Ineffective concatenated indexes

In MySQL significant performance improvements can be achieved by the correct use of indexes. It is important to understand different MySQL index implementations and one key improvement on indexes defined on single columns is to use multiple column or more commonly known concatenated indexes.

However it’s also possible to define ineffective indexes. This example shows you how to identify a concatenated index that is ineffective.

CREATE TABLE example (
  id INT UNSIGNED NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
  a  INT UNSIGNED NOT NULL,
  b  INT UNSIGNED NOT NULL,
  c  INT UNSIGNED NOT NULL,
  d  INT UNSIGNED NOT NULL,
  x  VARCHAR(10),
  y  VARCHAR(10),
  z  VARCHAR(10),
PRIMARY KEY (id),
UNIQUE INDEX (a,b,c,d)
) ENGINE=InnoDB;

INSERT INTO example(a,b,c,d) VALUES
(1,0,1,1),(1,0,1,2), (1,0,2,3), (1,0,4,5),
(2,0,2,1),(2,0,2,2), (2,0,2,3), (2,0,2,5),
(3,0,2,1),(3,0,2,3), (3,0,3,3), (3,0,3,5);

And our sample query is

SELECT id,x,y,z
FROM   example
WHERE  a = 2
AND    c = 2
AND    d = 3;

The EXPLAIN plan is

+----+-------------+---------+------+---------------+------+---------+-------+------+-------------+
| id | select_type | table   | type | possible_keys | key  | key_len | ref   | rows | Extra       |
+----+-------------+---------+------+---------------+------+---------+-------+------+-------------+
|  1 | SIMPLE      | example | ref  | a             | a    | 4       | const |    4 | Using where |
+----+-------------+---------+------+---------------+------+---------+-------+------+-------------+

While we are using the index (see the key column), the full benefit of the index is not utilized (see the key_len). 4 indicates the number of bytes used, that is only 1 INT column.

Let’s look at a second example.

SELECT id,x,y,z
FROM   example
WHERE  a = 2
AND    b = 0
AND    c = 2
AND    d = 3;

+----+-------------+---------+-------+---------------+------+---------+-------------------------+------+-------+
| id | select_type | table   | type  | possible_keys | key  | key_len | ref                     | rows | Extra |
+----+-------------+---------+-------+---------------+------+---------+-------------------------+------+-------+
|  1 | SIMPLE      | example | const | a             | a    | 16      | const,const,const,const |    1 |       |
+----+-------------+---------+-------+---------------+------+---------+-------------------------+------+-------+

In this example the index is used however the key_len is 16, that is 4 x 4 byte INT columns. This is ideal for this index.

In the above example, the client was using a common data structure however was not using one column, it’s values were all effectively 0. Certain queries were written with this knowledge and instead of specifying the column, they elected to remove it, however the impact of this developer code change was increased load on the database and more inefficient performance.

While this was easily addressed by a code change, an alternative could have been to change the index definition. It was not possible to remove the column due to legacy requirements.

ALTER TABLE example
DROP INDEX a,  ADD UNIQUE INDEX (a,c,d);
mysql> explain SELECT id,x,y,z FROM   example  WHERE  a = 2 AND    c = 2 AND    d = 3;
+----+-------------+---------+-------+---------------+------+---------+-------------------+------+-------+
| id | select_type | table   | type  | possible_keys | key  | key_len | ref               | rows | Extra |
+----+-------------+---------+-------+---------------+------+---------+-------------------+------+-------+
|  1 | SIMPLE      | example | const | a             | a    | 12      | const,const,const |    1 |       |
+----+-------------+---------+-------+---------------+------+---------+-------------------+------+-------+

A better solution may be to enforce better integrity on this business rule, that b only contains 0. MySQL does not support check constraint. The closest option would be to use an ENUM data type and a STRICT sql_mode however ENUM is only a string object so this would break other code.

ALTER TABLE example MODIFY b ENUM('0') NOT NULL DEFAULT '0';

Not only is performance impacted in this situation, in other examples of ineffective indexes it’s simply a waste of diskspace to sort additional columns in an index that are never used, and also a waste of memory as the index pages stored in memory contain information that is not used.

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One Response to “Ineffective concatenated indexes”

  1. Hi!

    on nitpick:

    “more commonly known concatenated indexes.”

    Actually – I never heard them being called that. I am familiar with the term “composite indexes”. That term makes more sense to me anyway – when you say concatenated index, I think of multiple indexes glued together. Composite indexes indicate indexes that are composed, that is, do not consist of one part – which seems to convey the idea that they are built on multiple columns better.