Oracle Scratchpad

June 16, 2014

Bitmap Nulls

Filed under: bitmaps,Indexing,Infrastructure,NULL,Oracle — Jonathan Lewis @ 9:08 am BST Jun 16,2014

It’s fairly well known that in Oracle B-tree indexes on heap tables don’t hold entries where all the indexed columns are all null, but that bitmap indexes will hold such entries and execution plans can for predicates like “column is null” can use bitmap indexes. Here’s a little test case to demonstrate the point (I ran this last on

create table t1 (val number, n1 number, padding varchar2(100));

insert into t1
	decode(rownum,1,to_number(null),rownum), rownum, rpad('x',100)
	rownum <= 1000

insert into t1 select * from t1;
insert into t1 select * from t1;
insert into t1 select * from t1;
insert into t1 select * from t1;
insert into t1 select * from t1;


create bitmap index t1_b1 on t1(val);

execute dbms_stats.gather_table_stats(user,'t1');

set autotrace traceonly explain

select * from t1 where val is null;

set autotrace off

The execution plan for this query, in the system I happened to be using, looked like this:

Execution Plan
Plan hash value: 1201576309

| Id  | Operation                           | Name  | Rows  | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time     |
|   0 | SELECT STATEMENT                    |       |    32 |  3488 |     8   (0)| 00:00:01 |
|   1 |  TABLE ACCESS BY INDEX ROWID BATCHED| T1    |    32 |  3488 |     8   (0)| 00:00:01 |
|   2 |   BITMAP CONVERSION TO ROWIDS       |       |       |       |            |          |
|*  3 |    BITMAP INDEX SINGLE VALUE        | T1_B1 |       |       |            |          |

Predicate Information (identified by operation id):
   3 - access("VAL" IS NULL)

Note that the predicate section shows us that we used the “column is null” predicate as an access predicate into the index.

Of course, this is a silly little example – I’ve only published it to make a point and to act as a reference case if you ever need to support a claim. Normally we don’t expect a single bitmap index to be a useful way to access a table, we tend to use combinations of bitmap indexes to combine a number of predicates so that we can minimise the trips to a table as efficiently as possible. (And we certainly DON’T create a bitmap index on an OLTP system because it lets us access NULLs by index — OLTP and bitmaps don’t get on well together.)

If you do a symbolic block dump, by the way, you’ll find that the NULL is represented by the special “length byte” of 0xFF with no following data.

April 18, 2014

Bitmap loading

Filed under: bitmaps,Indexing,Oracle — Jonathan Lewis @ 12:43 pm BST Apr 18,2014

Everyone “knows” that bitmap indexes are a disaster (compared to B-tree indexes) when it comes to DML. But at an event I spoke at recently someone made the point that they had observed that their data loading operations were faster when the table being loaded had bitmap indexes on it than when it had the equivalent B-tree indexes in place.

There’s a good reason why this can be the case.  No prizes for working out what it is – and I’ll supply an answer in a couple of days time.  (Hint – it may also be the reason why Oracle doesn’t use bitmap indexes to avoid the “foreign key locking” problem).


As Martin (comment 3) points out, there’s a lot of interesting information in the statistics once you start doing the experiment. So here’s some demonstration code, first we create a table with one of two possible indexes:

create table t1
with generator as (
	select	--+ materialize
		rownum id
	from dual
	connect by
		level <= 1e4
	rownum			id,
	mod(rownum,1000)	btree_col,
	mod(rownum,1000)	bitmap_col,
	rpad('x',100)		padding
	generator	v1,
	generator	v2
	rownum <= 1e6

		ownname		 => user,
		tabname		 =>'T1',
		method_opt	 => 'for all columns size 1'

create        index t1_btree on t1(btree_col) nologging;
-- create bitmap index t1_bitmap on t1(bitmap_col) nologging;

You’ll note that the two columns I’m going to build indexes on hold the same data in the same order – and it’s an order with maximum scatter because of the mod() function I’ve used to create it. It’s also very repetitive data, having 1000 distinct values over 1,000,0000 rows. With the data and (one of) the indexes in place I’m going to insert another 10,000 rows:

execute snap_my_stats.start_snap

insert /* append */ into t1
with generator as (
	select	--+ materialize
		rownum id
	from dual
	connect by
		level <= 1e4
	1e6 + rownum		id,
	mod(rownum,1000)	btree_col,
	mod(rownum,1000)	bitmap_col,
	rpad('x',100)		padding

