running under a trace flag or adding hints to the query. The estimate of 27,000 rows is based on something real instead of this arbitrary guess of one row. However, subsequent executions simply reuse that original estimate, to avoid the cost of recompiling every time. Not that disastrous here, when the original strategy was based on expecting all rows.

What happens when the original strategy for the first compilation is based on a much lower row count? This is easy to simulate with the following batch:

ALTER DATABASE SCOPED CONFIGURATION CLEAR PROCEDURE_CACHE;
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'%NQRGT%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'%S%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'Q%';

Results this time tell a much different story:

Estimates for a table variable involved in a join, under compatibility level 150 (currently only available in Azure SQL Database).

All executions now revert to the low estimate from the first execution. The second execution – where virtually no rows were expected but over 13,000 were returned – leads to an unacceptable number of reads and unpredictable performance as a result. If we add OPTION (RECOMPILE) to both statements in the procedure:

ALTER PROCEDURE dbo.GetNamesByPattern
  @Pattern sysname = N'%'
AS
BEGIN
  DECLARE @t table (id int, name sysname); 

  INSERT @t(id,name)
    SELECT number, name FROM dbo.Congruence
    WHERE name LIKE @Pattern OPTION (RECOMPILE); 

  SELECT t.id,t.name FROM @t AS t 
    INNER JOIN dbo.sysallobjects AS o
    ON t.id = o.object_id
    WHERE o.modify_date >= '20000101' OPTION (RECOMPILE);
END

And then run both batches again:

ALTER DATABASE SCOPED CONFIGURATION CLEAR PROCEDURE_CACHE;
EXEC /* first exec: all rows */ dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern_OptionRecompile @Pattern = N'%S%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern_OptionRecompile @Pattern = N'Q%';
ALTER DATABASE SCOPED CONFIGURATION CLEAR PROCEDURE_CACHE;
EXEC /* first exec = 6 rows */ dbo.GetNamesByPattern @Pattern = N'%NQRGT%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern_OptionRecompile @Pattern = N'%S%';
EXEC dbo.GetNamesByPattern_OptionRecompile @Pattern = N'Q%';

Results:

Estimates for a table variable involved in a join, under compatibility level 150 (currently only available in Azure SQL Database) and with OPTION (RECOMPILE) on both queries.

Now our plan strategies are at least reasonable. Our guesses are still way off; with other tuning, we could perhaps make some of these estimates more accurate. But first and subsequent executions are based on real cardinality in the table variable, and aren’t impacted by choices made in the first execution. In any case, this is the same or better overall than:

  • the original behavior (worse – unless table variable always has low row counts)
  • trace flag 2453 (roughly the same)
  • OPTION (RECOMPILE) alone (roughly the same – if compilation costs are reasonable)
  • compatibility level 150 alone (worse – if row counts fluctuate greatly)

…at least for this workload, with fluctuating row counts in the table variable, and relatively simple queries that don’t have a high compile cost.

You’ll have to test the impact on your workload to see where the trade-offs pay off the best – it might be that more accurate estimates are worth higher compile times, or it may be that the worst possible plan provides acceptable performance, or it may be that you want to consider using #temp tables instead of table variables.

Summary

In Azure SQL Database, and hopefully in the next version of SQL Server, you will get some inherent help in getting better cardinality estimates for table variables, at least under compatibility level 150 and above. If you have table variables that get populated with a relatively consistent number of rows, this new functionality will allow you to enjoy better estimates without the trace flag or the cost of recompiling every time. However, if your table variable size fluctuates greatly, and your queries don’t cause high compilation times, you should consider the combination of the new functionality coupled with OPTION (RECOMPILE).

Next Steps

Read on for related tips and other resources:



Last Updated: 2018-09-06


next webcast button


next tip button



About the author
MSSQLTips author Aaron Bertrand Aaron Bertrand (@AaronBertrand) is a Product Manager at SentryOne, with industry experience dating back to Classic ASP and SQL Server 6.5. He is editor-in-chief of the performance-related blog, SQLPerformance.com, and serves as a community moderator for the Database Administrators Stack Exchange.

View all my tips
Related Resources





Post a comment or let the author know this tip helped.

All comments are reviewed, so stay on subject or we may delete your comment. Note: your email address is not published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

*Name    *Email    Email me updates 


Signup for our newsletter
 I agree by submitting my data to receive communications, account updates and/or special offers about SQL Server from MSSQLTips and/or its Sponsors. I have read the privacy statement and understand I may unsubscribe at any time.



    



Learn more about SQL Server tools