Oracle Scratchpad

November 30, 2020

In-row LOBs

Filed under: Infrastructure,LOBs,Oracle — Jonathan Lewis @ 11:27 am GMT Nov 30,2020

Update Aug 2022: a live example of the problem

If you’re like me there are probably lots of little things that you know but find terribly easy to forget. Here’s one of my bêtes noires – starting with a little quiz:

rem     Script:         lob_in_row.sql
rem     Author:         Jonathan Lewis
rem     Dated:          Oct 2020
rem     Purpose:
rem     Last tested

create table t1 (
        v1      varchar2(20),
        b1      clob,
        s1      clob
lob(b1) store as basicfile  b_lob,
lob(s1) store as securefile s_lob

insert into t1 values(


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

select  column_name, avg_col_len
from    user_tab_columns
where   table_name = 'T1'

select  avg_row_len
from    user_tables
where   table_name = 'T1'

column rel_file_no new_value m_file_no
column block_no    new_value m_block_no

        dbms_rowid.rowid_relative_fno(rowid)    rel_file_no,
        dbms_rowid.rowid_block_number(rowid)    block_no

alter system flush buffer_cache;
alter system dump datafile &m_file_no block &m_block_no;

I’ve created a table with a varchar2() column, a basicfile CLOB, and a securefile CLOB, and inserted the same value into all three. By default the CLOB columns will be defined as ‘enable storage in row’ and since the inserted value is very short it will be stored “in row” for both CLOBs. The question is:

Which column takes the most space in the data block?

To answer this question we need only gather stats and query user_tab_columns and/or user_tables – except the results may be a little surprising, so my script also uses the dbms_rowid package to find the file and block number where the row has been inserted, flushes the buffer cache to make sure that we don’t get confused by older versions of the block (you probably shouldn’t run this script on a big busy system) then dumps the block into the session trace file.

You’ll see why it’s necessary to look at the block dumps when I show you the results from gathering stats. The three sets of results below come from,, and in that order. A key feature the databases have in common is that they were all created with a “variable length multi-byte” characterset :
-------------------- -----------
V1                            21
B1                           123
S1                           117 

-------------------- -----------
V1                            21
B1                           171
S1                           165

-------------------- -----------
V1                            21
B1                            77
S1                            71


There are four things that the three versions agree on.

  • First the row length is the sum of the column lengths.
  • Secondly the average length of the varchar2() column is 21 – remember that the avg_col_len includes the length byte(s) when we collect stats with the dbms_stats package.
  • Thirdly the CLOB columns need a lot more space than the varchar2() column
  • Finally the difference between the basicfile and securefile CLOBs is 6.

But are the actual values reported for the LOB Lengths in any way truthful, or are we seeing reporting errors (that vary with version).

That’s why we need to look at the block dump, and this is what we find as the interesting bit of the dump – which is basically the same in all three cases:

tab 0, row 0, @0x1eec
tl: 172 fb: --H-FL-- lb: 0x1  cc: 3

col  0: [20]  78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78 78

col  1: [76]
 00 54 00 01 02 0c 80 00 00 02 00 00 00 01 00 02 75 f6 ff fb 00 38 09 00 00
 00 00 00 00 28 00 00 00 00 00 01 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78
 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00

col  2: [70]
 00 54 00 01 02 0c 80 80 00 02 00 00 00 01 00 02 75 f6 ff fc 00 32 48 90 00
 2c 00 00 28 01 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78
 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78


When Oracle 19c reported the avg_col_len (and maybe the same would be true of 18c) it was correctly reporting the space taken up in the row by the entries for the two LOBs (and their overheads) that  I had inserted. The earlier versions of Oracle are doing something a little odd.

A key thing you’ll notice, of course, is that the varchar2() column can store my particular input string as one byte per character, but because my databases were all using a “variable length multi-byte” characterset Oracle has stored the CLOB equivalents of the string using a two-byte fixed-width characterset that has effectively doubled the storage (and then used further space for the “Lob Locator” – hence the 20 character string requiring 70+ bytes of storage).

