Performance Optimization - 4.6 [Traversal technology] Grouping and aggregating


Grouping is a common traversal type operation, which needs to read and calculate all records participating in grouping. For this type of operation that needs the participation of the whole set, the index makes little sense (useful only in very few scenarios, we will discuss in the next chapter). Since some programmers do not understand the principle of grouping, they will add indexes to the database tables in case of slow grouping, doing so will only increase the load of database.

Grouping process is typically divided into the following steps: firstly, generate an empty grouped result set; secondly, traverse each original data; thirdly, calculate the grouping key value of each original data; and lastly, search the grouped subset corresponding to the key value in grouped result set, and add this record to grouped subset. If the grouped subset cannot be found, add a new grouped subset composed of this record.

During this operation process, the occurrence times of some actions like reading the records from original data, calculating the grouping key values of records, and adding the records to grouped subset, are definite (equal to the record number of original data). Since there is no way to reduce the occurrence times, the only method to reduce operations is to find the grouped subset in the grouped result set. This method is a standard search operation, which generally adopts the hash method in case no special conditions are available. The hash method works in a way that the grouped subsets are arranged according to the hash value of their corresponding grouping key values (equivalent to sequence number positioning), and the grouping key values and hash values are calculated when there is a new record, which can quickly find its own group in a small number of grouped subsets with same hash value. This grouping algorithm is also called hash grouping.

The sum of grouped subsets is as large as original data set. If the memory cannot store the data due to too-large data amount, then, nor the grouped subset does, therefore, this method only applies to in-memory data sets. However, in most cases, grouping always comes with aggregation, we do not need to keep grouped subsets, but only need to calculate the aggregation value of grouped subsets, and these aggregation values can often be achieved by cumulative methods such as summing, counting, computing maximum / minimum value. In this way, the grouped subset can be discarded, and just keeping the grouping key value and corresponding aggregated value will work (it is equivalent to a table sequence rather than a set of sets), as a result, the result set will be much smaller, and it is also possible to get a small grouped result set that can be stored in memory even if the amount of original data is large. In this process, it still needs to find the target record to do accumulation, and it also needs to use hash scheme, this kind of grouping and aggregating is still called hash grouping.

Sometimes, even if only the aggregation value is needed, the grouped result sets may still be too large to be stored in memory, that means the number of grouping key values is very large. This situation is called big grouping, while another situation where the result set is small enough to be stored in memory, is called small grouping.

When dealing with big grouping, it is necessary to extend hash grouping algorithm to external storage. To do this, we need to expand the range of hash values first to let the grouping key values be dispersedly under different hash values to the utmost extend, resulting in a situation that not many grouping key values correspond to the same hash value. Since the range of hash function is known in advance, divide this range into several intervals that can be stored in memory (simple equal division is OK). In the process of data traversing, every time a batch of records is read, calculate the hash value of its grouping key value, and write to different buffer files based on the interval in which it is located, and then release the memory space to read the next batch of records until the end of traversal. After that, read the data from each buffer file separately, and do hash grouping again. Since the hash values of data in each buffer file fall within one of intervals, and they can definitely be stored in memory, separate data read and hash grouping can be performed without causing out of memory.

SPL designs two functions for the aggregation of big grouping and small grouping respectively. Small grouping will directly return the result set, while big group will return a cursor. This cursor is based on the above-mentioned buffer file, and the second round of grouping and aggregating will be performed during data fetching.

1 =file(“orders.btx”).cursor@b(area,amount)
2 =A1.groups(area;sum(amount):amount)
3 =A1.groupx@u(area;sum(amount):amount).fetch()

Both functions have same parameter rules. The groups()function of small grouping will directly use hash algorithm, while the groupx() function of big grouping will use hash algorithm only after adding @u option.

Small grouping does not need to generate buffer files, while big grouping certainly does. When the function of big grouping is used to achieve small grouping, a lot of time will be wasted for writing buffer file, even if the final grouping result is small. It is very important to predict the size of the grouped result set in advance and select an appropriate function. Therefore, SPL provides two grouping functions, you can compare the calculation time of A2 and A3 respectively.

We also find that the order of grouped result sets returned by groupx()is disordered, it seems that it has nothing to do with the grouping key value as well as the order of original data set. In fact, this is exactly the characteristic of hash grouping, and the reason why it looks disordered is that the result set of hash grouping is sorted according to the hash value of grouping key value. On the contrary, SPL will perform a sort according to grouping key value before the groups() function of small grouping is returned, therefore, it looks that the key values are ordered. If you use groups@u, same result will occur.

There is another method to achieve big grouping, and this method can achieve big sorting as well.

