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Friday 20 October 2023

Fast Key Optimization for Row Mode Sorts

Fast Key Optimization for Row Mode Sorts

SQL Server row-mode sorts generally use a custom implementation of the well-known merge sort algorithm to order data.

As a comparison-based algorithm, this performs a large number of value comparisons during sorting—usually many more than the number of items to sort.

Although each comparison is typically not expensive, even moderately sized sorting can involve a very large number of comparisons.

SQL Server can be called upon to sort a variety of data types. To facilitate this, the sorting code normally calls out to a specific comparator to determine how two compared values should sort: lower, higher, or equal.

Although calling comparator code has low overhead, performing enough of them can cause noticeable performance differences.

To address this, SQL Server has always (since at least version 7) supported a fast key optimization for simple data types. This optimization performs the comparison using highly optimized inline code rather than calling out to a separate routine.