“alter session force parallel query”, and indexes

This post is a brief discussion about the advantages of activating parallelism by altering the session environment instead of using the alternative ways (hints, DDL). The latter ways are the most popular in my experience, but I have noticed that their popularity is actually due, quite frequently, more to imperfect understanding rather than informed decision – and that’s a pity since “alter session force parallel query” can really save everyone a lot of tedious work and improve maintainability a great deal.

We will also check that issuing

alter session force parallel query parallel N;

is the same as specifying the hints

/*+ parallel (t,N) */

/*+ parallel_index (t, t_idx, N) */

for all tables referenced in the query, and for all indexes defined on them (the former is quite obvious, the latter not that much).

Side note: it is worth remembering that hinting the table for parallelism does not cascade automatically to its indexes as well – you must explicitly specify the indexes that you want to be accessed in parallel by using the separate parallel_index hint (maybe specifying “all indexes” by using the two-parameter variant “parallel_index(t,N)”). The same holds for “alter table parallel N” and “alter index parallel N”, of course.

the power of “force parallel query”

I’ve rarely found any reason for avoiding index parallel operations nowadays – usually both the tables and their indexes are stored on disks with the same performance figures (if not the same set of disks altogether), and the cost of the initial segment checkpoint is not generally different. At the opposite, using an index can offer terrific opportunities for speeding up queries, especially when a full table scan can be substituted by a fast full scan on a (perhaps much) smaller index.

Thus, I almost always let the CBO consider index parallelism as well. Three methods can be used:

- statement hints (the most popular option)

- alter table/index parallel N

- “force parallel query”.

I rather hate injecting parallel hints everywhere in my statements since it is very risky. It is far too easy to forget to specify a table or index (or simply misspell them), not to mention to forget new potentially good indexes added after the statement had been finalized. Also, you must change the statement as well even if you simply want to change the degree of parallelism, perhaps just because you are moving from an underequipped, humble and cheap test environment to a mighty production server. At the opposite, “force parallel query” is simple and elegant – just a quick command and you’re done, and with a single place to touch in order to change the parallel degree.

“alter table/index parallel N” is another weak technique as well in my opinion, mainly for two reasons. The first one is that it is a permanent modification to the database objects, and after the query has finished, it is far too easy to fail to revert the objects back to their original degree setting (because of failure or coding bug). The second one is the risk of two concurrent sessions colliding on the same object that they both want to read, but with different degrees of parallelism.

Both the two problems above do not hold only when you always want to run with a fixed degree for all statements; but even in this case, I would consider issuing “force parallel query” (maybe inside a logon trigger) instead of having to set/change the degree for all tables/indexes accessed by the application.

I have noticed that many people are afraid of “force parallel query” because of the word “force”, believing that it switches every statement into parallel mode. But this is not the case: as Tanel Poder recently illustrated, the phrase “force parallel query” is misleading; a better one would be something like “consider parallel query”, since it is perfectly equivalent to hinting the statement for parallelism as far as I can tell (see below). And hinting itself tells the CBO to consider parallelism in addition to serial execution; the CBO is perfectly free to choose a serial execution plan if it estimates that it will cost less – as demonstrated by Jonathan Lewis years ago.

Hence there’s no reason to be afraid, for example, that a nice Index Range Scan that selects just one row might turn into a massively inefficient Full Table Scan (or index Fast Full Scan) of a one million row table/index. That is true besides bugs and CBO limitations, obviously; but in these hopefully rare circumstances, one can always use the no_parallel and no_parallel_index to fix the issue.

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