execute snap_my_stats.end_snap

You’ll note that I’ve got an incomplete append hint in the code – I’ve tested the mechanism about eight different ways, and left the append in as a convenience, but the results I want to talk about (first) are with the hint disabled so that the insert is a standard insert. The snap_my_stats calls are my standard mechanism to capture deltas of my session statistics (v$mystat) – one day I’ll probably get around to using Tanel’s snapper routine everywhere – and here are some of the key results produced in the two tests: with btree
Name                                                                     Value
----                                                                     -----
session logical reads                                                   31,403
DB time                                                                     64
db block gets                                                           31,195
consistent gets                                                            208
db block changes                                                        21,511
redo entries                                                            10,873
redo size                                                            3,591,820
undo change vector size                                                897,608
sorts (memory)                                                               2
sorts (rows)                                                                 1 with bitmap
Name                                                                     Value
----                                                                     -----
session logical reads                                                   13,204
DB time                                                                     42
db block gets                                                            8,001
consistent gets                                                          5,203
db block changes                                                         5,911
redo entries                                                             2,880
redo size                                                            4,955,896
undo change vector size                                              3,269,932
sorts (memory)                                                               3
sorts (rows)                                                            10,001

As Martin has pointed out, there are a number of statistics that show large differences between the B-tree and bitmap approaches, but the one he didn’t mention was the key: sorts (rows). What is this telling us, and why could it matter so much ? If the B-tree index exists when the insert takes place Oracle locates the correct place for the new index entry as each row is inserted which is why you end up with so many redo entries, block gets and block changes; if the bitmap index exists, Oracle postpones index maintenance until the table insert is complete, but accumulates the keys and rowids as it goes then sorts them to optimize the rowid to bitmap conversion and walks the index in order updating each modified key just once.

The performance consequences of the two different strategies depends on the number of indexes affected, the number of rows modified, the typical number of rows per key value, and the ordering of the new data as it arrives; but it’s possible that the most significant impact could come from ordering.  As each row arrives, the relevant B-tree indexes are modified – but if you’re unlucky, or have too many indexes on the table, then each index maintenance operation could result in a random disk I/O to read the necessary block (how many times have you seen complaints like: “we’re only inserting 2M rows but it’s taking 45 minutes and we’re always waiting on db file sequential reads”). If Oracle sorts the index entries before doing the updates it minimises the random I/O because it need only update each index leaf block once and doesn’t run the risk of re-reading many leaf blocks many times for a big insert.

Further Observations

The delayed maintenance for bitmap indexes (probably) explains why they aren’t used to avoid the foreign key locking problem.  On a large insert, the table data will be arriving, the b-tree indexes will be maintained in real time, but a new child row of some parent won’t appear in the bitmap index until the entire insert is complete – so another session could delete the parent of a row that exists, is not yet committed, but is not yet visible. Try working out a generic strategy to deal with that type of problem.

It’s worth noting, of course, that when you add the /*+ append */ hint to the insert then Oracle uses exactly the same optimization strategy for B-trees as it does for bitmaps – i.e. postpone the index maintenance, remember all the keys and rowids, then sort and bulk insert them.  And when you’ve remembered that, you may also remember that the hint is (has to be) ignored if there are any enabled foreign key constraints on the table. The argument for why the hint has to be ignored and why bitmap indexes don’t avoid the locking problem is (probably) the same argument.

You may also recall, by the way, that when you have B-tree indexes on a table you can choose the optimal update or delete strategy by selecting a tablescan or index range scan as the execution path.  If you update or delete through an index range scan the same “delayed maintenance” trick is used to optimize the index updates … except for any indexes being used to support foreign key constraints, and they are maintained row by row.

In passing, while checking the results for this note I re-ran some tests that I had originally done in 2006 and added one more test that I hadn’t considered at the time; as a result I can also point out that index will see delayed maintenance if you drive the update or delete with an index() hint, but not if you drive it with an index_desc() hint.


January 17, 2014

Bitmap question

Filed under: bitmaps,Indexing,Oracle — Jonathan Lewis @ 7:06 pm BST Jan 17,2014

If you know anything about bitmap indexes you probably know that a single entry in a bitmap index takes the form (key_value, starting rowid, ending rowid, BBC compressed bit string). So an entry covers a single value for a column over a range of rowids  in the table, and the string of bits for that (notional) range is reduce to a minimum by a compression mechanism that eliminate repeated zeros in multiples of 8.

So here’s a question – to which I don’t know the answer, although you may be surprised when you try to find it:

If you have a very large table and in one of its columns the first row and the last row (and no others) hold the value 0 (say) and you create a bitmap index on this column, what’s the largest number of rows you could have in the table before Oracle would HAVE to create two index entries in order to cover both rows ?

Follow-up question – once you start getting close to working out the answer, can you think of a way to provide an example without actually creating a table with that many rows in it ?


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