This highlights two important issues. First that trying to work out how to “tune” your table storage based on the avg_col_len / avg_row_len is a lot harder to do if you’ve got LOB columns in the table and your method of estimating storage will have to change to suit the version of Oracle. Secondly, and much more importantly, if you’re thinking of changing a varchar2() column (such as “description” or “comments” from a character data type to a CLOB to allow for a small number of cases where people want to supply longer bits of text then if you’re using a variable length multi-byte character set there are two awful consequences:

  • the storage requirement for the column could more than double
  • the LOB will go out of line when the in-row storage requirement exceeds 4,000 bytes – which means (in many cases) when the original string content exceeds something between 1,938 and roughly 1,985 characters, depending on your version of Oracle and whether you are using basicfile or securefile LOBs.  (Moreover a “long” input string will exceed a single block in the LOB segment whent it goes over roughly 4,000 characters.)

So if you want to handle “long comments” in a variable multi-byte characterset you might want to consider making your code more complex so that up to 4,000 bytes you store the data as a varchar2(), and only use a CLOB column when the data goes over that limit.


If you’re wondering  what all the overheads are for the in-row LOB you’ll find that the 11g block dump gives you some extra details (though the extra details disappeared from my 12c and 19c block dumps).  Here’s the content that appeared immediately after the col1 and col2 data respectively in the 11g block dump.

  Length:        84(76)
  Version:        1
  Byte Length:    2
  Flags[ 0x02 0x0c 0x80 0x00 ]:
    Type: CLOB
    Storage: BasicFile
    Enable Storage in Row
    Characterset Format: IMPLICIT
    Partitioned Table: No
    Options: VaringWidthReadWrite
    Size:     56
    Flag:     0x09 [ Valid DataInRow ]
    Future:   0x00 (should be '0x00')
    Blocks:   0
    Bytes:    40
    Version:  00000.0000000001
    Inline data[40]
Dump of memory from 0x00007FB4244BED8D to 0x00007FB4244BEDB5
7FB4244BED80                            00780001              [..x.]
7FB4244BED90 00780078 00780078 00780078 00780078  [x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.]
        Repeat 1 times
7FB4244BEDB0 00780078 54004678                    [x.x.xF.T]

  Length:        84(70)
  Version:        1
  Byte Length:    2
  Flags[ 0x02 0x0c 0x80 0x80 ]:
    Type: CLOB
    Storage: SecureFile
    Characterset Format: IMPLICIT
    Partitioned Table: No
    Options: VaringWidthReadWrite
  SecureFile Header:
    Length:   50
    Old Flag: 0x48 [ DataInRow SecureFile ]
    Flag 0:   0x90 [ INODE Valid ]
      Lengths Array: INODE:44
        00 00 28 01 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78
        00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78 00 78
        00 78 00 78

Footnote 2

Oracle allows for an empty_clob() to populate a CLOB column with a zero length CLOB, and an empty_clob() is not the same as a null.

Many years ago, when I wrote “Practical Oracle 8i” I pointed out that if you were using a LOB column it would be better to use empty_[bc]lob() to represent an absence of data to avoid the need for checking the column in two different ways for “no data”.

There are two details to remember about this, though. First, empty_clob() take 36 bytes of storage for a basicfile and 30 bytes for a secure file (reported at 37/31 in 19c, 135/131 in 12cR2 and 103/97 in 11gR2). You may decide that’s expensive way of saying “nothing to see here”.

Secondly, while PL/SQL will allow you to compare a PL/SQL clob variable with empty_clob() you cannot use a simple “column = empty_clob()” predicate in SQL and will need a predicate like:

where dbms_lob.getlength(s1) = 0
where, empty_clob) = 0

As a closing comment about the oddity of avg_col_len and LOBs – my first test to check the lengths reported for an empty_clob() also inserted NULL into the v1 column. In this special case (all the columns in the row were empty_clob() or null) 11g reported the avg_col_len of s1 and b1 as zero – compared to actual storage of 31 and 37 bytes respectively.

Update Aug 2022

An example of the impact you can get from “small” CLOBs as you move from a single-byte character set to a variable multi-byte characterset showed up on one of the Oracle database forums today. “It looks like impdp has blocked storage in row”. It hasn’t, but the  export was from a database using WE8ISO8859P1 (single-byte) to a database using AL32UTF8 (multi-byte, variable), and nearly 18 million LOBs must have been in the 2,000 – 4,000 byte range and went out of line as their byte-count doubled. So the table segment  dropped from 50GB to 6.5G (changing from 2.8 rows per block to 21 rows per block) and the LOB segment grew from 30GB to 176GB.


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