Oracle7 Server Concepts

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Hash Clusters

Hashing is an optional way of storing table data to improve the performance of data retrieval. To use hashing, you create a hash cluster and load tables into the cluster. Oracle physically stores the rows of a table in a hash cluster and retrieves them according to the results of a hash function.

Oracle uses a hash function to generate a distribution of numeric values, called hash values, which are based on specific cluster key values. The key of a hash cluster (like the key of an index cluster) can be a single column or composite key (multiple column key). To find or store a row in a hash cluster, Oracle applies the hash function to the row's cluster key value; the resulting hash value corresponds to a data block in the cluster, which Oracle then reads or writes on behalf of the issued statement.

A hash cluster is an alternative to a non-clustered table with an index or an index cluster. With an indexed table or index cluster, Oracle locates the rows in a table using key values that Oracle stores in a separate index.

To find or store a row in an indexed table or cluster, at least two I/Os must be performed (but often more): one or more I/Os to find or store the key value in the index, and another I/O to read or write the row in the table or cluster. In contrast, Oracle uses a hash function to locate a row in a hash cluster (no I/O is required). As a result, a minimum of one I/O operation is necessary to read or write a row in a hash cluster.

How Data Is Stored in a Hash Cluster

A hash cluster stores related rows together in the same data blocks. Rows in a hash cluster are stored together based on their hash value.

Note: In contrast, an index cluster stores related rows of clustered tables together based on each row's cluster key value.

When you create a hash cluster, Oracle allocates an initial amount of storage for the cluster's data segment. Oracle bases the amount of storage initially allocated for a hash cluster on the predicted number and predicted average size of the hash key's rows in the cluster.

Figure 5 - 9 illustrates data retrieval for a table in a hash cluster as well as a table with an index. The following sections further explain the internal operations of hash cluster storage.

Figure 5 - 9. Hashing vs. Indexing: Data Storage and Information Retrieval

Hash Key Values

To find or store a row in a hash cluster, Oracle applies the hash function to the row's cluster key value. The resulting hash value corresponds to a data block in the cluster, which Oracle then reads or writes on behalf of an issued statement. The number of hash values for a hash cluster is fixed at creation and is determined by the HASHKEYS parameter of the CREATE CLUSTER command.

The value of HASHKEYS limits the number of unique hash values that can be generated by the hash function used for the cluster. Oracle rounds the number you specify for HASHKEYS to the nearest prime number. For example, setting HASHKEYS to 100 means that for any cluster key value, the hash function generates values between 0 and 100 (there will be 101 hash values).

Therefore, the distribution of rows in a hash cluster is directly controlled by the value set for the HASHKEYS parameter. With a larger number of hash keys for a given number of rows, the likelihood of a collision (two cluster key values having the same hash value) decreases. Minimizing the number of collisions is important because overflow blocks (thus extra I/O) might be necessary to store rows with hash values that collide.

The maximum number of hash keys assigned per data block is determined by the SIZE parameter of the CREATE CLUSTER command. SIZE is an estimate of the total amount of space in bytes required to store the average number of rows associated with each hash value. For example, if the available free space per data block is 1700 bytes and SIZE is set to 500 bytes, three hash keys are assigned per data block.

Note: The importance of the SIZE parameter of hash clusters is analogous to that of the SIZE parameter for index clusters. However, with index clusters, SIZE applies to rows with the same cluster key value instead of the same hash value.

Although the maximum number of hash key values per data block is determined by SIZE, Oracle does not actually reserve space for each hash key value in the block. For example, if SIZE determines that three hash key values are allowed per block, this does not prevent rows for one hash key value from taking up all of the available space in the block. If there are more rows for a given hash key value than can fit in a single block, the block is chained, as necessary.

Note that each row's hash value is not stored as part of the row; however, the cluster key value for each row is stored. Therefore, when determining the proper value for SIZE, the cluster key value must be included for every row to be stored.

Hash Functions

A hash function is a function applied to a cluster key value that returns a hash value. Oracle then uses the hash value to locate the row in the proper data block of the hash cluster. The job of a hash function is to provide the maximum distribution of rows among the available hash values of the cluster. To achieve this goal, a hash function must minimize the number of collisions.

