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SQL Anywhere 10.0.1 » SQL Anywhere Server - SQL Usage » Query Optimization and Execution » Physical data organization and access » Indexes » Improving index performance

Improving index performance Next Page

Composite indexes


An index can contain one, two, or more columns. An index on two or more columns is called a composite index. For example, the following statement creates a two-column composite index:

CREATE INDEX name
ON Employees ( Surname, GivenName );

A composite index is useful if the first column alone does not provide high selectivity. For example, a composite index on Surname and GivenName is useful when many employees have the same surname. A composite index on EmployeeID and Surname would not be useful because each employee has a unique ID, so the column Surname does not provide any additional selectivity.

Additional columns in an index can allow you to narrow down your search, but having a two-column index is not the same as having two separate indexes. A composite index is structured like a telephone book, which first sorts people by their surnames, and then all the people with the same surname by their given names. A telephone book is useful if you know the surname, even more useful if you know both the given name and the surname, but worthless if you only know the given name and not the surname.

Column order

When you create composite indexes, you should think carefully about the order of the columns. Composite indexes are useful for doing searches on all of the columns in the index or on the first columns only; they are not useful for doing searches on any of the later columns alone.

If you are likely to do many searches on one column only, that column should be the first column in the composite index. If you are likely to do individual searches on both columns of a two-column index, you may want to consider creating a second index that contains the second column only.

For example, suppose you create a composite index on two columns. One column contains employee's given names, the other their surnames. You could create an index that contains their given name, then their surname. Alternatively, you could index the surname, then the given name. Although these two indexes organize the information in both columns, they have different functions.

CREATE INDEX IX_GivenName_Surname
   ON Employees ( GivenName, Surname );
CREATE INDEX IX_Surname_GivenName
   ON Employees ( Surname, GivenName );

Suppose you then want to search for the given name John. The only useful index is the one containing the given name in the first column of the index. The index organized by surname then given name is of no use because someone with the given name John could appear anywhere in the index.

If you think it likely that you will need to look up people by given name only or surname only, then you should consider creating both of these indexes.

Alternatively, you could make two indexes, each containing only one of the columns. Remember, however, that SQL Anywhere only uses one index to access any one table while processing a single query. Even if you know both names, it is likely that SQL Anywhere needs to read extra rows, looking for those with the correct second name.

When you create an index using the CREATE INDEX command, as in the example above, the columns appear in the order shown in your command.

Composite indexes and ORDER BY

By default, the columns of an index are sorted in ascending order, but they can optionally be sorted in descending order by specifying DESC in the CREATE INDEX statement.

SQL Anywhere can choose to use an index to optimize an ORDER BY query as long as the ORDER BY clause contains only columns included in that index. In addition, the columns in the index must be ordered in exactly the same way, or in exactly the opposite way, as the ORDER BY clause. For single-column indexes, the ordering is always such that it can be optimized, but composite indexes require slightly more thought. The table below shows the possibilities for a two-column index.

Index columns Optimizable ORDER BY queries Not optimizable ORDER BY queries
ASC, ASC ASC, ASC or DESC, DESC ASC, DESC or DESC, ASC
ASC, DESC ASC, DESC or DESC, ASC ASC, ASC or DESC, DESC
DESC, ASC DESC, ASC or ASC, DESC ASC, ASC or DESC, DESC
DESC, DESC DESC, DESC or ASC, ASC ASC, DESC or DESC, ASC

An index with more than two columns follows the same general rule as above. For example, suppose you have the following index:

CREATE INDEX idx_example
ON table1 ( col1 ASC, col2 DESC, col3 ASC );

In this case, the following queries can be optimized:

SELECT col1, col2, col3 FROM table1
ORDER BY col1 ASC, col2 DESC, col3 ASC;
SELECT col1, col2, col3 FROM example
ORDER BY col1 DESC, col2 ASC, col3 DESC;

The index is not used to optimize a query with any other pattern of ASC and DESC in the ORDER BY clause. For example, the following statement is not optimized:

SELECT col1, col2, col3 FROM table1
ORDER BY col1 ASC, col2 ASC, col3 ASC;