Optimization is a complex task because ultimately it requires understanding of the entire system to be optimized. Although it may be possible to perform some local optimizations with little knowledge of your system or application, the more optimal you want your system to become, the more you will have to know about it.
This chapter tries to explain and give some examples of different ways to optimize MySQL. Remember, however, that there are always additional ways to make the system even faster, although they may require increasing effort to achieve.
6.1 Optimization Overview
The most important factor in making a system fast is its basic design. You also need to know what kinds of things your system will be doing, and what your bottlenecks are.
The most common system bottlenecks are:
6.1.1 MySQL Design Limitations and Tradeoffs
When using the MyISAM storage engine, MySQL uses extremely fast table locking that allows multiple readers or a single writer. The biggest problem with this storage engine occurs when you have a steady stream of mixed updates and slow selects on a single table. If this is a problem for certain tables, you can use another table type for them. See Chapter 8, "MySQL Storage Engines and Table Types."
MySQL can work with both transactional and non-transactional tables. To be able to work smoothly with non-transactional tables (which can't roll back if something goes wrong), MySQL has the following rules:
The implication of these rules is that you should not use MySQL to check column content. Instead, you should check values within your application before storing them in the database.
6.1.2 Designing Applications for Portability
Because all SQL servers implement different parts of standard SQL, it takes work to write portable SQL applications. It is very easy to achieve portability for very simple selects and inserts, but becomes more difficult the more capabilities you require. If you want an application that is fast with many database systems, it becomes even harder!
To make a complex application portable, you need to determine which SQL servers it must work with, then determine what features those servers support.
All database systems have some weak points. That is, they have different design compromises that lead to different behavior.
You can use the MySQL crash-me program to find functions, types, and limits that you can use with a selection of database servers. crash-me does not check for every possible feature, but it is still reasonably comprehensive, performing about 450 tests.
An example of the type of information crash-me can provide is that you shouldn't have column names longer than 18 characters if you want to be able to use Informix or DB2.
The crash-me program and the MySQL benchmarks are all very database independent. By taking a look at how they are written, you can get a feeling for what you have to do to make your own applications database independent. The programs can be found in the sql-bench directory of MySQL source distributions. They are written in Perl and use the DBI database interface. Use of DBI in itself solves part of the portability problem because it provides database-independent access methods.
If you strive for database independence, you need to get a good feeling for each SQL server's bottlenecks. For example, MySQL is very fast in retrieving and updating records for MyISAM tables, but will have a problem in mixing slow readers and writers on the same table. Oracle, on the other hand, has a big problem when you try to access rows that you have recently updated (until they are flushed to disk). Transactional databases in general are not very good at generating summary tables from log tables, because in this case row locking is almost useless.
To make your application really database independent, you need to define an easily extendable interface through which you manipulate your data. Because C++ is available on most systems, it makes sense to use a C++ class-based interface to the databases.
If you use some feature that is specific to a given database system (such as the REPLACE statement, which is specific to MySQL), you should implement the same feature for other SQL servers by coding an alternative method. Although the alternative may be slower, it will allow the other servers to perform the same tasks.
With MySQL, you can use the /*! */ syntax to add MySQL-specific keywords to a query. The code inside /**/ will be treated as a comment (and ignored) by most other SQL servers.
If high performance is more important than exactness, as in some Web applications, it is possible to create an application layer that caches all results to give you even higher performance. By letting old results "expire" after a while, you can keep the cache reasonably fresh. This provides a method to handle high load spikes, in which case you can dynamically increase the cache and set the expiration timeout higher until things get back to normal.
In this case, the table creation information should contain information of the initial size of the cache and how often the table should normally be refreshed.
An alternative to implementing an application cache is to use the MySQL query cache. By enabling the query cache, the server handles the details of determining whether a query result can be reused. This simplifies your application. See Section 4.10, "The MySQL Query Cache."
6.1.3 What We Have Used MySQL For
This section describes an early application for MySQL.
During MySQL initial development, the features of MySQL were made to fit our largest customer, which handled data warehousing for a couple of the largest retailers in Sweden.
From all stores, we got weekly summaries of all bonus card transactions, and were expected to provide useful information for the store owners to help them find how their advertising campaigns were affecting their own customers.
The volume of data was quite huge (about seven million summary transactions per month), and we had data for 4-10 years that we needed to present to the users. We got weekly requests from our customers, who wanted to get "instant" access to new reports from this data.
We solved this problem by storing all information per month in compressed "transaction" tables. We had a set of simple macros that generated summary tables grouped by different criteria (product group, customer id, store, and so on) from the tables in which the transactions were stored. The reports were Web pages that were dynamically generated by a small Perl script. This script parsed a Web page, executed the SQL statements in it, and inserted the results. We would have used PHP or mod_perl instead, but they were not available at the time.
For graphical data, we wrote a simple tool in C that could process SQL query results and produce GIF images based on those results. This tool also was dynamically executed from the Perl script that parsed the Web pages.
In most cases, a new report could be created simply by copying an existing script and modifying the SQL query in it. In some cases, we needed to add more columns to an existing summary table or generate a new one, but this also was quite simple because we kept all transaction-storage tables on disk. (This amounted to about 50GB of transaction tables and 200GB of other customer data.)
We also let our customers access the summary tables directly with ODBC so that the advanced users could experiment with the data themselves.
This system worked well and we had no problems handling the data with quite modest Sun Ultra SPARCstation hardware (2x200MHz). Eventually the system was migrated to Linux.
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