Histograms: An Overview

NOTE: This article was originally created for version 7.3. Conceptually the ideas presented are
the same as in later versions but implementation details may have changed or have
been enhanced.

Histograms
==========

For uniformly distributed data, the cost-based approach makes fairly accurate
guesses at the cost of executing a particular statement. However, when the
data is not uniformly distributed, the optimizer cannot accurately estimate
the selectivity of a query. Beginning in release 7.3, for columns which do not
have uniform data distribution, Oracle will allow you to store histograms
describing the data distribution of a particular column.

When to Use Histograms
———————-

Histograms are stored in the dictionary and computed by using the DBMS_STATS
command on a particular column. Therefore, there is a maintenance and space
cost for using histograms. You should only compute histograms for columns
which you know have highly-skewed data distribution.

When to Not Use Histograms
————————–

Also, be aware that histograms, as well as all optimizer statistics, are
static. If the data distribution of a column changes frequently, it is
necessary to recompute the histogram for a given column. Histograms are not
useful for columns with the following characteristics:

  o all predicates on the column use bind variables
  o the column data is uniformly distributed
  o the column is not used in WHERE clauses of queries
  o the column is unique and is used only with equality predicates

How to Use Histograms
———————

Create histograms on columns that are frequently used in WHERE clauses of
queries and have a highly-skewed data distribution. You create a histogram
by using the ANALYZE and DBMS_STATS TABLE command for later versions. For example, if you want to create a 10-bucket histogram on the SAL column of the EMP table, issue the following
statement:

    DBMS_STATS.GATHER_TABLE_STATS (NULL,’EMP’, method_opt => ‘FOR COLUMNS sal SIZE 10’);
    ANALYZE TABLE emp COMPUTE STATISTICS FOR COLUMNS sal SIZE 10;

The SIZE keyword states the maximum number of buckets for the histogram.
You would create a histogram on the SAL column if there were an unusual
number of employees with the same salary and few employees with other
salaries.

The ‘FOR’ clause can be used with either COMPUTE STATISTICS or ESTIMATE
STATISTICS.  The following clauses can be used with the ANALYZE TABLE command:

    FOR TABLE  
        collect table statistics for the table
    FOR ALL COLUMNS
        collect column statistics for all columns in the table
    FOR ALL INDEXED COLUMNMS   
        collect column statistics for all indexed columns in the table
    FOR COLUMNS
        collect column statistics for the specified columns
    FOR ALL INDEXES
        all indexes associated with the table will be analyzed
    SIZE
        specifies the maximum number of partitions (buckets) in the
        histogram.
         Default value:    75
         Range of values:  1 – 254

 For DBMS_STATS, syntax is the following:

method_opt

Accepts:

      FOR ALL [INDEXED | HIDDEN] COLUMNS [size_clause]
    *

      FOR COLUMNS [size clause] column|attribute [size_clause] [,column|attribute [size_clause]…]

size_clause is defined as size_clause := SIZE {integer | REPEAT | AUTO | SKEWONLY}

– integer : Number of histogram buckets. Must be in the range [1,254].
– REPEAT : Collects histograms only on the columns that already have histograms.
– AUTO : Oracle determines the columns to collect histograms based on data distribution and the workload of the columns.
– SKEWONLY : Oracle determines the columns to collect histograms based on the data distribution of the columns.

For 11.2, there is following additional parameter:

– extension : can be either a column group in the format of (column_name, Colume_name [, …]) or an expression

In 10g and 11g, the default is FOR ALL COLUMNS SIZE AUTO. The default value can be changed using the SET_DATABASE_PREFS Procedure, SET_GLOBAL_PREFS Procedure, SET_SCHEMA_PREFS Procedure and SET_TABLE_PREFS Procedure.

Choosing the Number of Buckets for a Histogram
———————————————-

The default number of buckets is 75. 10g onwards, the default value is FOR ALL COLUMNS SIZE AUTO.  This value provides an appropriate level of detail for most data distributions. However, since the number of buckets in the histogram, the sampling rate, and the data distribution all affect
the usefulness of a histogram, you may need to experiment with different
numbers of buckets to obtain the best results.

If the number of frequently occurring distinct values in a column is relatively
small, then it is useful to set the number of buckets to be greater than the
number of frequently occurring distinct values.

Viewing Histograms
——————

You can find information about existing histograms in the database through the
following data dictionary views:

    USER_TAB_HISTOGRAMS, ALL_TAB_HISTOGRAMS, and DBA_TAB_HISTOGRAMS.
    USER_PART_HISTOGRAMS, ALL_PART_HISTOGRAMS, and DBA_PART_HISTOGRAMS.
    USER_SUBPART_HISTOGRAMS, ALL_SUBPART_HISTOGRAMS, and DBA_SUBPART_HISTOGRAMS.

The number of buckets in each column’s histogram is found in these dictionary views :

 o USER_TAB_COL_STATISTICS, ALL_TAB_COL_STATISTICS,DBA_TAB_COL_STATISTICS
   (extracted from USER_TAB_COLUMNS, ALL_TAB_COLUMNS, and DBA_TAB_COLUMNS)
 o USER_PART_COL_STATISTICS,ALL_PART_COL_STATISTICS, DBA_PART_COL_STATISTICS,
 o USER_SUBPART_COL_STATISTICS, ALL_SUBPART_COL_STATISTICS, DBA_SUBPART_COL_STATISTICS

These views have the same definition.

DBA_TAB_HISTOGRAMS

This view lists histograms on columns of all tables.

Column name           Represents This
———————————————————
OWNER                 Owner of table
TABLE_NAME            Table name
COLUMN_NAME           Column name
ENDPOINT_NUMBER       Endpoint number
ENDPOINT_VALUE        Normalized endpoint values for this bucket

DBA_TAB_COLUMNS

This view contains information which describes columns of all tables.
(NOTE: Views and clusters, although included in this view are not relevant
 to histograms.)

Column Name           Represents This
———————————————————-
OWNER                 Owner of table
TABLE_NAME            Table name
COLUMN_NAME           Column name
DATA_TYPE             Datatype of the column
DATA_LENGTH           Length of the column
DATA_PRECISION        Precision for NUMBER or FLOAT datatypes
DATA_SCALE            Digits to right of decimal
NULLABLE              NULL allowable?
COLUMN_ID             Sequence no. of column
DEFAULT_LENGTH        Length of default value
DATA_DEFAULT          Default value
NUM_DISTINCT          Number of distinct values for the column
LOW_VALUE             Smallest value for the column, expressed in hex
                        for the internal representation ofthe first 32
                        bytes of the value
HIGH_VALUE            Highest value for the column, expressed in hex for
                        the internal representation of the first 32 bytes
                        of the value
DENSITY               Density of the column (a measure of how distinct
                        the values are)
NUM_NULLS             The number of columns with null value
NUM_BUCKETS           The number of buckets in the histogram
LAST_ANALYZED         The date that analyze was last run on the table
SAMPLE_SIZE           The amount of data sampled

The column LAST_ANALYZED is useful in determining the last time
statistics, with or without histograms, were computed.  This is
often important to assess the reason for cost-based optimizer’s
choices of execution paths.  All tables involved in a query must be
regularly analyzed as data changes.

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