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Parameter Sniffing and OPTIMZE FOR August 22, 2007

Posted by furrukhbaig in Optimize, Parameter Sniffing, Performance, Query hint, SQL Server 2005, stored procedure, TSQL.
14 comments

Parameter Sniffing refers to a process whereby SQL Server’s execution environment “sniffs” the parameter values during first invocation, and passes it along to the query optimizer so that they can be used to generate optimal query execution plans.

“First invocation” also refers to the first invocation after a plan was removed from cache for lack of reuse or for any other reason. The optimizer “knows” what the values of the input parameters are, and it generates an adequate plan for those inputs parameters. SQL Server internally maintains the statistics and distribution of the values in the columns used for filtering.

While parameter sniffing is certainly a powerful feature, it can cause problems when a procedure’s plan happens to have been kicked out of the procedure cache (or was never in it) just prior to the procedure being called with atypical parameter values. This can result in a plan that is skewed toward atypical use, one that is not optimal when called with typical values. Since, once cached, a query plan can be reused for parameter values that vary widely, the ideal situation is to have a plan in the cache that covers the typical usage of the procedure as much as possible. If a plan makes it into the cache that is oriented toward atypical parameter values, it can have a devastating effect on performance when executed with typical values.

An example would probably help here. Suppose we had a stored procedure that returns sales data by country. In our case, three-fourths of our sales is in the UK. The procedure takes a single parameter, @country, indicating the country for which to return sales info. It uses this parameter to filter a simple SELECT statement that returns the requested sales data.

CREATE PROCEDURE uspGetCountrySale
(@Country Varchar(50))
AS 
SELECT OrderID, CustomerID, EmployeeID, OrderDate
FROM dbo.SaleOrders
WHERE Country = @Country 
GO

 The optimizer would most likely to choose to do a clustered index scan when creating execution plan for this query because (given that “UK” would normally be passed in for @country) so much of the table would be traversed anyway that scanning it would require less I/O and be faster than repeated nonclustered index lookups. However, what happens if the plan happens to have been kicked out of the cache (let’s say due to an auto-statistics update) just prior to a user calling it with, say, “Spain”, where we have almost no sales? Assuming a suitable index exists, the optimizer may decide to use a nonclustered index seek in the new query plan. Subsequent executions of the procedure would reuse this plan, even if they passed in “UK” for @country. This could result in performance that is very slower than the scan-based plan.

As a workaround prior to SQL Server 2005, local variables can be used instead of stored procedure parameters. Please note SQL Server can not sniff the value of local variable. This will lead SQL Server to use statistics on filter column and create a plan which is best for average values in that column. This can also lead to serious performance when same procedure called with atypical value but will do best for typical values.

CREATE PROCEDURE uspGetCountrySale
(@Country Varchar(50))
AS 
DECLARE @_Country Varchar(20)
SET @_Country = @Country 
SELECT OrderID, CustomerID, EmployeeID, OrderDate
FROM dbo.SaleOrders
WHERE Country = @_Country 
GO

There’s a new query hint provided in SQL Server 2005 to tackle the problem—the OPTIMIZE FOR query hint. This hint allows you to provide SQL Server with a literal that reflects the selectivity of the variable, in case the input is typical. For example, if you know that the variable will typically end up with a highly selective value, you can provide the literal which reflects the typical value. for example.

CREATE PROCEDURE uspGetCountrySale (@Country Varchar(50))
AS 
DECLARE @_Country Varchar(20)
SET @_Country = @Country 
SELECT OrderID, CustomerID, EmployeeID, OrderDate
FROM dbo.SaleOrders
WHERE Country = @_Country
OPTION (OPTIMIZE FOR(@Country = ‘UK’)); 
GO

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