LogExpensiveQueries: A Little Bit Of Jasper In 9.0.2

Breck Carter
October, 2005

(Note: "Jasper" was the code name for SQL Anywhere Version 10.)

Request Level Logging and the Graphical Plan are two features in SQL Anywhere that are very helpful when it comes to performance tuning. Request Level Logging lets you capture the SQL code for statements that are taking a long time to execute, and the Graphical Plan lets you see why they're taking so long.

These features are helpful, but they are far from perfect. First of all, it is hard to figure out where the queries are coming from since the CONNECT and SELECT operations may be hours apart in the Request Level Logging output file.

Second, the file can become enormous, many gigabytes in size on a busy server if you let the process run for hours... which you might do to capture all the CONNECTs, or simply to see what's happening in a whole workday.

Third, it takes a long time to analyze a large log file, even with the help of the sa_get_request_times procedure that comes with SQL Anywhere.

And it gets worse: When you're finished with Request Level Logging, what you have is the SQL code for the slow statements; you still have to run each query in dbisql to see the Graphical Plan if you want to figure out why they are taking so long. That's quite a job when you are faced with the "Top 100" list of slow queries on a busy server.

Moreover, the plans you see in dbisql might be quite different from the actual plans used in production, if you're not careful to use the same data, even the same database, maybe even the same overall workload. For a query that runs inside a stored procedure and uses temporary tables, it's difficult to see the Graphical Plan at all; you have to embed a call to GRAPHICAL_PLAN() inside the procedure and write the result to a file to look at later. Plus, you must guard against accidentally running the query twice in quick succession and looking at the plan for the second execution: it may be completely different from the one used in production because the database cache now contains all the rows needed to satisfy the query.

Tip: If you do use dbisql to execute a query and capture a graphical plan with statistics, use SQL - Get Plan (Shift+F5) instead of SQL - Execute (F5 or F9). If you use Execute, the query will be executed twice: once to determine the result set and a second time to capture the plan. This plan may be completely different from the one used the first time the query was executed, and not just because the cache contains the rows. For example, if the plan is for a DELETE, the first execution will actually delete the rows so the plan may be for the completely different "zero rows" case. If you use Get Plan (Shift+F5) the query will only be run once, and the plan will match.

The new LogExpensiveQueries feature solves all of those problems. For the very first time, you can capture the actual execution plans used to run your SQL statements in production. No longer do you have to struggle to set up a test scenario that runs in dbisql, and no longer do you have to cross your fingers and hope your test scenario matches the real world.

Plus, the captured plans contain all sorts of information about the state of the server and the connection when the query ran; for example, it includes the peak cache size and the user id.

With LogExpensiveQueries, you just start the process, sit back and wait, and then look at the plans after they have been captured. These are the real plans; if the cache was cold, they show it, no accidental "running the query twice" to skew the results. If the statistics are good or bad in production, the plans will reflect that. If the queries are located deep inside complex stored procedures, no problem; there is no need to copy and paste the queries into dbisql, or to modify the procedures to UNLOAD SELECT GRAPHICAL PLAN() because the queries use temporary tables.

The LogExpensiveQueries feature is a little bit of Jasper functionality delivered early, in the Express Bug Fix Build 3124 for version 9.0.2. Documentation was a bit slow in coming, however, and word of its existence did not get out until the Techwave conference in August 2005. The description delivered with Build 3182 is presented here, followed by some tips and techniques.

(To see how to download Build 3124 for Windows, see the Appendix 1.)

From the "read-me" file:

The server can now dump the SQL text or graphical plans of expensive queries to the request level log. A new server command line option, -zx <cost>, has been added to turn on this feature and define the threshold above which queries are considered expensive. Expensive queries can be handled in two ways: when the -zp option is also specified, detailed graphical plans will be sent to the request-level log. Otherwise, only the SQL text of the expensive queries will be logged.

