As Published In
Oracle Magazine
January/February 2009

TECHNOLOGY: Ask Tom


On Dynamic Sampling

By Tom Kyte Oracle Employee ACE

Our technologist samples dynamically, considers usage, and sets levels.

My questions are related to dynamic sampling. What does it really do, when would I consider using it, and what are the meanings of all the different levels it can be set to?

Dynamic sampling first became available in Oracle9i Database Release 2. It is the ability of the cost-based optimizer (CBO) to sample the tables a query references during a hard parse, to determine better default statistics for unanalyzed segments, and to verify its “guesses.” This sampling takes place only at hard parse time and is used to dynamically generate better statistics for the optimizer to use, hence the name dynamic sampling.

The optimizer uses a variety of inputs to come up with a plan. It uses any and all constraints defined on the table; system statistics—information about your server’s I/O speeds, CPU speed, and the like; and statistics gathered from the segments involved in the query. The optimizer uses statistics to estimate cardinalities—the number of rows each step in a given plan is expected to return—and those cardinalities are a major variable in computing the cost of a query. When cardinalities are incorrectly estimated, the optimizer may choose an inefficient query plan. The No. 1, and some might say only, reason for an inefficient plan’s being generated by the optimizer is inaccurate cardinality estimations. I like to say “right cardinality equals right plan; wrong cardinality equals wrong plan.”

So, “right” is the motivation behind dynamic sampling: to help the optimizer get the right estimated cardinality values. Feeding the optimizer more information and more-accurate information, specific to the query itself, will help the optimizer come up with the optimal execution plan.

Dynamic sampling offers 11 setting levels (0 through 10), and I’ll explain the different levels, but note that in Oracle9i Database Release 2, the default dynamic sampling level value is 1, whereas in Oracle Database 10g Release 1 and above, it defaults to 2.

Ways Dynamic Sampling Works

There are two ways to use dynamic sampling:

 

  • The OPTIMIZER_DYNAMIC_SAMPLING parameter can be set at the database instance level and can also be overridden at the session level with the ALTER SESSION command.
  • The DYNAMIC_SAMPLING query hint can be added to specific queries.


In this column, I’m going to use the hinting capability to demonstrate the effect of dynamic sampling, but you may well use the session-level capability to increase the use of dynamic sampling, especially in a reporting or data warehouse situation.

As stated before, dynamic sampling is used to gather statistics for unanalyzed segments and to verify “guesses” made by the optimizer. I’ll look at each of these uses in turn.

Unanalyzed Segments

The optimizer will use default statistic values if a segment is not analyzed and you do not use dynamic sampling to get a quick estimate. These default cardinality values are documented in Oracle Database Performance Tuning Guide. These default statistic values are typically not very realistic, because using them is a one-size-fits-all approach. The estimated row counts are based on guesses at the number of blocks of data in the table and an average row width. Without dynamic sampling, these guesses will be off—by a large amount. Consider:

 

SQL> create table t
  2    as
  3    select owner, object_type
  4      from all_objects
  5    /
Table created.

SQL> select count(*) from t;

  COUNT(*)
------------------------
      68076


Now I’ll look at the estimates for a query that accesses this unanalyzed table. To see the default cardinalities the optimizer would use, I have to disable dynamic sampling (it is enabled by default in Oracle9i Database Release 2 and above). I achieve this via the DYNAMIC_SAMPLING hint, with a level of zero—zero being the value that disables dynamic sampling—as shown in Listing 1.

Code Listing 1: Disabling dynamic sampling to see default cardinalities

 

 
SQL> set autotrace traceonly explain
SQL> select /*+ dynamic_sampling(t 0) */ * from t;

Execution Plan
------------------------------
Plan hash value: 1601196873

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id | Operation | Name | Rows | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 0 | SELECT STATEMENT | | 16010 | 437K| 55 (0)| 00:00:01 |
| 1 | TABLE ACCESS FULL| T | 16010 | 437K| 55 (0)| 00:00:01 |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------


As you can see, the estimated cardinality is 16,010, which is very far off from the real cardinality, about 68,000. If I permit dynamic sampling, I get a much more realistic cardinality estimate, as shown in Listing 2.

