Oracle Scratchpad

October 25, 2019


Filed under: Match_recognize,Oracle — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:47 pm BST Oct 25,2019

A couple of days ago I posted a note with some code (from Stew Ashton) that derived the clustering_factor you would get for an index when you had set a value for the table_cached_blocks preference but had not yet created the index. In the note I said that I had produced a simple and elegant (though massively CPU-intensive) query using match_recognize() that seemed to produce the right answer, only to be informed by Stew that my interpretation of how Oracle calculated the clustering_factor was wrong and that the query was irrelevant.  (The fact that it happened to produce the right answer in all my tests was an accidental side effect of the way I had been generating test data. With Stew’s explanation of what Oracle was doing it was easy to construct a data set that proved my query was doing the wrong thing.)

The first comment I got on the posting was a request to publish my match_recognize() query – even though it was irrelevant to the problem in hand – simply because it might be a useful lesson in what could be done with the feature; so here’s some code that doesn’t do anything useful but does demonstrate a couple of points about match_recognize(). I have to stress, though, that I’m not an expert on match_recognize() so there may be a more efficient way of using it to acheieve the same result. There is certainly a simple and more efficient way to get the same result using some fairly straightforward PL/SQL code.


I had assumed that if you set the table_cached_blocks preference to N then Oracle would keep track of the previous N rowids as it walked an index to gather stats and only increment the “clustering factor counter” if it failed to find a match for the block address of the current rowid in the block addresses extracted from the previous N rowids. My target was to emulate a way of doing this counting.


Rather than writing code that “looked backwards” as it walked the index, I decided to take advantage of the symmetry of the situation and write code that looked forwards (you could think of this as viewing the index in descending order and looking backwards along the descending index). I also decided that I could count the number of times I did find a match in the trail of rowids, and subtract that from the total number of index entries.

So my target was to look for patterns where I start with the block address from the current rowid, then find the same block address after zero to N-1 failures to find the block address. Since the index doesn’t exist I’ll need to emulate its existence by selecting the columns that I want in the index along with the rowid, ordering the data in index order. Then I can walk this “in memory” index looking for the desired pattern.

Here’s some code to create a table to test against:

rem     Script:         clustering_factor_est_2.sql
rem     Author:         Jonathan Lewis
rem     Dated:          Oct 2019
rem     Purpose:        
rem     Last tested 

create table t1
with generator as (
                rownum id
        from dual 
        connect by 
                level <= 1e4 -- > comment to avoid WordPress format issue
        rownum                                  id,
        cast(rownum as varchar2(10))            v1,
        trunc(dbms_random.value(0,10000))       rand,
        rpad('x',100,'x')                       padding
        generator       v1,
        generator       v2
        rownum <= 1e6 -- > comment to avoid WordPress format issue

My table has 1M rows, and there’s a column called rand which has 10,000 distinct values. This is generated through Oracle’s dbms_random package and the procedure I’ve used will give me roughly 100 occurrences for each value scattered uniformly across the table. An index on this column might be quite useful but it’s probably going to have a very high clustering_factor because, on average, any two rows of a particular value are likely to be separated by 10,000 rows, and even if I look for rows with a pair of consecutive values any two rows are likely to be separated by a few hundred other rows.

Here’s the code that I was using to get an estimate of (my erroneous concept of) the clustering_factor with table_cached_blocks set to 32. For debugging purposes it reports the first row of the pattern for each time my pattern is matched, so in this version of the code I’d  have to check the number of rows returned and subtract that from the number of rows in the table (where rand is not null).

        first_rand, first_file_id, first_block_id, first_row_id, step_size
from    (
                        dbms_rowid.rowid_relative_fno(rowid) file_id,
                        dbms_rowid.rowid_block_number(rowid) block_id,
                        dbms_rowid.rowid_row_number(rowid)   row_id
                        rand is not null
        order by rand, file_id, block_id, row_id
                count(*) as step_size,
                first(strt.rand)        as first_rand,
                first(strt.file_id)     as first_file_id,
                first(strt.block_id)    as first_block_id,
                first(strt.row_id)      as first_row_id
        one row per match
        after match skip to next row
        pattern (strt miss{0, 31} hit)
                miss as (block_id != strt.block_id or  file_id != strt.file_id),
                hit  as (block_id  = strt.block_id and file_id  = strt.file_id)
order by 
        first_rand, first_file_id, first_block_id, first_row_id

