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Performance of IN lists

I have a query where I dynamically generate the 'in' list. The query takes too long and I'm trying to improve performance. What is the best way to do this?

I have a query where I dynamically generate the 'in' list. This can grow to several hundreds in some cases. The...

query just takes too long (usually between eight and 10 seconds, if not more) to execute, and I am trying to improve performance. The 'in' list is dynamically generated based on some user selection.

select distinct t.* from table t 
where col in ('a', 'b', 'c', ......)

What is the best way to do this?

There are two things superficially wrong. DISTINCT is virtually certain to be needless, in that there will not be any duplicate rows in the result set (unless there are duplicate rows in your table, which implies that it does not have a primary key, which every self-respecting relational database table must have, or we wouldn't even be having this conversation). DISTINCT requires a full sort on all columns. Very expensive in performance, especially if it won't remove any rows.

Secondly, the dreaded, evil "select star" is bad. List only the columns you need (even if you need them all, I always say).

The main thing you need to do is to ensure that column being searched has an index.

Also troubling is your remark that the user is being asked to make a selection of "several hundred" values. Picturing the dropdown widget or series of checkboxes that the user will have to deal with is making me queasy. If it's true, send the form back to your user interface analysts and ask them to get real. If you are the user interface analyst, you need to redesign the form.

The only other thing that might be going on here is that you actually have two queries. The first might be something as innocuous as:

select product_id from products
where product_category = "hubcaps"

Then you take the results of this query, serialize the values, and use them to construct the IN list in the SQL query which you asked for help with. If this is the case, you should use a single join query instead of the two-query IN list approach.

This was last published in February 2007

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