When Not to Use Indexes
Possibly the most important question is when should an index not be created? There are some circumstances where indexes can be detrimental to performance and sometimes those indexes should not exist. Sometimes (in fact, quite frequently), it is better for query performance for indexes to be ignored, and the entire table be read. The following explains when indexes should be avoided.
- A table with a small number of fields may not benefit from an index if a large percentage of its records are always retrieved from it. Creating an index will not prevent full table scans. Note that removing primary key or foreign keys is not a good idea.
- Small static data tables are often small enough to be read as a table scan rather than an index scan, plus a point into a table. Let's explain by example. Underlying I/O activity in the operating system (UNIX, Windows, Linux, and many others) is read in what are sometimes called blocks or pages. These pages can be many sizes, but usually at the database level the pages become 2 KB, 4 KB, 8 KB, 16 KB, and sometimes even 32 KB pages. The point to understand is that if a table has a small enough number of records, to occupy a single physical page, why read an index and point to a table? Reading the index and the table is reading two pages, when reading the table only constitutes an I/O on a single page only.
- Often, tables created for reporting or during data warehouse periodical appending (batch updates) may already be in the required physical order.
- Indexes should usually be created on a small percentage of the fields in a table. Large composite indexes may be relatively large compared with the table. The relative size between index and table is important. The larger the ratio of index to table physical size, the less helpful the index will be in terms of decreasing physical space to be read. Fields containing NULL values may exacerbate this effect. It may be faster to read the entire table, rather than a large composite field index, containing a lot of NULL values. Why create indexes with every field for a composite? It is, of course, acceptable to create a duplicate valued index on less than all the fields desired by the composite field structure. Sometimes a partial index is more efficient than no index, and also more efficient than the complete field set for a composite field index.
That's indexing. Indexes are important to database modeling and overall database performance as a whole, even to the point of not using indexing under certain circumstances. Overuse of indexing can hinder performance just as easily as not using indexing where indexing should be used.
What about using views?
The above tip was excerpted from Chapter 8, 'Building Fast-Performing Data Models,' from the book "Beginning Database Design" by Gavin Powell, courtesy of WROX Publishing. Click here for the complete collection of book excerpts.
This was first published in April 2006