The first point to note is that the inline view is the thing I use to model an index on column rand. It simply selects the value and rowid from each row. However I’ve used the dbms_rowid package to break the rowid down into the file_id, block_id and row_id within block. Technically (to deal with partitioned tables and indexes) I also ought to be thinking about the object_id which is the first component of the full rowid. I haven’t actually ordered the rows in the in-line view as I’m going to let the match_recognize() operation handle that.

A warning as we start looking at the match_recognize() section of the query: I’ll be jumping around the clause a little bit, rather than working through it in order from start to finish.

First I need the raw data sorted in order so that any results I get will be deterministic. I have an order by clause that sorts my data by rand and the three components I’ve extracted from the rowid. (It is also possible to have a partition clause – similar to the partition clause of an analytic function – but I don’t need one for this model.)

Then I need to define the “columns” that I’m planning to output in the final query. This is the set of measures and in the list of measures you can see a count(*) (which doesn’t quite mean what it usually does) and a number of calls to a function first() which takes an aliased column name as it’s input and, although the column names look familiar, the alias (strt) seems to have sprung from nowhere.

At this point I want to jump down to the define clause because that’s where the meaning of strt could have been defined.  The define clause is a list of “rules”, which are also treated as “variables”, that tell us how to classify a row. We are looking for patterns, and pattern is a set of rows that follows a set of rules in a particular order, so one of the things I need to do is create a rule that tells Oracle how to identify a row that qualifies as the starting point for a pattern – so I’ve defined a rule called strt to do this – except I haven’t defined it explicitly, it’s not visible in the define list, so Oracle has assumed that the rule is “1 = 1”, in other words every row I’m going to look at could be classified as a strt row.

Now that I have a definition for what strt means I could go back to the measures – but I’ll postpone doing that for a moment and look at the other rules in my define list. I have a rule called miss which says “if either of these comparisons evaluates to true” then the row is a miss;  but the predicates includes a reference to strt which means we are doing comparisons with the most recent row that was classified as a strt row. So a miss means we’ve found a starting row and we’re now looking at other rows comparing the block_id and file_id for each row to check that they don’t match the block_id and file_id of the starting row.

Similarly we have a hit rule which says a hit means we’ve previously found a starting row and we’re now looking at other rows checking for rows where the current block_id and file_id match the starting block_id and file_id.

Once we’ve got a set of rules explaining how to classify rows we can specify a pattern (which means going back up the match_recognize() clause one section). Our pattern reads:  “find a strt row, followed by zero and 31 miss rows, followed by a hit row”. And that’s just a description of my back-to-front way of saying “remember the last 32  rowids and check if the current block address matches the block address in one of those rowids”.

The last two clauses that need to be explained before I revisit the measures clause are the “one row per match” and “after match skip to next row”.

If I find a sequence of rows that matches my pattern there are several things I could do with that set of rows – for example I could report every row in that pattern along with the classification of strt/miss/hit (which would be useful if I’m looking for a few matches to a small pattern in a large data set), or (as I’ve done here) I could report just one row from the pattern and give Oracle some instruction about which one row I want reported.

Then, after I’ve found (and possibly reported) a pattern, what should I do next. Again there are several possibilities – the two most obvious ones, perhaps are: “just keep going” i.e. look at the row after the end of the pattern to see if it’s another strt row, and “go to the row after the start of the pattern you’ve just reported”. These translate into: “after match skip past last row” (which is the default if you don’t specify an “after match” clause) and “after match skip to next row” (which is what I’ve specified).