When both -zx (LogExpensiveQueries) and -zp (RememberLastPlan) are set:

  • queries whose estimated cost is greater than <cost> milliseconds will be built with full statistics gathering gear, and a graphical plan will be dumped to the request-level log at build time
  • queries whose estimated cost is less than <cost> milliseconds will be built with low-detail statistics gathering gear
  • queries whose actual run-time is greater than <cost> milliseconds will have their graphical plan dumped to the request-level log when their cursor is closed; plans will contain whatever level of statistical detail was determined for them at optimization time (as described in the first point)

When only -zx is set:

  • queries will be built with low-detail statistics gathering gear
  • queries whose actual run-time is greater than <cost> milliseconds will have their SQL text dumped to the request-level log when their cursor is closed

The request-level log must be directed to a file for these lines to appear (by using the -zo command line option or setting the RequestLogFile property). However, these lines will still appear even if the RequestLogging property is 'None'.

Plans appear as a single PLAN line in the request-level log; SQL text appears as a single INFO line. They are prefixed by a header which indicates whether they were dumped at build time or cursor completion time, and what the associated cost at that time was.

Plans dumped at build time are prefixed by [XB <cost>], plans dumped at cursor completion time are prefixed by [XC <cost>], and SQL text dumped at completion time is prefixed by [XS <cost>] (where all costs are given in seconds, the same as displayed in graphical plans).

The LogExpensiveQueries property can be set by the -zx <cost> command line option, or by setting the LogExpensiveQueries server option with sa_server_option().

The best way to turn LogExpensiveQueries on and off is to do it from dbisql; here is how to turn it on:

-- On
CALL sa_server_option ( 'RequestLogging', 'NONE' );
CALL sa_server_option ( 'RequestLogFile', 'c:/temp/expensive.txt' ); -- append to file
CALL sa_server_option ( 'RememberLastPlan', 'ON' );
CALL sa_server_option ( 'LogExpensiveQueries', '1000' ); -- cost threshold in milliseconds

The sa_server_option procedure takes two parameters: the name of a server option and the corresponding option value, both VARCHAR ( 128 ).

Here's how the 4 calls above work:

  • RequestLogging is set to 'NONE' to make it clear we're not interested in the old verbose Request Level Logging feature.
  • RequestLogFile is set to 'c:/temp/expensive.txt' to specify the output text file. This filespec is relative to the computer where the database engine is running, which might be different from the computer running dbisql; in this case they're both on the same machine. If this file does not exist, it will be created; if the file exists, new data will be appended to the end. The RequestLogFile option is the same one used to specify the output file for Request Level Logging, but different data is going to be written to it by LogExpensiveQueries.
  • RememberLastPlan is set to 'ON' to tell the server we're interested in more than just the SQL for queries, we want entire graphical plans.
  • LogExpensiveQueries is set to '1000' to specify the "cost threshold" for capturing plans, in milliseconds: '1000' is 1 second, '60000' is 1 minute, and so on. This cost threshold is checked twice for each query, before and after it executes, and depending on the results one or two plans may be written to the text file. Be careful when choosing a cost threshold for a busy production server: a value that's too small will generate masses of output, so start with a large value and work down as you see how big the file grows.

Here is how to turn LogExpensiveQueries off:

-- Off
CALL sa_server_option ( 'LogExpensiveQueries', '0' ); -- "off"
CALL sa_server_option ( 'RememberLastPlan', 'OFF' );
CALL sa_server_option ( 'RequestLogFile', '' ); -- releases file
  • LogExpensiveQueries is set to '0' to stop the plan capture process. The value '0' means "off", not "a cost threshold of zero".
  • RememberLastPlan is set to 'OFF' to disable plan processing. This probably isn't necessary, but a DBA can never be too careful.
  • RequestLogFile is set to '' to release the output file so you can view it in a program like WordPad.

When you turn LogExpensiveQueries on, and a query starts executing where the estimated run time exceeds the specified threshold, a graphical plan will be immediately written to the output file. This plan is marked "XB" for "before execution", and it is valuable if you have a very long-running query and you want to see what's going on without waiting for it to finish.

You can view the output file without turning LogExpensiveQueries off by using Notepad, or by making a file copy and using WordPad. Figure 1 shows the file "Copy of expensive.txt" open in WordPad on Windows XP.

