A Hidden Value Of Apply

Look, Functions Suck

That’s why smart people have been working on making them suck less.

The things I see people doing with them range from “you know there’s a system function that does that” to “oh wow, you wrote an entire program in here”.

I’m not kidding. I once saw a function that was a wrapper for ISNULL that returned the results of ISNULL. I have no idea why.

If I had to think of a DBA prank, writing scalar UDFs that are just wrappers for system functions would be pretty high up there.

Especially if they had the same names as the system functions.

Turning Down The Suck

A while back, Jonathan Kehayias blogged about a way to speed up UDFs that might see NULL input.

Which is great, if your functions see NULL inputs.

But what if… What if they don’t?

And what if they’re in your WHERE clause?

And what if they’re in your WHERE clause multiple times?

Oh my.

Tick, Tick, Tick

Here’s our function.

CREATE FUNCTION dbo.TotalScore(@UserId INT)  
    DECLARE @TotalScore BIGINT;        
    SELECT @TotalScore =   
        SELECT ISNULL(SUM(p.Score), 0)  
        FROM dbo.Posts AS p  
        WHERE p.OwnerUserId = @UserId  
    ) +  
        SELECT ISNULL(SUM(c.Score), 0)  
        FROM dbo.Comments AS c  
        WHERE c.UserId = @UserId  
    RETURN @TotalScore;    

What it does is go out to the Posts and Comments tables and sums up the Score columns for a user.

We’ll use it in our query like this:

SELECT u.DisplayName, 
FROM dbo.Users AS u
WHERE u.Reputation >= 100000
AND dbo.TotalScore(u.Id) >= 10000
AND dbo.TotalScore(u.Id) < 20000

We want to find people with a total score between 10 and 20 thousand.

Right on.

When we run the query, the plan looks like this, showing 2 seconds of runtime.

Two seconds for 260 rows is kinda wack tho

Tock, Tock, Tock

I know, I know. Get to the point. Make it faster, bouncer-man.

Our goal is to get the function to run fewer times, so we’ll replace multiple calls to it with one call.

SELECT u.DisplayName,
FROM dbo.Users AS u
        VALUES (dbo.TotalScore(u.Id))
    ) AS t (Score)
WHERE u.Reputation >= 100000
AND   t.Score >= 10000
AND   t.Score < 20000

Using this technique, the query runs for about 780ms.

Check you out.

Tale of the XE

What happens that makes this faster is more evident if we use the XE session from Jonathan’s post for similar reasons, and look at how many times the function was called.

If we look at the activity sequence, it goes up to 1060 for the first query:

Moved Out The Hood

And only 615 for the second query:



Right now, if we want scalar UDFs to run faster, we can:

  • Tune the underlying query (if there is one)
  • Have them run fewer times
  • Wait for SQL Server 2019

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll look at the same scenario using CTP 3 of SQL Server 2019.

Thanks for reading!

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