Finally we get back to the measures clause – I’ve defined four “columns” with names like ‘first_xxx’ and a step_size. The step_size is defined as count(*) which – in this context – means “count the number of rows in the current matched pattern”. The other measures are defined using the first() function, referencing strt alias which tells Oracle I want to retain the value from the first row that met the strt rule in the current matched pattern.

In summary, then my match_recognize() clause tells Oracle to

  • Sort the data by rand, file_id, block_id, row_id
  • For each row in turn
    • extract the file_id and block_id
    • take up to 32 steps down the list looking for a matching file_id and block_id
    • If you find a match pass a row to the parent operation that consists of: the number of rows between strt to hit inclusive, and the values of rand, file_id, block_id, and row_id of the strt row.

Before you try testing the code, you might like to know about some results.

As it stands my laptop with a virtual machine running took 1 minute and 5 seconds to complete with “miss{0, 31}” in the pattern. In fact the first version of the code had the file_id and block_id tests in the define clause in the opposite order viz:

                miss as (file_id != strt.file_id or  block_id != strt.block_id),
                hit  as (file_id  = strt.file_id and block_id  = strt.block_id)

Since the file_id for my test is the same for every row in my table (it’s a single file tablespace), this was wasting a surprising amount of CPU, leading to a run time of 1 minute 17 seconds! Neither time looks particularly good when compared to the time required to create the index, set the table_cached_blocks to 32, and gather stats on the index – in a total time of less than 5 seconds. The larger the value I chose for the pattern match, the worse the workload became, until at “miss{0, 199}” – emulating a table_cached_blocks of 200 – the time to run was about 434 seconds of CPU!

A major portion of the problem is the way that Oracle is over-optimistic (or “greedy”, to use the technical term) with its pattern matching, combined with the nature of the data which (in this example) isn’t going to offer much opportunity for matching, combined with the fact that Oracle cannot determine that a row that is not a “miss” has to be a “hit”.  In this context “greedy” means Oracle will try to find as many consecutive occurrences of the first rule in the pattern before it tries to find and occurrence of the second rule – and when it fails to match a pattern it will “backtrack” one step and have another go, being slightly less greedy. So, for our example, the greedy algorithm will operate as follows:

  • find 31 rows that match miss, then discover the 32nd row does not match hit
  • go back to the strt and find 30 rows that match miss, then discover the 31st row does not match hit
  • go back to the strt and find 29 rows that match miss, then discover the 30th row does not match hit
  • … repeat until
  • go back to the strt and find 0 rows that match miss, then discover the 1st does not match hit
  • go to the next row, call it strt, and repeat the above … 1M times.

From a human perspective this is a pretty stupid strategy for this specific problem – but that’s because we happen to know that “hit” = “not(miss)” (ignoring nulls, of which there are none) while Oracle has to assume that there is no relationship between “hit” and “miss”.

There is hope, though, because you can tell Oracle that it should be “reluctant” rather than “greedy” which means Oracle will consume the smallest possible number of occurrences of the first rule before testing the second rule, and so on. All you have to do is append a “?” to the count qualifier:

        pattern (strt miss{0, 31 }? hit)

Unfortunately this seemed to have very little effect on execution time (and CPU usage) in our case. Again this may be due to the nature of the data etc., but it may also be a limitation in the way that the back tracking works. I had expected a response time that would more closely mirror the human expectation, but a few timed tests suggest the code uses exactly the same type of strategy for the reluctant strategy as it does for the greedy one, viz:

  • find 0 rows that match miss, then discover the next row does not match hit
  • go back to the strt and find 1 row that matches miss, then discover the 2nd row does not match hit
  • go back to the strt and find 2 rows that match miss, then discover the 3rd row does not match hit
  • … repeat until
  • go back to the strt and find 31 rows that match miss, then discover the 32nd does not match hit
  • go to the next row, call it strt, and repeat the above … 1M times.