Using Oracle's Internal Hash Function

When you create a cluster, you can use the internal hash function of Oracle or bypass the use of this function. The internal hash function allows the cluster key to be a single column or composite key.

Furthermore, the cluster key can be comprised of columns of any datatype (except LONG and LONG RAW). The internal hash function offers sufficient distribution of cluster key values among available hash keys, producing a minimum number of collisions for any type of cluster key.

Specifying the Cluster Key as the Hash Function

In cases where the cluster key is already a unique identifier that is uniformly distributed over its range, you might want to bypass the internal hash function and simply specify the column on which to hash.

Instead of using the internal hash function to generate a hash value, Oracle checks the cluster key value. If the cluster key value is less than HASHKEYS, the hash value is the cluster key value; however, if the cluster key value is equal to or greater than HASHKEYS, Oracle divides the cluster key value by the number specified for HASHKEYS, and the remainder is the hash value; that is, the hash value is the cluster key value mod the number of hash keys.

Use the HASH IS parameter of the CREATE CLUSTER command to specify the cluster key column if cluster key values are distributed evenly throughout the cluster. The cluster key must be comprised of a single column that contains only zero scale numbers (integers). If the internal hash function is bypassed and a non-integer cluster key value is supplied, the operation (INSERT or UPDATE statement) is rolled back and an error is returned.

Specifying a User-Defined Hash Function

You can also specify any SQL expression as the hash function for a hash cluster. If your cluster key values are not evenly distributed among the cluster, you should consider creating your own hash function that more efficiently distributes cluster rows among the hash values.

For example, if you have a hash cluster containing employee information and the cluster key is the employee's home area code, it is likely that many employees will hash to the same hash value. To alleviate this problem, you can place the following expression in the HASH IS clause of the CREATE CLUSTER command:

MOD((emp.home_area_code + emp.home_prefix + emp.home_suffix), 101)

The expression takes the area code column and adds the phone prefix and suffix columns, divides by the number of hash values (in this case 101), and then uses the remainder as the hash value. The result is cluster rows more evenly distributed among the various hash values.

Allocation of Space for a Hash Cluster

As with other types of segments, the allocation of extents during the creation of a hash cluster is controlled by the INITIAL, NEXT, and MINEXTENTS parameters of the STORAGE clause. However, with hash clusters, an initial portion of space, called the hash table, is allocated at creation so that all hash keys of the cluster can be mapped, with the total space equal to SIZE * HASHKEYS. Therefore, initial allocation of space for a hash cluster is also dependent on the values of SIZE and HASHKEYS. The larger of (SIZE*HASHKEYS) and that specified by the STORAGE clause (INITIAL, NEXT, and so on) is used.

Space subsequently allocated to a hash cluster is used to hold the overflow of rows from data blocks that are already full. For example, assume the original data block for a given hash key is full. A user inserts a row into a clustered table such that the row's cluster key hashes to the hash value that is stored in a full data block; therefore, the row cannot be inserted into the root block (original block) allocated for the hash key. Instead, the row is inserted into an overflow block that is chained to the root block of the hash key.

Frequent collisions might or might not result in a larger number of overflow blocks within a hash cluster (thus reducing data retrieval performance). If a collision occurs and there is no space in the original block allocated for the hash key, an overflow block must be allocated to hold the new row. The likelihood of this happening is largely dependent on the average size of each hash key value and corresponding data, specified when the hash cluster is created, as illustrated in Figure 5 - 10.

Figure 5 - 10. Collisions and Overflow Blocks in a Hash Cluster

If the average size is small and each row has a unique hash key value, many hash key values can be assigned per data block. In this case, a small colliding row can likely fit into the space of the root block for the hash key. However, if the average hash key value size is large or each hash key value corresponds to multiple rows, only a few hash key values can be assigned per data block. In this case, it is likely that the large row will not be able to fit in the root block allocated for the hash key value and an overflow block is allocated.

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