Figure 1: Copy of expensive.txt with XB plan selected

Figure 1: Copy of expensive.txt with XB plan selected

Each line in the LogExpensiveQueries file looks like this:

10/11 08:19:34.342 date and time
** PLAN record type
conn: 1 connection number
[XB plan type XB or XC: "before" or "completed"
19.544356] estimated run time in seconds for XB plan, actual run time for XC
<?xml version="1.0"?> ...the XML text for the Graphical Plan

In order to view a Graphical Plan captured by LogExpensiveQueries, you must first extract the XML text and save it in a *.XML file, then open that file in dbisql. The simplest way to extract the text is via copy and paste; this process is shown in Figure 1 where the XML text for the XB plan is selected, and in Figure 2 where the text has been pasted into the file "XB_plan.xml" via WordPad.

Figure 2: XB_plan.xml pasted into WordPad

Figure 2: XB_plan.xml pasted into WordPad

Tip: In WordPad, set View - Options to "No Wrap" to see each plan on a single line like in Figure 1, and "Wrap to window" to see all the text like in Figure 2.

Tip: You can open a plan in dbisql by using File - Open - Files of type: XML (*.xml). You can also do it from a command line with the dbisql -f filename.xml option. If a "Connect" dialog box appears just click on Cancel; you don't need a database connection to view a graphical plan file.

Figure 3 shows the XB plan open in dbisql. The top level "SELECT" node is selected in the left-hand pane, and in the right pane the "RunTime" line in the "Subtree Statistics" section has been highlighted: this is total run time in seconds for this node and all the others below it.

Tip: Don't pay attention to the "Actual" statistics in an XB plan, just the "Estimates". After all, this kind of plan is produced before the query executes so there are no real "actual" figures.

Figure 3: XB plan with RunTime highlighted

Figure 3: XB plan with RunTime highlighted

If the diagram doesn't look like Figure 3 on your computer, try clicking Right Mouse - Customize on the left pane in dbisql and changing the settings for "Show short names" (unchecked) and "Show percent cost" (checked) like in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Customize the Graphical Plan diagram

Figure 4: Customize the Graphical Plan diagram

Here is the query that started running when the plan in Figure 3 was produced:

SELECT rroad_conn_trace.Number,
       CAST ( Pages * 8192.0 / 1024.0 / 1024.0 
                 AS NUMERIC ( 10, 1 ) ) AS MB_temp,
       MAX ( rroad_temp_space_trace.TempTablePages ) AS Pages
  FROM rroad_conn_trace
          INNER JOIN rroad_temp_space_trace
          ON rroad_conn_trace.conn_trace_id 
           = rroad_temp_space_trace.conn_trace_id
 WHERE rroad_conn_trace.LastReqTime 
          BETWEEN '2005-09-22' AND '2005-09-23'
 GROUP BY rroad_conn_trace.Number,
 ORDER BY rroad_conn_trace.LastReqTime

When the query finished running, the LogExpensiveQueries process was turned off as shown earlier, and the output file was free to be opened in WordPad. Figure 5 shows that an XC "completed" plan has now appeared in the expensive.txt file. The actual run time of 19.304747 seconds is remarkably close the XB estimate of 19.544356 seconds.

Figure 5: expensive.txt with XC plan selected

Figure 5: expensive.txt with XC plan selected

Figure 6 shows the XC plan in dbisql with the overall RunTime line highlighted. In the case of an XC plan like this one, both the estimated and actual numbers are meaningful, and the diagram in the left pane shows actual percentages.

The bottom left node of the diagram shows the biggest problem: the rroad_conn_trace table is consuming 56.5% of the run time.

Figure 6: XC plan with RunTime highlighted

Figure 6: XC plan with RunTime highlighted

Tip: XB plans may be interesting if you want to see the plans for long-running queries before they finish executing, but otherwise they aren't much use. On the other hand, an XC plan can be very useful if contains detailed statistics, and that only happens if both the estimate and actual run times exceed the threshold; in other words, you have to get an XB plan if you want detailed statistics in an XC plan. Since estimates may be lower than actuals, if you want to your XC plans to include statistics try setting the threshold low and then ignore all the XB plans.

Tip: Watch out for the sudden appearance of "mystery plans" in the output file when you set the LogExpensiveQueries threshold to a very low value, such as '10' for 1/100th of a second. These plans may be produced for queries coming from anywhere (other applications, remote server connections, dbisql, etc.) so be careful when picking XC plans to copy and paste into .XML files.

