3
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The following query is taking over 800ms to run, and returning 300 rows. When deployed to SQL Azure, it takes much longer on an affordable price tier.

SELECT
    Tests.Id,
    Tests.Title,
    Tests.AuthorId,
    Tests.[Status],
    Users.FirstName + ' ' + Users.LastName AS AuthorName,
    (SELECT
        COUNT(1)
     FROM Results LEFT JOIN Users ON Results.UserId = Users.Id
     WHERE
        Results.TestId = Tests.Id AND
        Results.MarkedBy IS NULL AND
        Results.QuestionNumber >= 1 AND
        EXISTS (
          (SELECT ClassName FROM UserClasses WHERE UserClasses.UserId = Users.Id)
          INTERSECT
          (SELECT ClassName FROM TestClasses WHERE TestClasses.TestId = Tests.Id)
          INTERSECT
          (SELECT ClassName FROM UserClasses WHERE UserId = @teacherId)
        )
    ) AS UnmarkedCount,
    (CASE WHEN EXISTS (SELECT 1 FROM Results WHERE Results.TestId = Tests.Id)
      THEN CAST(1 AS BIT)
      ELSE CAST(0 AS BIT) END
    ) AS AnyResults,
    (SELECT Stuff((SELECT ',' + ClassName FROM
      (
        (SELECT ClassName FROM TestClasses WHERE TestClasses.TestId = Tests.Id)
        INTERSECT
        (SELECT ClassName FROM UserClasses WHERE UserId = @teacherId)
      ) x FOR XML PATH ('')),1,1,'')
    ) AS Classes
FROM
    Tests INNER JOIN Users ON Tests.AuthorId = Users.Id
WHERE
    Users.SchoolId = @schoolId AND Tests.Status <= 4

An overview of the schema:

  • Users include students and teachers.
  • UserClasses matches many users to many class names.
  • TestClasses matches many tests to many class names.
  • Each test in Tests can have multiple Results - one per question per student.

The query returns a list of tests, using subqueries to find:

  • UnmarkedCount: How many unmarked results exist for this test, where the intersection of the following is not empty:
    1. The classes of the student of this result
    2. The test's classes
    3. The teacher's classes
  • AnyResults: Are there any results for this test?
  • Classes: As a comma-separated list, which of the teacher's classes are assigned to this test?

Note that if we remove the condition where three queries are intersected, the execution time is reduced to 150ms. However, this logic is required.

How could this be improved?

Further Details:

Query Execution Plan

This is an extract from the query execution plan, where the heavy lifting seems to occur. I can't see anywhere suggesting indexes.

Query Execution Plan

Business logic

The procedure returns a list of all tests at a given school. For each test, it calculates:

  • UnmarkedCount: How many results are not yet marked for students in classes which are both allocated to this test and taught by the current user?
  • Classes: Which of the classes allocated to this test does the current user teach?
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Presumably you've already tried this query in Sql Server Management Studio, with the "Show actual execution plan" feature turned on. That will suggest indexes for you, which may help a lot. (Right-click on the text of the query in SSMS -- you'll see that feature.) \$\endgroup\$ – O. Jones Sep 3 '16 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it possible to recast the dependent subquery with the INTERSECTION clauses as an independent subquery and then JOIN it? The business logic in that subquery is not clear to me, so I hesitate to try to do that myself. Maybe you could edit your question to spell out that logic more clearly. \$\endgroup\$ – O. Jones Sep 3 '16 at 14:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OllieJones Thanks for your feedback. I have edited my post to try and answer your questions. Apologies - I'm a beginner with all this! \$\endgroup\$ – James Sep 3 '16 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to be sure: there are no computed columns in any of the tables? \$\endgroup\$ – Gert Arnold Sep 3 '16 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GertArnold No, they're all just regular columns. \$\endgroup\$ – James Sep 3 '16 at 20:49
1
+50
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Let's just focus on this part, because that's where your performance goes:

