Subqueries: NULLs and IN/=ANY problem fixed

A while ago I wrote about problem with NULLs and IN/=ANY subqueries MySQL had. I was completely correct when I wrote that the fix won’t be simple. It took 3 bug entries (BUG#8804, BUG#24085, BUG#24127), several review iterations by Igor, and the final patch is around 2,300 lines long.

The good news is that this patch solves the problem completely, and it is already in the 5.0.36 tree. The documentation is not yet updated, doing that is now on my todo. There is quite a lot to document: we’ve had to introduce “switchable access methods”, where a table accessed using ref is sometimes accessed using full table scan. (for the impatient: no, the new access method is not not called ref_or_null_or_all :-), it is still ref[_or_null] but with “Full scan on NULL key” in the “Extra” column).

I’ll post here when the docs become available.

An idea how to speed up nested-loops join a little

Working on subquery optimizations, got an idea how to speed up join execution a little. Read on.

The idea

Consider a query:

select * from t1, t2, t3 where t3.key=t1.col1 and t2.key=t1.col2

Suppose the join order is t1, t2, t3, i.e. the EXPLAIN is like

| table | type | possible_keys | key  | key_len | ref          |
| t1    | ALL  | NULL          | NULL | NULL    | NULL         |
| t2    | ref  | key           | key  | 5       | test.t1.col1 |
| t3    | ref  | key           | key  | 5       | test.t1.col2 |

The important property is that access to t3 is independent of access to t2. MySQL’s nested loops join algorithm will run this as in this swimlane diagram:

NL execution diagram

Here we assume that

  • table t2 has 4 rows such that t2.key=t1.col1
  • table t3 doesn’t have any rows such that t3.key=t1.col2

As soon as we make first index lookup in table t3 (the one with blue border), we see that there will be no matching row combinations for this row of t1. Nevertheless, MySQL executioner will proceed to examine different rows in table t2 (marked with red border). This is redundant and can be easily avoided.

The implementation

The executioner part is easy: just maked the nested-loops join code to “jump back” in the cases like the illustrated. If we don’t find a match and table access/selection condition does not depend on the preceding table(s), then go back to the last table that the table access depends on. I don’t have the ready term for this, the working name is “short-cutting”.

The optimizer part is (as usual) more complicated. One way is to take the easy route: let the join optimizer (the part of code that chooses the join order) remain unaware of the short-cutting. Once the join order is produced, set up the executioner to perform short-cutting where appopriate.

The bad part is that join optimizer doesn’t account for short-cutting when comparing costs of various join orders, which may lead it to choose non-optimal join orders. However, taking short-cutting into account won’t be easy:

  • First, we’ll need to generate selection conditions for the join orders we consider (in other words, figure out if the EXPLAIN will have “Using WHERE”). Our current way of doing this will probably be too expensive to be done for each considered join order.
  • Second, we’ll need to get somewhere an estimate of how often short-cutting will occur. That is, we’ll need to know probability that for some *arbitrary* values of columns from preceding tables, table T will have no rows that would satisfy given condition COND(preceding_tables, T). This estimate is likely to end up being some while guess like “lets use

At the moment the easy route seems like the way to go.

2007-02-11: Fixed typos in EXPLAIN ouput

IN/=ANY Subqueries NULL woes

NULL values are suprisingly hazardous for MySQL’s way of optimizing IN subqueries. MySQL takes the ‘=’ from ‘=ANY’ and tries to push it down into the subquery, essentially changing IN subquery into EXISTS subquery. That is, a subquery like

outer_expr IN (SELECT inner_expr FROM ... WHERE subq_where)

is converted to:

EXISTS (SELECT 1 FROM ... WHERE subq_where AND outer_expr=inner_expr)

and then MySQL can use the pushed-down equality to limit number of rows it has to look through when running the subquery. This “pushdown” works as long as outer_expr and inner_expr can’t be NULL or you don’t care whether subquery result is NULL or FALSE (MySQL figures that you don’t care if the subquery is a part of OR or AND expression in the WHERE clause).When you start caring about producing correct NULL or FALSE results, problems start coming from left and right, literally:

NULL problem in the right part

Suppose outer_expr is not a NULL value but the subquery doesn’t produce a row
such that outer_expr=inner_expr.
Then “non_null_outer_expr IN (SELECT …)” evaluates to

  • FALSE, if the SELECT produces only non-null values, or produces nothing
  • NULL, if the SELECT produces (among others) a row with inner_expr IS NULL.