Code Listing 2: More-realistic cardinalities with dynamic sampling enabled

 

SQL> select * from t;

Execution Plan
------------------------------
Plan hash value: 1601196873

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id | Operation | Name | Rows | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 0 | SELECT STATEMENT | | 77871 | 2129K| 56 (2)| 00:00:01 |
| 1 | TABLE ACCESS FULL| T | 77871 | 2129K| 56 (2)| 00:00:01 |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note ------------------------------------------ - dynamic sampling used for this statement


Now, 77,871 is not exactly 68,000 (obviously), but it is much closer to reality than 16,010 was. In general, the optimizer will choose better query plans for queries accessing this unanalyzed table when using dynamic sampling.

An inaccurate cardinality estimate can swing either way, of course. In Listing 1, I showed the optimizer radically underestimating the cardinality, but it can overestimate as well. Consider the estimate in Listing 3.

Code Listing 3: Overestimating cardinalities

 

SQL> delete from t; 
68076 rows deleted. 

SQL> commit; 
Commit complete. 

SQL> set autotrace traceonly explain
SQL> select /*+ dynamic_sampling(t 0) */ * from t;

Execution Plan 
------------------------------
Plan hash value: 1601196873

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id | Operation | Name | Rows | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 0 | SELECT STATEMENT | | 16010 | 437K| 55 (0)| 00:00:01 |
| 1 | TABLE ACCESS FULL| T | 16010 | 437K| 55 (0)| 00:00:01 |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
SQL> select * from t; Execution Plan ----------------------------- Plan hash value: 1601196873 --------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id | Operation | Name | Rows | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 0 | SELECT STATEMENT | | 1 | 28 | 55 (0)| 00:00:01 |
| 1 | TABLE ACCESS FULL| T | 1 | 28 | 5 (0)| 00:00:01 |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note --------------------------------------- - dynamic sampling used for this statement


Think about what might happen if the optimizer guessed 16,010 rows instead of 1 row in this case. For queries accessing table T, the optimizer would grossly overestimate the rows that will be returned from T and generate incorrect plans as a result.

So, where would dynamic sampling be useful? First and foremost, dynamic sampling is useful when you are accessing any table that has been created and loaded but not yet analyzed. Starting in Oracle Database 10g Release 1, the CBO is the only supported optimizer, and it needs accurate statistics to perform its job correctly. If a table exists that hasn’t had statistics gathered yet, the optimizer will be flying blind. Dynamic sampling gives the CBO the information it needs in order to operate correctly.

The second use for dynamic sampling is with global temporary tables. Often global temporary tables do not have statistics, and dynamic sampling can provide the optimizer with information about these tables. Your application would load the global temporary table, and the first hard parse of any query that utilized the temporary table would dynamically sample it to ascertain the correct size of the temporary table.

When the Optimizer Guesses

In addition to providing the optimizer with necessary statistics when it is accessing unanalyzed segments, dynamic sampling may also help the optimizer to validate any of its guesses. The optimizer has access to statistics about “single things” in general; when you gather statistics by using DBMS_STATS, the optimizer receives information about 
 

  • The table, the number of rows, average row widths, and the like.
  • Each individual column, the high value, the low value, the number of distinct values, histograms (maybe), and the like. (Oracle Database 11g can even gather statistics on an expression, but it is still a single expression). Additionally, Oracle Database 11g can gather statistics on groups of columns, and these statistics can be used in equality comparisons.
  • Each individual index, the clustering factor, the number of leaf blocks, the index height, and the like.


So, given a table with various columns, the optimizer has lots of information to work with, but it is missing some vital information, including statistics about how the various columns interact with each other and statistics about any correlations in column values. For example, suppose you have a table of census information that includes a record for everyone on the planet. One of the table’s attributes—MONTH_BORN_IN—is a character string field containing each person’s birth month. Another column—ZODIAC_SIGN—contains character strings with the name of each person’s zodiac sign.

After gathering statistics, you ask the optimizer to estimate how many people were born in December, and it would almost certainly be able to come up with a very accurate estimate of 1/12 of the data (assuming a normal distribution of birth dates). If you asked the optimizer to estimate how many people are Pisces, it would again likely come up with an accurate estimate of 1/12 of the data again.

So far, so good. But now you ask, “How many people born in December are Pisces?” All Pisces were born in either February or March, but the optimizer isn’t aware of that. All the optimizer knows is that December will retrieve 1/12 of the data and that Pisces will retrieve 1/12 of the data; it assumes that the two columns are independent and, using very simple logic, says, “The number of people born in December who are also Pisces will be 1/12 times 1/12, or 1/144, of the data.” The actual number of rows—zero—will be very far off from the optimizer’s guess of 1/144th of the rows in the table, and the result is typically a suboptimal plan, due to the poor cardinality estimates.

