Explain the Explain Plan: Cardinality Estimates

In last week’s post, I began a series on how to read and interpret Oracle execution plans by explaining what an execution plan is and how to generate one. This week I’m going to tackle the most important piece of information the Optimizer shares with you via the execution plan, it’s cardinality estimates.

What is a Cardinality Estimate?

A cardinality estimate is the estimated number of rows, the optimizer believes will be returned by a specific operation in the execution plan. The Optimizer determines the cardinality for each operation based on a complex set of formulas that use table and column level statistics as input (or the statistics derived by dynamic sampling). It’s considered the most important aspect of an execution plan because it strongly influences all of the other decisions the optimizer makes.

In part 4 of our series, I share some of the formulas used by the optimizer to estimate cardinalities, as well as showing you how to identify cardinalities in a plan. I also demonstrate multiple ways to determine if the cardinality estimates are accurate.

What can cause a Cardinality Misestimate and how do I fix it?

Several factors can lead to incorrect cardinality estimates even when the basic table and column statistics are up to date. In part 5 of our series, I explain the leading causes of cardinality misestimates and how you can address them.

Next weeks, instalment will be all about the different access methods available to the Optimizer and what you can do to encourage the optimizer to select the access method you want! Don’t forget more information on the Oracle Optimizer can always be found on the Optimizer blog.

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