A Parameterization Performance Puzzle With TOP PERCENT in SQL Server

Lawdy


There was a three-part series of posts where I talked about a weird performance issue you can hit with parameterized top. While doing some query tuning for a client recently, I ran across a funny scenario where they were using TOP PERCENT to control the number of rows coming back from queries.

With a parameter.

So uh. Let’s talk about that.

Setup Time


Let’s start with a great index. Possibly the greatest index ever created.

CREATE INDEX whatever 
ON dbo.Votes
    (VoteTypeId, CreationDate DESC)
WITH
(
    MAXDOP = 8,
    SORT_IN_TEMPDB = ON
);
GO

Now let me show you this stored procedure. Hold on tight!

CREATE OR ALTER PROCEDURE dbo.top_percent_sniffer 
(
    @top bigint, 
    @vtid int
)
AS
SET NOCOUNT, XACT_ABORT ON;
BEGIN
    SELECT TOP (@top) PERCENT
        v.*
    FROM dbo.Votes AS v
    WHERE v.VoteTypeId = @vtid
    ORDER BY v.CreationDate DESC;

END;

Cool. Great.

Spool Hardy


When we execute the query, the plan is stupid.

EXEC dbo.top_percent_sniffer
    @top = 1,
    @vtid = 6;
GO
SQL Server Query Plan
the louis vuitton of awful

We don’t use our excellent index, and the optimizer uses an eager table spool to hold rows and pass the count to the TOP operator until we hit the correct percentage.

This is the least ideal situation we could possibly imagine.

Boot and Rally


A while back I posted some strange looking code on Twitter, and this is what it ended up being used for (among other things).

The final version of the query looks like this:

CREATE OR ALTER PROCEDURE dbo.top_percent_sniffer 
(
    @top bigint, 
    @vtid int
)
AS
SET NOCOUNT, XACT_ABORT ON;
BEGIN;
    
    WITH pct AS
    (
        SELECT
            records = 
                CONVERT(bigint, 
                    CEILING(((@top * COUNT_BIG(*)) / 100.)))
        FROM dbo.Votes AS v
        WHERE v.VoteTypeId = @vtid
    )
    SELECT
        v.*
    FROM pct
    CROSS APPLY
    (
        SELECT TOP (pct.records)
            v.*
        FROM dbo.Votes AS v
        WHERE v.VoteTypeId = @vtid
        ORDER BY v.CreationDate DESC
    ) AS v;

END;
GO
SQL Sever Query Plan
better butter

Soul Bowl


This definitely has drawbacks, since the expression in the TOP always gives a 100 row estimate. For large numbers of rows, this plan could be a bad choice and we might need to do some additional tuning to get rid of that lookup.

There might also be occasions when using a column store index to generate the count would be benefit, and the nice thing here is that since we’re accessing the table in two different ways, we could use two different indexes.

But for reliably small numbers of rows, this is a pretty good solution.

Thanks for reading!

Going Further


If this is the kind of SQL Server stuff you love learning about, you’ll love my training. I’m offering a 75% discount on to my blog readers if you click from here. I’m also available for consulting if you just don’t have time for that and need to solve performance problems quickly.



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