Dynamic sampling can help solve this. When it is set high enough, to level 3 or above, the optimizer will validate its guesses by using a dynamic sample.

To demonstrate this, I’ll create a table with some very specific data. Note that in this table, if the FLAG1 column has a value of Y, the FLAG2 column will have a value of N, and vice versa. All the data is either Y, N, or N, Y—there are no Y, Y records and no N, N records. Listing 4 shows the creation of the table and the gathering of statistics.

Code Listing 4: Creating the “FLAG” table and gathering statistics

 

SQL> create table t
  2    as select decode( mod(rownum,2), 0, 'N', 'Y' ) flag1,
  3                 decode( mod(rownum,2), 0, 'Y', 'N' ) flag2, a.*
  4      from all_objects a
  5    /
Table created.

SQL > create index t_idx on t(flag1,flag2);
Index created.

SQL > begin
  2              dbms_stats.gather_table_stats
  3              ( user, 'T',
  4              method_opt=>'for all indexed columns size 254' );
  5     end;
  6     /
PL/SQL procedure successfully completed.


So I have the table and have gathered statistics, including histograms for the FLAG1 and FLAG2 columns. The following shows the number of rows in the table, half the number, and a quarter of the number:

 

SQL> select num_rows, num_rows/2, 
num_rows/2/2 from user_tables 
where table_name = 'T';

NUM_ROWS  NUM_ROWS/2  NUM_ROWS/2/2
--------  ----------  ------------  
   68076       34038         17019


If I look at the data in the table, I can see how many of the rows would be returned for FLAG1 = 'N’ (half of the data, given how I constructed it) and how many would be returned for FLAG2 = 'N’ (again half of the data). I can verify this by using autotrace again, as shown in Listing 5.

Code Listing 5: Good cardinality estimates, looking at half of the table data

 

SQL> set autotrace traceonly explain
SQL> select * from t where flag1='N';

Execution Plan
------------------------------
Plan hash value: 1601196873

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id | Operation | Name | Rows | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 0 | SELECT STATEMENT | | 33479 | 3432K| 292 (1)| 00:00:04 |
|* 1 | TABLE ACCESS FULL| T | 33479 | 3432K| 292 (1)| 00:00:04 |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Predicate Information (identified by operation id): --------------------------------------------------- 1 - filter("FLAG1"='N') SQL> select * from t where flag2='N'; Execution Plan ---------------------------- Plan hash value: 1601196873 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id | Operation | Name | Rows | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time |
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 0 | SELECT STATEMENT | | 34597 | 3547K| 292 (1)| 00:00:04 |
|* 1 | TABLE ACCESS FULL| T | 34597 | 3547K| 292 (1)| 00:00:04 |
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Predicate Information (identified by operation id): --------------------------------------------------- 1 - filter("FLAG2"='N')


So far, so good—the estimated cardinalities are accurate, and the optimizer can generate optimal query plans.

Last, I can see the value the optimizer will “guess” by default if I query FLAG1 = 'N’ and FLAG2 = 'N’—in this case, about a quarter of the rows in the table, as shown in Listing 6.

Code Listing 6: Poor cardinality estimates, looking at a quarter of the table data

 

SQL> select * from t where flag1 = 'N' and flag2 = 'N';

Execution Plan
----------------------------
Plan hash value: 1601196873

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id | Operation | Name | Rows | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 0 | SELECT STATEMENT | | 17014 | 1744K| 292 (1)| 00:00:04 |
|* 1 | TABLE ACCESS FULL| T | 17014 | 1744K| 292 (1)| 00:00:04 |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Predicate Information (identified by operation id): ---------------------------------------------------- 1 - filter("FLAG1" = 'N' AND "FLAG2" = 'N')


Listing 6 shows that when the predicate gets just a little more complex, the optimizer misses the estimated cardinality by a huge amount—it doesn’t know about the relationship between FLAG1 and FLAG2. Enter dynamic sampling, shown in Listing 7.