This method works in a way that traverse each record in turn, and perform the hash grouping method described at the beginning of this section (hash range cannot be too large), but what is different is that this method needs to constantly monitor the number of effective grouping key values in the grouped result set in the memory. Once the number reaches a threshold, the following steps should be performed, first, sort the current grouped result set according to grouping key value; second, write it to a buffer file; and then clear and release the memory space occupied by the grouped result set; and lastly, continue to traverse the remaining records. Repeat these steps until the traversal is completed, and you will finally obtain a batch of buffer files. Since the data in these files are arranged in an orderly manner according to grouping key value, you only need to perform two operations, namely, ordered merge algorithm as well as ordered grouping and aggregating. Both these two operations can be achieved with only a small amount of memory. This kind of grouping algorithm is called sort grouping.

Similarly, the result from this kind of big grouping is also a cursor based on buffer files, and the second round of merging as well as grouping and aggregating are performed in the process of cursor data-fetching.

1 =file(“orders.btx”).cursor@b(area,amount)
2 =A1.groupx(area;sum(amount):amount).fetch()

The groupx() without options works according to this algorithm.

Compared with hash grouping, sort grouping has some advantages. The grouped result set of sort grouping is directly ordered according to grouping key values, which may be used in the next round of calculation, more conveniently, big grouping algorithms (and functions) can be used to achieve small grouping. After carefully studying the above algorithm process, you will find that if the actual result set is small, it will not really trigger the action of writing buffer files, because the grouped result set in memory will never be large enough to the threshold at which the buffer files should be written.

Another advantage of sort grouping is that it is more stable. Since there are some cases where you are unlucky with the hash function, these cases just lead to a waste of time for in-memory search, while for big grouping, it may happen that there are too many grouping key values under a hash value, and cannot be stored in the memory, in this case, a second round of hashing is needed, which is very troublesome and low in performance.

Therefore, the big grouping provided by SPL by default is sort grouping (no options).

However, when you are sure that it is a large grouped result set (buffer files will definitely be written), and you are lucky with the hash function, then the hash grouping is more efficient than sort grouping. The reason is that the sort itself is relatively slow, and multiple buffer files need to be read at the same time when merging in second round, resulting in the concurrent read of more hard disks. The second round of hash grouping, however, only needs to read one buffer file at a time, which will not cause concurrent read of hard disk. Therefore, SPL also provides the method of hashing big grouping.

Database usually uses an optimized hash grouping method. This method will first try a small range of hash functions. If too many grouping key values are found, it will do the second hashing and perform buffering. In this way, the phenomenon that buffer data is always written can be avoided. This method has better performance in case of small grouping, but its algorithm process is much more troublesome, and its performance will decline seriously in case of big grouping.

However, even if the sort grouping can be adaptively to both small grouping and big grouping, groupx()is still more complex and a little worse in performance in comparison with groups() in practice. More importantly, the parallel effect of big grouping is not good. Specifically, multiple threads will accumulate to the same intermediate result set at the same time, and will often deal with the waiting state because of the preemption of write rights. On the other hand, if each thread has its own intermediate result set, it will result in the split of memory (each thread can only use a fraction of memory), furthermore, when there may be no need to write buffer files (the whole memory is enough to store grouped result set), the phenomenon of writing buffer files will also occur (as a fraction of memory is not enough), in this case, the hard disk will read and write very slowly, and it’s easy to offset the benefits of CPU’s parallel operation. Even if in the case that buffer files are definitely needed, and multiple threads write buffer files at the same time, it will cause concurrent write to the hard disk, and often seriously affects the performance. Therefore, groupx() function does not necessarily achieve better performance for multi-cursor operation.

As a result, if you clearly know that the result set is small, you still need to use groups()to get the best performance. In case you can predict the size of result set, you can also choose an appropriate number of parallels. When the size of result set is not clear, using groupx() will be more secure, and the performance loss in case of single thread is not large.

Following the understanding sort grouping, big data sorting will also be relatively simple, which can be described as the following simple steps: order the data after a batch of data is read, and then write them to buffer files, and finally perform the merge algorithm to sort these buffer files. The size of the result set of sort operation is same as that of original data set, and it will not become smaller like grouping, so big sorting will definitely generate buffer files.

Similarly, it is not easy to obtain a linear performance improvement for parallel computing of big sorting. Although sorting in the memory can be faster, the concurrent writing of multiple threads to hard disk may offset the advantage.

SPL does not directly provide a hash grouping style big sorting algorithm; you can work out the algorithm yourself after understanding the program cursor technology as well as serial number segmentation mechanism in the next chapter. Usually, big sorting is only used in the data preparation stage, and the merge algorithm can be performed in most cases, and there are not many cases where sorting is performed to original big data.