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Is a RID Lookup faster than a Key Lookup?

T-SQL Tuesday #78 is being hosted by Wendy Pastrick , and the challenge this month is simply to "learn something new and blog about it." Her blurb leans toward new features in SQL Server 2016, but since I’ve blogged and presented about many of those, I thought I would explore something else first-hand that I’ve always been genuinely curious about.

I’ve seen multiple people state that a heap can be better than a clustered index for certain scenarios. I cannot disagree with that. One of the interesting reasons I’ve seen stated, though, is that a RID Lookup is faster than a Key Lookup. I’m a big fan of clustered indexes and not a huge fan of heaps, so I felt this needed some testing.

So, let’s test it!

I thought it would be good to create a database with two tables, identical except that one had a clustered primary key, and the other had a non-clustered primary key. I would time loading some rows into the table, updating a bunch of rows in a loop, and selecting from an index (forcing either a Key or RID Lookup).

System Specs

This question often comes up, so to clarify the important details about this system, I’m on an 8-core VM with 32 GB of RAM, backed by PCIe storage. SQL Server version is 2014 SP1 CU6, with no special configuration changes or trace flags running:

Microsoft SQL Server 2014 (SP1-CU6) (KB3144524) – 12.0.4449.0 (X64)

Apr 13 2016 12:41:07

Copyright (c) Microsoft Corporation

Developer Edition (64-bit) on Windows NT 6.3 <X64> (Build 10586: ) (Hypervisor)

The Database

I created a database with plenty of free space in both the data and log file in order to prevent any autogrow events from interfering with the tests. I also set the database to simple recovery to minimize the impact on the transaction log.

CREATE DATABASE HeapVsCIX ON  (   name = N'HeapVsCIX_data',    filename = N'C:/.../HeapCIX.mdf',   size = 100MB, filegrowth = 10MB )  LOG ON (   name = N'HeapVsCIX_log',    filename = 'C:/.../HeapCIX.ldf',   size = 100MB, filegrowth = 10MB ); GO ALTER DATABASE HeapVsCIX SET RECOVERY SIMPLE;

The Tables

As I said, two tables, with the only difference being whether the primary key is clustered.

CREATE TABLE dbo.ObjectHeap (   ObjectID int PRIMARY KEY NONCLUSTERED,   Name sysname,   SchemaID int,   ModuleDefinition nvarchar(max) ); CREATE INDEX oh_name ON dbo.ObjectHeap(Name) INCLUDE(SchemaID);   CREATE TABLE dbo.ObjectCIX (   ObjectID INT PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED,   Name sysname,   SchemaID int,   ModuleDefinition nvarchar(max) ); CREATE INDEX oc_name ON dbo.ObjectCIX(Name) INCLUDE(SchemaID);

A Table For Capturing Runtime

I could monitor CPU and all of that, but really the curiosity is almost always around runtime. So I created a logging table to capture the runtime of each test:

CREATE TABLE dbo.Timings (   Test varchar(32) NOT NULL,    StartTime datetime2 NOT NULL DEFAULT SYSUTCDATETIME(),    EndTime datetime2 );

The Insert Test

So, how long does it take to insert 2,000 rows, 100 times? I’m grabbing some pretty basic data from sys.all_objects , and pulling the definition along for any procedures, functions, etc.:

INSERT dbo.Timings(Test) VALUES('Inserting Heap'); GO   TRUNCATE TABLE dbo.ObjectHeap; INSERT dbo.ObjectHeap(ObjectID, Name, SchemaID, ModuleDefinition)  SELECT TOP (2000) [object_id], name, [schema_id], OBJECT_DEFINITION([object_id]) FROM sys.all_objects ORDER BY [object_id];   GO 100 UPDATE dbo.Timings SET EndTime = SYSUTCDATETIME() WHERE EndTime IS NULL; GO   -- CIX: INSERT dbo.Timings(Test) VALUES('Inserting CIX'); GO   TRUNCATE TABLE dbo.ObjectCIX; INSERT dbo.ObjectCIX(ObjectID, Name, SchemaID, ModuleDefinition)  SELECT TOP (2000) [object_id], name, [schema_id], OBJECT_DEFINITION([object_id]) FROM sys.all_objects ORDER BY [object_id];   GO 100 UPDATE dbo.Timings SET EndTime = SYSUTCDATETIME() WHERE EndTime IS NULL;

The Update Test

For the update test, I just wanted to test the speed of writing to a clustered index vs. a heap in a very row-by-row fashion. So I dumped 200 random rows into a #temp table, then built a cursor around it (the #temp table merely ensures that the same 200 rows are updated in both versions of the table, which is probably overkill).