Code Listing 7: Good cardinality estimate, looking at only six rows

 

SQL> select /*+ dynamic_sampling(t 3) */ * from t where flag1 = 'N' and flag2 = 'N';

Execution Plan
-----------------------------
Plan hash value: 470836197

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Id | Operation | Name | Rows | Bytes | Cost (%CPU)| Time |
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 0 | SELECT STATEMENT | | 6 | 630 | 2 (0)| 00:00:01 |
| 1 | TABLE ACCESS BY INDEX ROWID| T | 6 | 630 | 2 (0)| 00:00:01 |
|* 2 | INDEX RANGE SCAN | T_IDX | 6 | | 1 (0)| 00:00:01 |
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Predicate Information (identified by operation id): ---------------------------------------------------- 2 - access("FLAG1"='N' AND "FLAG2"='N')


Note the much better row estimate (6 instead of more than 17,000) in Listing 7, compared to Listing 6, and also note the very different (and now optimal) plan. Instead of a full table scan, the optimizer has decided to use the index, and this execution plan will definitely be optimal compared to the original full table scan, because in reality, no data will be returned. The index will discover that instantly.

The Dynamic Sampling Levels

A frequently asked question about dynamic sampling is, “What do all of the levels mean?” The answer is pretty straightforward and documented in Oracle Database Performance Tuning Guide.

I reproduce that information here:

The sampling levels are as follows if the dynamic sampling level used is from a cursor hint or from the OPTIMIZER_DYNAMIC_SAMPLING initialization parameter:

 

  • Level 0: Do not use dynamic sampling.
  • Level 1: Sample all tables that have not been analyzed if the following criteria are met: (1) there is at least 1 unanalyzed table in the query; (2) this unanalyzed table is joined to another table or appears in a subquery or non-mergeable view; (3) this unanalyzed table has no indexes; (4) this unanalyzed table has more blocks than the number of blocks that would be used for dynamic sampling of this table. The number of blocks sampled is the default number of dynamic sampling blocks (32).
  • Level 2: Apply dynamic sampling to all unanalyzed tables. The number of blocks sampled is two times the default number of dynamic sampling blocks.
  • Level 3: Apply dynamic sampling to all tables that meet Level 2 criteria, plus all tables for which standard selectivity estimation used a guess for some predicate that is a potential dynamic sampling predicate. The number of blocks sampled is the default number of dynamic sampling blocks. For unanalyzed tables, the number of blocks sampled is two times the default number of dynamic sampling blocks.
  • Level 4: Apply dynamic sampling to all tables that meet Level 3 criteria, plus all tables that have single-table predicates that reference 2 or more columns. The number of blocks sampled is the default number of dynamic sampling blocks. For unanalyzed tables, the number of blocks sampled is two times the default number of dynamic sampling blocks.
  • Levels 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9: Apply dynamic sampling to all tables that meet the previous level criteria using 2, 4, 8, 32, or 128 times the default number of dynamic sampling blocks respectively.
  • Level 10: Apply dynamic sampling to all tables that meet the Level 9 criteria using all blocks in the table.


Note that in Oracle9i Database Release 2, the default setting for dynamic sampling is level 1. At this setting, the optimizer will tend to use dynamic sampling only in some cases when a table is unanalyzed. This includes the case of global temporary tables without statistics but doesn’t ensure that dynamic sampling will be used against all unanalyzed tables. In Oracle Database 10g Release 1 and above, the default setting was raised to 2. This setting ensures that the optimizer will have a good estimate whenever it optimizes a query that accesses a table with no statistics.

I used level 3 in the “FLAG” table example in Listing 7. Level 3 instructs the optimizer to collect a sample to validate a guess it might have made. For example, if I turn on SQL_TRACE and run the example in Listing 7, I will find the SQL in Listing 8 in my trace file.

Code Listing 8: Trace file SQL generated by Listing 7 query

 

SELECT /* OPT_DYN_SAMP */ /*+ ALL_ROWS IGNORE_WHERE_CLAUSE
NO_PARALLEL(SAMPLESUB) opt_param('parallel_execution_enabled', 'false')
NO_PARALLEL_INDEX(SAMPLESUB) NO_SQL_TUNE */ NVL(SUM(C1),:"SYS_B_00"),
NVL(SUM(C2),:"SYS_B_01"), NVL(SUM(C3),:"SYS_B_02")
FROM
(SELECT /*+ IGNORE_WHERE_CLAUSE NO_PARALLEL("T") FULL("T")
NO_PARALLEL_INDEX("T") */ :"SYS_B_03" AS C1, CASE WHEN "T"."FLAG1"=
:"SYS_B_04" AND "T"."FLAG2"=:"SYS_B_05" THEN :"SYS_B_06" ELSE :"SYS_B_07"
END AS C2, CASE WHEN "T"."FLAG2"=:"SYS_B_08" AND "T"."FLAG1"=:"SYS_B_09"
THEN :"SYS_B_10" ELSE :"SYS_B_11" END AS C3 FROM "T" SAMPLE BLOCK
(:"SYS_B_12" , :"SYS_B_13") SEED (:"SYS_B_14") "T") SAMPLESUB