The “look for rows with inner_expr=outer_expr” approach is not valid anymore. You have to use a more complicated “look for rows with inner_expr=outer_expr, and if nothing is found, look for rows with inner_expr IS NULL”. Roughly speaking, the subquery can be converted to:

(outer_expr=inner_expr OR
inner_expr IS NULL))

The need to evaluate this is the reason why MySQL has ‘ref_or_null’ access method:

mysql> EXPLAIN
-> SELECT outer_expr IN (SELECT t2.maybe_null_key
->                       FROM t2, t3 WHERE ...)
-> FROM t1;
*************************** 1. row ***************************
id: 1
select_type: PRIMARY
table: t1
*************************** 2. row ***************************
id: 2
table: t2
type: ref_or_null
possible_keys: maybe_null_key
key: maybe_null_key
key_len: 5
ref: func
rows: 2
Extra: Using where; Using index

Subqery-specific access methods, unique_subquery and index_subquery, too have or-null variants. They are not visible in EXPLAIN output, you need to use EXPLAIN EXTENDED and look through the produced warnings:

-> SELECT outer_expr IN (SELECT maybe_null_key FROM t2) FROM t1;
*************************** 1. row ***************************
id: 1
select_type: PRIMARY
table: t1
*************************** 2. row ***************************
id: 2
table: t2
type: index_subquery
possible_keys: maybe_null_key
key: maybe_null_key
key_len: 5
ref: func
rows: 2
Extra: Using index
2 rows in set, 1 warning (0.00 sec)

mysql> show warnings;
*************************** 1. row ***************************
Level: Note
Code: 1003
Message: select (`test`.`t1`.`outer_expr`,
(((`test`.`t1`.`outer_expr`) in t2 on
maybe_null_key checking NULL))) AS `outer_expr IN (SELECT
maybe_null_key FROM t2)` from `test`.`t1`

The “OR … IS NULL” makes things slightly more complicated (and some optimizations within the subquery become impossible), but generally this is tolerable.

NULL hazard in the left part

The situation is much worse when you get NULL for outer_expr. According to NULL handling rules, NULL IN (SELECT inner_expr …) should evaluate to

  • FALSE, if the SELECT produces no rows.
  • NULL, if the SELECT produces any rows.

We’ll need to be able to check if the SELECT has produced any rows at all, so we can’t add “outer_expr = inner_expr” into the subquery. This is a problem, because lots of real world subqueries become very slow if we don’t push the equality down. At the moment, MySQL’s choice is to be fast rather than correct, and you may get FALSE where you should have gotten NULL. There seems to be no easy solution – essentially you need to have two different ways to execute the subquery depending on what is the value of left_expr is.

Me, Igor and Evgen are working on a fix. Hopefully I’ll be able post a resolution update soon.

Partitioning optimizations documentation is available

It’s been nine months since partition pruning code has been pushed into MySQL 5.1. Another available optimization, partition selection, has been in the main tree for even longer. There haven’t been any bugs reported for some time, so the code should be reasonably stable now.

And if you’re interested in what’s under the hood, a rather detailed description of partitioning optimizations is now available here:

It is a part of the internals manual, but I tried to write it so it doesn’t
require any knowledge of MySQL source code. (and don’t be scared away by my English – the text in the manual has passed the scrutiny of the documentation team 🙂

Hello World!

Hi! My name is Sergey Petrunia and I’m one of the developers in MySQL Query Optimizer team. If you don’t have a habit of leafing through the commits list, you probably don’t hear much about what we’re doing, and we don’t have your feedback on it.
This blog is my attempt to rectify this situation a bit. Let’s see if it will succeed.