Figure 7 shows that a table scan is being used to process the rroad_conn_trace table. In SQL Anywhere version 9 a table scan is not necessarily a bad thing; in this case the Estimates value for RowsReturned is 228,300 which just happens to be the number of rows in the table, and if that were true then a table scan is probably a good idea.

However, the Actual value for RowsReturned is only 3,845; maybe, just maybe, there is a better way.

Figure 7: XC plan with Table Scan highlighted

Figure 7: XC plan with Table Scan highlighted

Figure 8 shows same rroad_conn_trace node with the right pane scrolled all the way to the bottom and the "Residual predicate" highlighted. In this case, "Residual predicate" means "leftover", a predicate in the WHERE clause that wasn't used by the query optimizer to speed things up.

Residual predicate
( '2005-09-22' <= rroad_conn_trace.LastReqTime <= '2005-09-23' ) : 1.6842% Statistics

The selectivity of this predicate is shown as 1.6842%, and this number was based on "Statistics" stored in the SQL Anywhere's optimization histogram table SYSCOLSTAT. As statistics go, this number is pretty good, almost exactly equal to the RowsReturned ratio ( 3,845 / 228,300 ) * 100.

Figure 8: XC plan with Residual Predicate highlighted

Figure 8: XC plan with Residual Predicate highlighted

A selectivity as high as 1.6842% might not be a good enough reason to create an ordinary index on rroad_conn_trace.LastReqTime, but a clustered index is another story. The residual predicate is a range query, using BETWEEN in the original SELECT, a perfect candidate for a clustered index:

CREATE CLUSTERED INDEX xLastReqTime ON rroad_conn_trace ( LastReqTime );

The data in rroad_conn_trace was originally inserted in LastReqTime order, so there is no need to run REORGANIZE TABLE to sort the rows; they are already effectively sorted. Figure 9 shows the result: the XC plan shows that the clustered index was used to process rroad_conn_trace, and that the time for this node dropped to 4.14% of the total.

The overall run time (not shown) dropped to 9.1 seconds from the previous value of 19.3 seconds; that's a speed improvement over 100%.

Figure 9: Faster XC plan with clustered index highlighted

Figure 9: Faster XC plan with clustered index highlighted

Nine seconds is still a long time for a query that returns only 4,000 rows. The diagram in Figure 9 shows that the node for table rroad_temp_space_trace now consumes over 82% of the time, and Figure 10 gives us a closer look at the new troublemaker.

Figure 10: Faster XC plan with Residual Predicate highlighted

Figure 10: Faster XC plan with Residual Predicate highlighted

Once again, a table scan is being used, and once again Figure 10 shows a "Residual predicate" involving a single column in the table of interest, this time conn_trace_id in rroad_temp_space_trace:

Residual predicate
hash( rroad_temp_space_trace.conn_trace_id ) in hashmap( 
rroad_conn_trace.conn_trace_id ) : 100% Guess; true 15798/825952 1.9127%

In this case not one but two indexes already exist on rroad_temp_space_trace.conn_trace_id. One is a primary key index with conn_trace_id as the first column, and the other is a foreign key relationship between rroad_conn_trace and rroad_temp_space_trace; here is the schema showing both:

-- DBA.rroad_temp_space_trace (table_id 452) in sniffer - Oct 13 2005 2:07:52PM - Foxhound  2005 RisingRoad

CREATE TABLE DBA.rroad_temp_space_trace ( -- 825,952 rows, 70.3M total = 38.9M table + 0K ext + 31.4M index
   conn_trace_id                           /* PK FK     */ BIGINT NOT NULL,
   sample_date_time                        /* PK FK     */ TIMESTAMP NOT NULL,
   TempTablePages                                          BIGINT NOT NULL,
   Temporary_File_free_space                               UNSIGNED BIGINT NOT NULL,
   display_temp_space_used                                 VARCHAR ( 200 ) NOT NULL,
   display_free_space_on_temp_file_drive                   VARCHAR ( 200 ) NOT NULL,
      sample_date_time ) );