Since there are relatively few cases in our data where a pattern match will occur both the reluctant and the greedy strategies will usually end up doing all 32 steps. I was hoping for a more human-like algorithm that would recognise that Oracle would recognise that if it’s just missed on the first X rows then it need only check the X+1th and not go back to the beginning (strt) – but my requirement makes it easy to see (from a human perspective) that that makes sense; in a generic case (with more complex patterns and without the benefit of having two mutially exclusive rules) the strategy of “start all over again” is probably a much safer option to code.

Plan B

Plan B was to send the code to Stew Ashton and ask if he had any thoughts on making it more efficient – I wasn’t expecting him to send a PL/SQL solution my return of post, but that’s what I got and published in the previous post.

Plan C

It occurred to me that I don’t really mind if the predicted clustering_factor is a little inaccurate, and that the “backtracking” introduced by the variable qualifer {0,31} was the source of a huge amount of the work done, so I took a different approach which simply said: “check that the next 32 (or preferred value of N) rows are all misses”.  This required two changes – eliminate one of the defines (the “hit”) and modify the pattern definition as follows:

         pattern (strt  miss{32} )
                 miss as (block_id != strt.block_id or  file_id != strt.file_id)

The change in strategy means that the result is going to be (my version of) the clustering_factor rather than the number to subtract from num_rows to derive the clustering_factor. And I’ve introduced a small error which shows up towards the end of the data set – I’ve demanded that a pattern should include exactly 32 misses; but when you’re 32 rows from the end of the data set there aren’t enough rows left to match the pattern. So the result produced by the modified code could be as much as 32 short of the expected result.  However, when I showed the code to Stew Ashton he pointed out that I could include “alternatives” in the pattern, so all I had to do was add in to the pattern something which said “and if there aren’t 32 rows left, getting to the end of the data set is good enough” (technically that should be end of the current partition, but we have only one partition).

         pattern (strt  ( miss{32} | ( miss* $) ) )

The “miss” part of the pattern now reads:  “32 misses” or “zero or more misses and then the end of file/partition/dataset”.

It’s still not great – but the time to process the 1M rows with a table_cached_blocks of 32 came down to 31 seconds


I’ll close with one important thought. There’s a significant difference in the execution plans for the two strategies – which I’m showing as outputs from the SQL Monitor report using a version of the code that does a simple count(*) rather than listing any rows:

pattern (strt miss{0, 31} hit)
| Id |         Operation          | Name  |  Rows   | Cost  |   Time    | Start  | Execs |   Rows   |  Mem  | Activity | Activity Detail |
|    |                            |       | (Estim) |       | Active(s) | Active |       | (Actual) | (Max) |   (%)    |   (# samples)   |
|  0 | SELECT STATEMENT           |       |         |       |        54 |    +14 |     1 |        1 |     . |          |                 |
|  1 |   SORT AGGREGATE           |       |       1 |       |        54 |    +14 |     1 |        1 |     . |          |                 |
|  2 |    VIEW                    |       |      1M | 12147 |        54 |    +14 |     1 |     2782 |     . |          |                 |
|  3 |     MATCH RECOGNIZE SORT   |       |      1M | 12147 |        60 |     +8 |     1 |     2782 |  34MB |          |                 |
|  4 |      VIEW                  |       |      1M |   325 |        14 |     +1 |     1 |       1M |     . |          |                 |
|  5 |       INDEX FAST FULL SCAN | T1_I1 |      1M |   325 |         7 |     +8 |     1 |       1M |     . |          |                 |

pattern (strt  miss{32} )
| Id |                     Operation                      | Name  |  Rows   | Cost  |   Time    | Start  | Execs |   Rows   |  Mem  | Activity | Activity Detail |
|    |                                                    |       | (Estim) |       | Active(s) | Active |       | (Actual) | (Max) |   (%)    |   (# samples)   |
|  0 | SELECT STATEMENT                                   |       |         |       |        15 |    +16 |     1 |        1 |     . |          |                 |
|  1 |   SORT AGGREGATE                                   |       |       1 |       |        15 |    +16 |     1 |        1 |     . |          |                 |
|  2 |    VIEW                                            |       |      1M | 12147 |        15 |    +16 |     1 |     997K |     . |          |                 |
|  3 |     MATCH RECOGNIZE SORT DETERMINISTIC FINITE AUTO |       |      1M | 12147 |        29 |     +2 |     1 |     997K |  34MB |          |                 |
|  4 |      VIEW                                          |       |      1M |   325 |        16 |     +1 |     1 |       1M |     . |          |                 |
|  5 |       INDEX FAST FULL SCAN                         | T1_I1 |      1M |   325 |         9 |     +8 |     1 |       1M |     . |          |                 |

