What Parameter Sniffing Looks Like In The Plan Cache

A Plan Has No Name

There are so many ways this question gets phrased.

  • Why is my query sometimes slow?
  • Why does restarting SQL Server make my query fast again?
  • Why does clearing the plan cache fix performance?

A while back, I put together a pretty good rundown of this on the DBA Stack Exchange site.

In the plan cache, it’s really hard to tell if a query is suffering from parameter sniffing in isolation.

By that I mean, if someone sends you a cached plan that’s slow, how can you tell if it’s because of parameter sniffing?

Cached Plans Lie

Here’s a simple example with a simple index:

This query will return a couple days of data:

This query will return a year and a couple days worth of data:

Time After Time

If we run those one right after the other, the query that returns a year of data will use the query plan of the query that returns a day of data.

This is what performance tuners call “bad”.

Let’s look at the cached plan!

This query will go look at some details about the queries I ran.

Since my code is parameterized, the cached plan for both executions looks like this:

So cute though

How could this plan cause any trouble?

Metric System

The plan isn’t telling us everything, though.

Look what those other columns have to say:


We have two executions, which we knew! We ran it twice.

But the min and max for many important metrics are very different.

CPU, wall clock time, reads, rows… They all tell me that this query has wild swings in performance.

On Your Own

One simple way to go about finding queries with parameter sniffing issues might be to just look for ones with much different CPU usage.

You could easily do with this other metrics; I just like CPU as a measure of these things.

Thanks for reading!

5 thoughts on “What Parameter Sniffing Looks Like In The Plan Cache”

  1. Thanks for your post and the query! Just small typos in the aliases: Times in the results are s, not ms – since you divide by 1000000 🙂

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