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PL/SQL: Stop Making the Same Performance Mistakes
PL/SQL is great, but like any programming language it is capable of being misused. This article highlights the common performance mistakes made when developing in PL/SQL, turning what should be an elegant solution into a resource hog. This is very much an overview, but each section includes links to the relevant articles on this site that discuss the topic in greater depth, including example code, so think of this more like a check-list of things to avoid, that will help you get the best performance from your PL/SQL.
- Stop using PL/SQL when you could use SQL
- Stop avoiding bulk binds
- Stop using pass-by-value (
- Stop using the wrong data types
- Quick Points
If there were only one "best" approach, Oracle would do it by default. It is important to remember this while you are reading these suggestions. There will always be situations where a specific approach is less than optimal. The linked articles will give you more context about this.
Stop using PL/SQL when you could use SQL
The first sentence in the first chapter of the PL/SQL documentation states the following.
"PL/SQL, the Oracle procedural extension of SQL, is a portable, high-performance transaction-processing language."
So PL/SQL is an extension to SQL, not a replacement for it. In the majority of cases, a pure SQL solution will perform better than one made up of a combination of SQL and PL/SQL. Remember, databases are designed to work with sets of data. As soon as you start to process data in a row-by-row (or slow-by-slow) manner, you are stopping the database from doing what it does best. With that in mind, a PL/SQL programmer should aim to be an expert in SQL that knows a bit of PL/SQL, rather than an expert in PL/SQL that knows a little bit of SQL.
SQL has evolved greatly over the last 20 years. The introduction of features like analytic functions and SQL/XML mean you can perform very complex tasks directly from SQL. The following points describe some of the common situations where people use PL/SQL when SQL would be more appropriate.
UTL_FILEto read text files if you can external tables. Using the
UTL_FILEpackage to read data from flat files is very inefficient. Since Oracle 7 people have been using SQL*Loader to improve performance, but since Oracle 9i the recommended way to read data from flat files is to use external tables. Not only is is more efficient by default, but it is easy to read the data in parallel and allows preprocessor commands to do tasks like unzipping files on the fly before reading them. In many cases, your PL/SQL load process can be replaced by a single
INSERT ... SELECTstatement with the data sourced from an external table.
Stop writing PL/SQL merges if you can use the MERGE statement. Merging, or upserting, large amounts of data using PL/SQL is a terrible waste of resources. Instead you should use the
MERGEstatement to perform the action in a single DML statement. Not only is it quicker, but it looks simpler and is easily made to run in parallel.
Stop coding multitable inserts manually. Why send multiple DML statements to the server when an action can be performed in a single multitable insert? Since Oracle 9i multitable inserts have provided a flexible way of reducing round-trips to the server.
Stop using bulk binds (FORALL) when you can use DML error logging (
DBMS_ERRLOG) to trap failures in DML. In some situations the most obvious solution to a problem is a DML statement (INSERT ... SELECT, UPDATE, DELETE), but you may choose to avoid DML because of the way it reacts to exceptions. By default, if a single row in a DML statement raises an exception, all the work done by that DML statement is rolled back. In the past this meant operations that were logically a single DML statements affecting multiple rows had to be coded as a PL/SQL bulk operation using the
FORALL ... SAVE EXCEPTIONSconstruct, for fear that a single exception would trash the whole process. Oracle 10g Release 2 introduced DML error logging, allowing us to revert back to using a single DML statement to replace the unnecessary bulk bind operation.
The thing to remember about all these points is they replace PL/SQL with DML. In addition to them being more efficient, provided the server has enough resources to cope with it, it is very easy to make them even faster on large operations by running them in parallel. Making PL/SQL run in parallel is considerably more difficult in comparison (see parallel-enabled pipelined table functions and DBMS_PARALLEL_EXECUTE).
Stop avoiding bulk binds
Having just told you to avoid bulk binds in favor of single DML statements, I'm now going to tell you to stop avoiding bulk binds where they are appropriate. If you are in a situation where a single DML statement is not possible and you need to process many rows individually, you should use bulk binds as they can often provide an order of magnitude performance improvement over conventional row-by-row processing in PL/SQL.
Bulk binds have been available since Oracle 8i, but it was the inclusion of record processing in bulk bind operations in Oracle 9i Release 2 that made them significantly easier to work with.
The BULK COLLECT clause allows you to pull multiple rows back into a collection. The FORALL construct allows you to bind all the data in a collection into a DML statement. In both cases, the performance improvements are achieved by reducing the number of context switches between PL/SQL and SQL that are associated with row-by-row processing.
Stop using pass-by-value (
As the Oracle database and PL/SQL have matured it has become increasingly common to work with large objects (LOBs), collections and complex object types, such as XMLTYPE. When these large and complicated types are passed as
IN OUT parameters to procedures and functions, the default pass-by-value processing of these parameters can represent a significant performance overhead.
The NOCOPY hint allows you to switch from the default pass-by-value to pass-by-reference, eliminating this overhead. In many cases, this can represent a significant performance improvement with virtually no effort.
Stop using the wrong data types
When you use the wrong data types, Oracle is forced to do an implicit conversion during assignments and comparisons, which represents an unnecessary overhead. In some cases this can lead to unexpected and dramatic issues, like preventing the optimizer from using an index or resulting in incorrect date conversions.
Oracle provide a variety of data types, many of which have dramatically difference performance characteristics. Nowhere is this more evident than with the performance of numeric data types.
Make sure you pick the appropriate data type for the job you are doing!
- Stop doing index scans when you can use ROWIDs.
- Stop using explicit cursors.
- Stop putting your code in the wrong order. Take advantage of performance gains associated with short-circuit evaluation and logic/branch ordering in PL/SQL.
- Stop doing intensive processing immediately if it is more appropriate to decouple it.
- Stop calling PL/SQL functions in your SQL statements. If you must do it, make sure you use the most efficient manner possible.
- Stop avoiding code instrumentation (DBMS_APPLICATION_INFO and DBMS_SESSION). It's a very quick way to identify problems.
- Stop avoiding PL/SQL native compilation.
- Stop avoiding conditional compilation where it is appropriate. The easiest way to improve the speed of doing something is to avoid doing it in the first place.
- Stop reinventing the wheel. Oracle has many built-in packages, procedures and functions that will probably do the job much more efficiently than you will, so learn them and use them. You can also save time by using other people's code, like the Alexandria PL/SQL Utility Library.
Hope this helps. Regards Tim...