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Disabling Parameter Sniffing?

As I mentioned in a previous post, parameter sniffing is a good thing: it allows you to get an execution plan tailored to the current parameters of your query. Of course, sometimes it can also be a problem but there are some solutions available. Some of these solutions are covered in my posts here and here.

However, Microsoft recently released a cumulative update which provides a trace flag to disable parameter sniffing at the instance level. This cumulative update is available for the latest versions of SQL Server as described on the knowledge base article 980653.

Basically this trace flag, 4136, has the effect of disabling the use of histograms, a behavior similar to the use of the OPTIMIZE FOR UNKNOWN hint. There are still three cases where this trace flag has no effect, as described in the previous knowledge base article, which are on queries using the OPTIMIZE FOR or RECOMPILE query hints and on stored procedures using the WITH RECOMPILE option.

In general I would not recommend using this trace flag and would ask you to try the other solutions available instead. But anyway, it is good to know that this choice exists and can be used in cases when you really need it. It should be used carefully and only when enough testing shows that in fact it improves the performance of your application.

But let us test it to see how it works. I am testing it with SQL Server 2008 R2. My original build is 10.50.1600. After the cumulative update is installed the build is 10.50.1720.

Let us use the same example described on my OPTIMIZE FOR UNKNOWN post so perhaps you want to refer to it to better understand the details. Create the following stored procedure on the AdventureWorks database.

CREATE PROCEDURE test (@pid int)

AS

SELECT * FROM Sales.SalesOrderDetail

WHERE ProductID = @pid

Executing the stored procedure before the cumulative update, or after the cumulative update but without using the flag

EXEC test @pid = 709

shows the following plan

clip_image002

In this case, since the trace flag is not yet in effect, SQL Server uses the statistics histogram to estimate the number of rows which in this case is 188. After I enable the trace flag, restart my SQL Server instance, and run the same stored procedure again I got the following plan where the estimated number of rows is now 456.079. Again, how these values were obtained was explained in my previous post.

clip_image004

Let us try a test using the OPTIMIZE FOR query hint, which ignores the 4136 trace flag (note that it is not the same as the OPTIMIZE FOR UNKNOWN hint) by using the following code.

ALTER PROCEDURE test (@pid int)

AS

SELECT * FROM Sales.SalesOrderDetail

WHERE ProductID = @pid

OPTION (OPTIMIZE FOR (@pid = 709))

If you try this version of the stored procedure, even with the trace flag enabled, it will use the histogram again and will create a plan using the estimated number of rows of 188.

Finally, if you followed this exercise, do not forget to remove the trace flag and restart your SQL Server service.

About the author

Benjamin Nevarez Benjamin Nevarez is a database professional based in Los Angeles, California who specializes in SQL Server query tuning and optimization. He is the author of three books, “High Performance SQL Server”, “SQL Server 2014 Query Tuning & Optimization” and “Inside the SQL Server Query Optimizer” and has also coauthored other books including “SQL Server 2012 Internals”. Benjamin has also been a speaker at many SQL Server conferences and events around the world including the PASS Summit, SQL Server Connections and SQLBits. His blog can be found at http://www.benjaminnevarez.com and he can also be reached on twitter at @BenjaminNevarez.

One Comment

  1. Price says:

    Thank you for this article, it was very helpful, I did not know about this trace flag. You rock!

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