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Contradiction Detection

The Query Optimizer and Contradiction Detection

As covered in my book Inside the SQL Server Query Optimizer, contradiction detection is a query rewrite (or tree rewrite?) performed at the simplification phase of the optimization process in which query contradictions are detected and removed. Since these parts of the query are not executed at all, SQL Server saves resources like I/O, locks, memory and CPU, making the query to be executed faster. For example, the Query Optimizer may know that no records can satisfy a predicate even before touching any page of data. A contradiction may be related to a check constraint, or may be related to the way the query is written. I will show you examples of both cases next.

First, I need to find a table with a check constraint in AdventureWorks and, handily, the Employee table has the following check constraint definition:

([VacationHours]>=(-40) AND [VacationHours]<=(240))

This check constraint makes sure that the number of vacation hours is a number between –40 and 240, so when I request

SELECT * FROM HumanResources.Employee
WHERE VacationHours > 80

… SQL Server uses a Clustered Index Scan operator, as shown next

clip_image002However, if I request all of the employees with more than 300 vacation hours then, because of this check constraint, the Query Optimizer must immediately know that no records qualify for predicate. Run the following code

SELECT * FROM HumanResources.Employee
WHERE VacationHours > 300

As expected, the query will return no records, but this time it will show the following execution planclip_image004Note that, this time, instead of a Clustered Index Scan, SQL Server is using a Constant Scan operator. Since there is no need to access the table at all, SQL Server saves resources like I/O, locks, memory and CPU, making the query to be executed faster. Now, let’s see what happens if I disable the check constraint

ALTER TABLE HumanResources.Employee NOCHECK CONSTRAINT CK_Employee_VacationHours

This time, running the last query once again uses a Clustered Index Scan operator, as the Query Optimizer can no longer use the check constraint to guide its decisions. Don’t forget to enable the constraint again by running the following statement:


The second type of contradiction case is when the query itself explicitly contains a contradiction. Take a look at the next query

SELECT * FROM HumanResources.Employee
WHERE ManagerID > 10 AND ManagerID < 5

In this case there is no check constraint involved; both predicates are valid and each will individually return records, but they contradict each other when they are run together. As a result, the query returns no records and the plan shows again a Constant Scan operator similar to the plan shown previously. This may just look like a badly written query, but remember that some predicates may already be included in, for example, view definitions, and the developer of the query may be unaware of those. For example, in our last query, a view may include the predicate ManagerID > 10 and a developer may call this view using the predicate ManagerID < 5. Since both predicates contradict each other a Constant Scan operator will be used again instead.