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extended stats

Column Groups

Patrick Jolliffe alerted the Oracle-L list to a problem that appears when you combine fixed length character columns (i.e. char() or nchar())  with column group statistics. The underlying cause of the problem is the “blank padding” semantics that Oracle uses by default to compare varchar2 with char, so I’ll start with a little demo of that. First some sample data:

Column Groups

I think the “column group” variant of extended stats is a wonderful addition to the Oracle code base, but there’s a very important detail about using the feature that I hadn’t really noticed until a question came up on the OTN database forum recently about a very bad join cardinality estimate.

The point is this: if you have a multi-column equality join and the optimizer needs some help to get a better estimate of join cardinality then column group statistics may help if you create matching stats at both ends of the join. There is a variation on this directive that helps to explain why I hadn’t noticed it before – multi-column indexes (with exactly the correct columns) have the same effect and, most significantly, the combination of  one column group and a matching multi-column index will do the trick.

Column Groups

I think column groups can be amazingly useful in helping the optimizer to generate good execution plans because of the way they supply better details about cardinality; unfortunately we’ve already seen a few cases (don’t forget to check the updates and comments) where the feature is disabled, and another example of this appeared on OTN very recently.

Modifying the example from OTN to make a more convincing demonstration of the issue, here’s some SQL to prepare a demonstration: