SQL Server Filtered Indexes Need Serious Help


Filtered indexes are really interesting things. Just slap a where clause on your index definition, and you can do all sorts of helpful stuff:

  • Isolate hot data
  • Make soft delete queries faster
  • Get a histogram specific to the span of data you care about

Among other things, of course. There are some annoying things about them though.

  • They only work with specific ANSI options
  • If you don’t include the filter definition columns in the index, it might not get used
  • They only work when queries use literals, not parameters or variables


Part of the optimizer’s process consists of expression matching, where things like computed columns, filtered indexes, and indexed views are considered for use in your query.

I mean, if you have any of them. If you don’t, it probably just stares inwardly for a few nanoseconds, wondering why you don’t care about it.

Something that this part of the process is terrible at is any sort of “advanced” expression matching. It has to be exact, or you get whacked.

Here’s an example:

DROP TABLE IF EXISTS dbo.is_deleted;

CREATE TABLE dbo.is_deleted
    id int PRIMARY KEY,
    dt datetime NOT NULL,
    thing1 varchar(50) NOT NULL,
    thing2 varchar(50) NOT NULL,
    is_deleted bit NOT NULL

INSERT dbo.is_deleted WITH(TABLOCK)
    SUBSTRING(x.text, 0, 50),
    SUBSTRING(x.text, 0, 50),
    x.n % 2
        ORDER BY 1/0
    ) AS n,
FROM sys.messages AS m
) AS x;

ON dbo.is_deleted
    (is_deleted = 0);


If you run that setup script, you’ll get yourself a table that’s ripe for a filtered index on the is_deleted column.

But it doesn’t work with every type of query pattern. Some people are super fancy and want to find NOTs!

    COUNT_BIG(*) AS records
FROM dbo.is_deleted AS id
WHERE id.dt >= GETDATE() + 200
AND   (NOT 1 = id.is_deleted)
AND   1 = (SELECT 1);

I have the 1 = (SELECT 1) in there for reasons. But we still get no satisfaction.

SQL Server Query Plan

If we try to force the matter, we’ll get an error!

    COUNT_BIG(*) AS records
FROM dbo.is_deleted AS id WITH(INDEX = isd)
WHERE id.dt >= GETDATE() + 200
AND   (NOT 1 = id.is_deleted)
AND   1 = (SELECT 1);

The optimizer says non.

Msg 8622, Level 16, State 1, Line 84
Query processor could not produce a query plan because of the hints defined in this query. 
Resubmit the query without specifying any hints and without using SET FORCEPLAN.

It has no problem with this one, though.

    COUNT_BIG(*) AS records
FROM dbo.is_deleted AS id
WHERE id.dt >= GETDATE() + 200
AND   (0 = id.is_deleted)
AND   1 = (SELECT 1);


It would be nice if there were some more work put into filtered indexes to make them generally more useful.

In much the same way that a general set of contradictions can be detected, simple things like this could be too.

Computed columns have a similar issue, where if the definition is col1 + col2, a query looking at col2 + col1 won’t pick it up.

It’s a darn shame that such potentially powerful tools don’t get much love.

Thanks for reading!

Going Further

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