SELECT
    COUNT(1)
FROM Results LEFT JOIN Users ON Results.UserId = Users.Id
WHERE
    Results.TestId = Tests.Id AND
    Results.MarkedBy IS NULL AND
    Results.QuestionNumber >= 1 AND
    EXISTS (
      (SELECT ClassName FROM UserClasses WHERE UserClasses.UserId = Users.Id)
      INTERSECT
      (SELECT ClassName FROM TestClasses WHERE TestClasses.TestId = Tests.Id)
      INTERSECT
      (SELECT ClassName FROM UserClasses WHERE UserId = @teacherId)
    )

That pattern of EXISTS (... INTERSECT ...) is better written as a chain of INNER JOIN.

The query optimizer of your database already did that internally as well, but it chose the wrong order for the join, resulting in overly large temporary result sets. Especially when joining UserClasses straight on Results without applying the more selective filter by @teacherId first.

SELECT
    COUNT(1)
FROM Results
INNER JOIN TestClasses ON
    TestClasses.TestId = Tests.Id AND
    TestClasses.TestId = Results.TestId
INNER JOIN UserClasses AS TeacherClass ON
    TeacherClass.UserId = @teacherId AND
    TeacherClass.ClassName = TestClasses.ClassName
INNER JOIN UserClasses AS UserClass ON
    UserClass.UserId = Results.UserId AND
    UserClass.ClassName = TestClasses.ClassName
WHERE
    Results.MarkedBy IS NULL AND
    Results.QuestionNumber >= 1

I reordered the JOIN clauses to ensure that the product remains as small as possible after each single step. Further, I eliminated the unnecessary join on the User schema.

However, you don't actually need full INNER JOIN either. If your database system supports that, you can safely replace the 2nd and 3rd of the INNER JOIN with LEFT SEMI JOIN operators instead.


So much for fixing the inner select. But as a matter of fact, now we don't even need to do it as a subquery any more, but can just handle if as a LEFT JOIN with COUNT and GROUP BY on the outmost query.

Whether this actually gains any performance needs to be tested.


There are also a couple of flaws in your database scheme:

Take the UserClasses table schema. You are abusing it to describe both the roles of teacher and student for any given class, without distinguishing between these two. I suspect you coded the user role into the Users schema instead, but it would have been better to store different roles in different schemes.

You are apparently storing class names as string literals in multiple schemes, this is an indirect violation of the 2NF, but even worse, it requires string comparisons to match the corresponding columns against each other. This should be refactored ASAP.

There also appears to be a possible design flaw in Results. If the same test is reused by two different classes, and a pupil is enrolled into both, his test results are now shared between both classes. Test results should probably linked to a specific enrollment to a class, rather than just to the generic test. This also allows to simplify this query further, as the most expensive part of joining on UserClass for querying pupil enrollment is then obsolete.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Huge thanks for your detailed response, which not only answers my question but also gives general advice about my database which I really appreciate. I have a lot to learn, and you have given some helpful pointers! Please could you show me the SQL you are suggesting when you say "now we don't even need to do it as a subquery any more..."? \$\endgroup\$ – James Sep 7 '16 at 22:29
0
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    EXISTS (
      (SELECT ClassName FROM UserClasses WHERE UserClasses.UserId = Users.Id)
      INTERSECT
      (SELECT ClassName FROM TestClasses WHERE TestClasses.TestId = Tests.Id)
      INTERSECT
      (SELECT ClassName FROM UserClasses WHERE UserId = @teacherId)
    )
(SELECT Stuff((SELECT ',' + ClassName FROM
  (
    (SELECT ClassName FROM TestClasses WHERE TestClasses.TestId = Tests.Id)
    INTERSECT
    (SELECT ClassName FROM UserClasses WHERE UserId = @teacherId)
  ) x FOR XML PATH ('')),1,1,'')
) AS Classes

I'm assuming that ClassName is a string column of some type. Then those intersections are a bit of a red flag. If you can refactor the schema so that there's an integer surrogate key, it seems to me that it would be worth trying that and profiling again.

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