Derived Table Merge Optimization


Users of "big" database systems are used to using FROM subqueries as a way to structure their queries. For example, if one's first thought was to select cities with population greater than 10,000 people, and then that from these cities to select those that are located in Germany, one could write this SQL:

  (SELECT * FROM City WHERE Population > 10*1000) AS big_city

For MySQL, using such syntax was taboo. If you run EXPLAIN for this query, you can see why:

mysql> EXPLAIN SELECT * FROM (SELECT * FROM City WHERE Population > 1*1000) 
  AS big_city WHERE big_city.Country='DEU' ;
| id | select_type | table      | type | possible_keys | key  | key_len | ref  | rows | Extra       |
|  1 | PRIMARY     | <derived2> | ALL  | NULL          | NULL | NULL    | NULL | 4068 | Using where |
|  2 | DERIVED     | City       | ALL  | Population    | NULL | NULL    | NULL | 4079 | Using where |
2 rows in set (0.60 sec)

It plans to do the following actions:


From left to right:

  1. Execute the subquery: (SELECT * FROM City WHERE Population > 1*1000), exactly as it was written in the query.
  2. Put result of the subquery into a temporary table.
  3. Read back, and apply a WHERE condition from the upper select, big_city.Country='DEU'

Executing a subquery like this is very inefficient, because the highly-selective condition from the parent select, (Country='DEU') is not used when scanning the base table City. We read too many records from the City table, and then we have to write them into a temporary table and read them back again, before finally filtering them out.

Derived table merge in action

If one runs this query in MariaDB/MySQL 5.6, they get this:

MariaDB [world]> EXPLAIN SELECT * FROM (SELECT * FROM City WHERE Population > 1*1000) 
  AS big_city WHERE big_city.Country='DEU';
| id | select_type | table | type | possible_keys      | key     | key_len | ref   | rows | Extra                              |
|  1 | SIMPLE      | City  | ref  | Population,Country | Country | 3       | const |   90 | Using index condition; Using where |
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

From the above, one can see that:

  1. The output has only one line. This means that the subquery has been merged into the top-level SELECT.
  2. Table City is accessed through an index on the Country column. Apparently, the Country='DEU' condition was used to construct ref access on the table.
  3. The query will read about 90 rows, which is a big improvement over the 4079 row reads plus 4068 temporary table reads/writes we had before.


  • Derived tables (subqueries in the FROM clause) can be merged into their parent select when they have no grouping, aggregates, or ORDER BY ... LIMIT clauses. These requirements are the same as requirements for VIEWs to allow algorithm=merge.
  • The optimization is enabled by default. It can be disabled with:
    set @@optimizer_switch='derived_merge=OFF'
  • Versions of MySQL and MariaDB which do not have support for this optimization will execute subqueries even when running EXPLAIN. This can result in a well-known problem (see e.g. MySQL Bug #44802) of EXPLAIN statements taking a very long time. Starting from MariaDB 5.3+ and MySQL 5.6+ EXPLAIN commands execute instantly, regardless of the derived_merge setting.

See Also


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