The bold code in Listing 8 shows the optimizer trying to validate its guess—it is looking for any correlation between the FLAG1 and FLAG2 columns. By executing this sampling query during the hard parse, the optimizer was able to figure out that very few rows would be returned by this WHERE clause, adjust the estimated cardinality, and arrive at the correct plan.

When to Use Dynamic Sampling

“When should I use dynamic sampling?” is a tricky question. As with any other feature, there are times to use it and times to avoid it. So far I’ve concentrated on the “goodness” of dynamic sampling, and based on that, it seems that you should set the level to 3 or 4 and just let the optimizer always use dynamic sampling to validate its guesses.

That makes sense in an environment in which you spend most of your time executing SQL and very little of your overall time hard-parsing the SQL. That is, the SQL you are executing runs for a long time and the parse time is a small portion of the overall execution time, such as in a data warehousing environment. There, dynamic sampling at levels above the default makes complete sense. You are willing to give the optimizer a little more time during a hard parse (when sampling takes place) to arrive at the optimal plan for these complex queries.

That leaves the other classic type of environment: the online transaction processing (OLTP) system. Here, in general, you are executing queries thousands of times per second and spend very little time executing a given query—the queries are typically small and fast. Increasing the parse time in an OLTP system might well cause you to spend more time parsing than executing SQL. You do not want to increase the parse times here, so higher levels of dynamic sampling would not be advisable. 

Next Steps


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So what happens when you need the benefit of the dynamic sample at level 3 or above in an OLTP system? That is when it would be time to look into SQL Profiles, a new feature of Oracle Database 10g Release 1 and above (download.oracle.com/docs/cd/B28359_01/server.111/b28274/sql_tune.htm#PFGRF02605).

A SQL profile is roughly equivalent, in some respects, to a really aggressive dynamic sample—it, too, validates any guesses, but it has the ability to persist this information in the data dictionary. In some respects, a SQL profile is like a “static sample,” as opposed to the dynamic samples we’ve been discussing. Using a SQL profile is a bit like gathering statistics for a query and storing that information for the optimizer to use at hard parse time—it saves on the cost of dynamic sampling by “sampling” once and persisting the values.

So, why would you not just always use SQL Profiles? Well, in a data warehouse and many reporting systems, you do not utilize bind variables—you put the literal values into the SQL query itself, so the optimizer has good insight into exactly the data you are interested in. In a data warehouse system, query performance is paramount and the users are typically generating SQL in an ad hoc fashion. They do not run the same SQL from day to day, so there is no SQL from which to create a SQL profile! The SQL is generated, executed, and maybe never executed again. Dynamic sampling is perfect for such a data warehouse situation; it quickly validates the optimizer guesses at hard parse time and gives the optimizer the information it needs right then and there. Because that query will likely not be executed over and over again, the information need not be persisted in the data dictionary.

In the OLTP system, the opposite is true. You do use bind variables; you do use the same SQL over and over and over again. Avoiding any bit of work you can at runtime is your goal in this kind of system, because you want subsecond response times. Here the SQL profile makes more sense: you gather the statistics for the query once and persist them for all subsequent optimizations of that query.

More Information

In addition to the Oracle documentation at oracle.com/technetwork/documentation, Jonathan Lewis’ excellent book Cost-Based Oracle Fundamentals (Apress, 2006) and my book Effective Oracle by Design (Oracle Press, 2003) provide more information on dynamic sampling and other optimizer topics.
 



Tom Kyte
is a database evangelist in Oracle’s Server Technology division and has worked for Oracle since 1993. He is the author of Expert Oracle Database Architecture: 9i and 10g Programming Techniques and Solutions (Apress, 2005) and Effective Oracle by Design (Oracle Press, 2003), among others.

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