CREATE TABLE #IdsToUpdate(ObjectID int PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED);   INSERT #IdsToUpdate(ObjectID)    SELECT TOP (200) ObjectID    FROM dbo.ObjectCIX ORDER BY NEWID(); GO   INSERT dbo.Timings(Test) VALUES('Updating Heap'); GO -- update speed - update 200 rows 1,000 times   DECLARE @id int; DECLARE c CURSOR LOCAL FORWARD_ONLY    FOR SELECT ObjectID FROM #IdsToUpdate;   OPEN c; FETCH c INTO @id; WHILE @@FETCH_STATUS <> -1 BEGIN   UPDATE dbo.ObjectHeap SET Name = REPLACE(Name,'s','u') WHERE ObjectID = @id;   FETCH c INTO @id; END   CLOSE c; DEALLOCATE c; GO 1000   UPDATE dbo.Timings SET EndTime = SYSUTCDATETIME() WHERE EndTime IS NULL; GO   INSERT dbo.Timings(Test) VALUES('Updating CIX'); GO   DECLARE @id int; DECLARE c CURSOR LOCAL FORWARD_ONLY    FOR SELECT ObjectID FROM #IdsToUpdate;   OPEN c; FETCH c INTO @id; WHILE @@FETCH_STATUS <> -1 BEGIN   UPDATE dbo.ObjectCIX SET Name = REPLACE(Name,'s','u') WHERE ObjectID = @id;   FETCH c INTO @id; END   CLOSE c; DEALLOCATE c; GO 1000   UPDATE dbo.Timings SET EndTime = SYSUTCDATETIME() WHERE EndTime IS NULL;

The Select Test

So, above you saw that I created an index with Name as the key column in each table; in order to evaluate the cost of performing lookups for a significant amount of rows, I wrote a query that assigns the output to a variable (eliminating network I/O and client rendering time), but forces the use of the index:

INSERT dbo.Timings(Test) VALUES('Forcing RID Lookup'); GO   DECLARE @x nvarchar(max); SELECT @x = ModuleDefinition FROM dbo.ObjectHeap WITH (INDEX(oh_name)) WHERE Name LIKE N'S%'; GO 10000   UPDATE dbo.Timings SET EndTime = SYSUTCDATETIME() WHERE EndTime IS NULL; GO   INSERT dbo.Timings(Test) VALUES('Forcing Key Lookup'); GO   DECLARE @x nvarchar(max); SELECT @x = ModuleDefinition FROM dbo.ObjectCIX WITH (INDEX(oc_name)) WHERE Name LIKE N'S%'; GO 10000   UPDATE dbo.Timings SET EndTime = SYSUTCDATETIME() WHERE EndTime IS NULL;

For this one I wanted to show some interesting aspects of the plans before collating the test results. Running them individually head-to-head provides these comparative metrics:

Is a RID Lookup faster than a Key Lookup?

Duration is inconsequential for a single statement, but look at those reads. If you’re on slow storage, that’s a big difference you won’t see in a smaller scale and/or on your local development SSD.

And then the plans showing the two different lookups, using SQL Sentry Plan Explorer :

Is a RID Lookup faster than a Key Lookup? Is a RID Lookup faster than a Key Lookup?

The plans look almost identical, and you might not notice the difference in reads in SSMS unless you were capturing Statistics I/O. Even the estimated I/O costs for the two lookups were similar – 1.69 for the Key Lookup, and 1.59 for the RID lookup. (The warning icon in both plans is for a missing covering index.)

It is interesting to note that if we don’t force a lookup and allow SQL Server to decide what to do, it chooses a standard scan in both cases – no missing index warning, and look at how much closer the reads are:

Is a RID Lookup faster than a Key Lookup?

The optimizer knows that a scan will be much cheaper than seek + lookups in this case. I chose a LOB column for variable assignment merely for effect, but the results were similar using a non-LOB column as well.

The Test Results

With the Timings table in place, I was able to easily run the tests multiple times (I ran a dozen tests) and then come with averages for the tests with the following query:

SELECT Test, Avg_Duration = AVG(1.0*DATEDIFF(MILLISECOND, StartTime, EndTime))   FROM dbo.Timings GROUP BY Test;

A simple bar chart shows how they compare:

Is a RID Lookup faster than a Key Lookup?

Conclusion

So, the rumors are true: in this case at least, a RID Lookup is significantly faster than a Key Lookup. Going directly to file:page:slot is obviously more efficient in terms of I/O than following the b-tree (and if you aren’t on modern storage, the delta could be much more noticeable).

Whether you want to take advantage of that, and bring along all of the other heap aspects, will depend on your workload – the heap is slightly more expensive for write operations. But this is not definitive – this could vary greatly depending on table structure, indexes, and access patterns.

I tested very simple things here, and if you’re on the fence about this, I highly recommend testing your actual workload on your own hardware and comparing for yourself (and don’t forget to test the same workload where covering indexes are present; you will probably get much better overall performance if you can simply eliminate lookups altogether). Be sure to measure all of the metrics that are important to you; just because I focus on duration doesn’t mean it’s the one you need to care about most. :-)

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