SQL Tips by Namwar Rizvi

July 17, 2008

How SQL Server Index Statistics works – Part 1

In my last article,

Selectivity of a Query and how it affects indexing

I discussed the selectivity of a query. Today I will further extend our discussion and will drill down how index Statistics works. I will continue it in my next article where we will see some real world examples but first we need to understand the concept.

Index statistics is one of the most fundamental part of query plan optimization in SQL Server. Better understanding of index statistics helps you optimize and fine tune your queries. So if you have 1000000 rows and you are searching for a range of values of an indexed column then how SQL Server forecasts how many number of rows will match your criteria before even searching for any row? Here is the actual process:

As we all know that when we index a column, SQL Server does two things:

  1. Sorts the values of the column in an internal data structure called “Index” This data structure contains the sorted value and a pointer to its respective row in the table.
  2. Generates a histogram of values.

The histogram shows the distribution of values for the sorted column. For example:

if we have following values in an integer column 1,2,2,3,4,1,4,5,4 then a typical histogram will be similar to this


Rows matched











So suppose if you are searching for all rows having column values between 3 and 5 then by looking at the above histogram table you can estimate that you will get total 1+3+1=5 rows. If your table contains just 9 rows in total then 5 rows means approximately 55% of total rows will match the criteria. Based on this calculation you may elect to directly scan the table instead of first reading the index, fetching the pointers of the matching rows and then read the actual rows. Although, it is a very simple example and there are other factors involve in deciding whether to use index or not but this example demonstrates the concept in very simple terms.

In my next article, I will further explain this concept with the help of real world examples.


Blog at WordPress.com.