ALTER TABLE DBA.rroad_temp_space_trace ADD CONSTRAINT rroad_conn_trace NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY ( -- 8.9M
      conn_trace_id )
   REFERENCES DBA.rroad_conn_trace (
      conn_trace_id )

ALTER TABLE DBA.rroad_temp_space_trace ADD CONSTRAINT rroad_trace_summary NOT NULL FOREIGN KEY ( -- 11.6M
      sample_date_time )
   REFERENCES DBA.rroad_trace_summary (
      sample_date_time )

It's not clear why the query optimizer didn't pick either index. Perhaps the primary key index was too "fat" because it involved two columns and the residual predicate only specified one. Perhaps the optimizer did not pick the foreign key index on conn_trace_id because the selectivity "Guess" of 100% made a table scan look much better. Even the lower value (the 1.9127% shown in the Residual predicate display) might have been too high for it to pick the foreign key index.

In the case of this particular table, however, the rows are inserted in conn_trace_id and sample_date_time order, making both indexes effectively clustered. The ALTER INDEX command can be used to record that fact for one index, and the single-column foreign key index was chosen because it exactly fits the needs of this predicate:

ALTER INDEX FOREIGN KEY rroad_conn_trace ON rroad_temp_space_trace CLUSTERED;

Tip: The ALTER INDEX ... CLUSTERED and NONCLUSTERED commands can be used on primary and foreign keys, you don't have to drop and recreate those constraints.

Tip: ALTER INDEX ... CLUSTERED runs very quickly because it does almost no work. It is neither creating an index, nor reorganizing the rows by sorting them, it is only "marking" the index as clustered.

Tip: If you know something special about the data in your database, tell SQL Anywhere, it might help with performance. If an index is unique, say so. In this case, an index is effectively clustered, so we're telling SQL Anywhere about it.

Figure 11 shows the result: the second clustered index dropped the run time down to 1.15 seconds. That almost 700% faster than with only one clustered index, and over 1,500% faster than the original query.

Figure 11: Fastest XC plan with RunTime highlighted

Figure 11: Fastest XC plan with RunTime highlighted


OK, clustered indexes rock! That's one obvious conclusion.

But the other conclusion is that the LogExpensiveQueries feature makes it easier to deal with graphical plans by making it easier to capture them. Not just easier, but more accurate, so we can spend our time optimizing our queries rather than figuring out how to get plans that reflect what's actually happening in production.

And now it's not a secret any more.

Breck Carter is the author of SQL Anywhere Studio 9 Developer's Guide from Wordware Publishing, ISBN 1-55622-506-7.

Breck can be reached at Breck.Carter at gmail.com

Appendix 1: How to Upgrade Windows 32-bit SQL Anywhere 9.0.x to

These instructions were last checked for accuracy on September 26, 2005.

  • If you are still using Version 8 or earlier, you have to install Version 9 first.
  • If you are currently using 9.0.0 or 9.0.1, do all the following steps.
  • If you are using, 2551 or 3044, skip Steps 6 and 7.
  • If you are already using version or later, don't bother with any of these steps.
  1. Go to the Sybase Software Download site at downloads.sybase.com/swx/sdmain.stm. You may have to create and/or login to your free "My Sybase" account before being redirected to the download site.
  2. Change the settings to Display [All] products [in all months].
  3. Click on GO! to refresh the display.
  4. In the Product Families list, click on SQL Anywhere Studio.
  5. Scroll down to the Platform: Windows x86 section.
  6. (If necessary) Download and install SQL Anywhere Studio - Maintenance Release(English), Upgrade of 9.0.x to 9.0.2 (Software Only).
  7. (If necessary) Download and install SQL Anywhere Studio - 9.0.2 Documentation (English).
  8. Download and install SQL Anywhere Studio - Express Bug Fix, Update of 9.0.2 to build 3124.

Appendix 2: Supporting Files

Copy of expensive.txt Figure 1
expensive.txt Figure 5
expensive2.txt Used for Figure 9
expensive3.txt Used for Figure 11
Faster_XC_plan.xml Figures 9, 10
Fastest_XC_plan.xml Figure 11
XB_plan.xml Figures 2, 3
XC_plan.xml Figures 6, 7, 8