The significant line to note is operation 3 in both cases. The query with the pattern that’s going to induce back-tracking reports only “MATCH RECOGNIZE SORT”. The query with the “fixed” pattern reports “MATCH RECOGNIZE SORT DETERMINISTIC FINITE AUTO” Oracle can implement a finite state machine with a fixed worst case run-time. When you write some code that uses match_recognize() the three magic words you want to see in the plan are “deterministic finite auto” – if you don’t then, in principle, your query might be one of those that could (theoretically) run forever.


Congratulations if you’ve got this far – but please remember that I’ve had very little practice using match_recognize; this was a little fun and learning experience for me and there may be many more things you could usefully know about the technology before you use it in production; there may also be details in what I’ve written which are best forgotten about. That being the case I’d be more than happy for anyone who wants to enhance or correct my code, descriptions and observations to comment below.



  1. Hello Jonathan,

    I am extremely grateful to you for this so detailed explanation :)

    Most of us, mere mortals, arrived (in the best case) to just get excited to see any match_recognize solution, for any kind of problem.

    Digging inside the “how” of the match_recognize processing, aka tackling its performance issues, is already an “advanced++” topic,
    maybe indeed a suggestion to Stew Ashton for a further ( excellent, as usual for him ) presentation :)
    I do hope that he reads your blog and will take on the challenge :)

    After you mentioned your idea of using match_recognize for solving this problem, I also started to think of a possible solution,
    and my thought went along the same lines as yours, but your essential “tweak” was the idea of “looking forward” for a match, instead of looking backward, as most match_recognize solutions usually do.

    And, if we can only look backward, I got stuck at the point where match_recognize does (currently) support only a limited number of aggregates: sum, avg, min, max, count, while what I was actually needing was to check the “block” of the current rowid versus
    a COLLECT of the blocks of the previous “n” rowid-s.

    The optimistic part was however to find that the error reported by attempting to use one of these “forbidden” aggregates
    (LISTAGG, COLLECT, MEDIAN) in match_recognize does indeed contain a kind of “promise” that they might become supported
    in a future release:
    ORA-62512: This aggregate is not yet supported in MATCH_RECOGNIZE clause.

    Thanks to your previous post, I also became aware of the 200 upper limit for a quantifier used in match_recognize()
    which is not documented.

    And, just as an aside comment, the first post of Richard Foote on the topic of table_cached_blocks

    also uses the (same) inexact definition of this parameter, saying:
    ” The default is 1 (i.e. as performed presently) but can be set up to be a value between 1 and 255,
    meaning during the collection of index statistics, it will not increment the CF if the table block being referenced by the current index entry has already been referenced by any of the prior 255 index entries (if set to 255).”

    Thank you lots of times for this post, we all are still learning as much as we can about match_recognize,
    and your enumerating of yourself among these “learners” can only honor all of us :)

    Everybody keeps learning, but the really great ones are those who are able to also teach others in parallel with their own learning :)

    Best Regards,
    Iudith Mentzel

    Comment by Iudith Mentzel — October 26, 2019 @ 4:01 pm BST Oct 26,2019 | Reply

  2. […] on performance when using the MATCH_RECOGNIZE clause. This came up again because of a query that Jonathan Lewis wrote recently; however, I will concentrate on the theory, not the […]

    Pingback by Backtracking | An Oracle Programmer — October 31, 2019 @ 6:02 am GMT Oct 31,2019 | Reply

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