Creating an index on a table with no primary key

Category : Blogs Published : July 6, 2012 User Rating : 4 Stars      Views : 3.5 Stars
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Recently a developer came up to me and started asking questions about a problem he was experiencing with a stored procedure he’d written to query a large table. He’d been looking at the execution plan and noticed that the stored procedure was table scanning one of the tables that it was querying.

The query was fairly straightforward with two columns specified in the WHERE predicate, but the table was large. He had quite correctly decided to create an index on those two columns. Surprisingly this did not seem to resolve the situation as the stored procedure continued to table scan the table. At this point he asked me to look at the problem.

The first thing I did was to simplify the query as much as possible to make it easier to identify the problem. Here is the table design and the simplified version of the query in the stored procedure that caused the table scanning :

Table Design

Query :
SELECT Title,Forename,Surname
FROM   Member
WHERE  DateAppointed<'23 Aug 2008' AND DateLeft>'23 Aug 2008'
The index that he had tried was :
(     DateLeft ASC,
      DateAppointed ASC )
Switching on the ‘Include Actual Execution Plan’, running the query and looking at the graphical output in the ‘Execution Plan’ tab in SSMS confirmed that the query is table scanning :

Table Scan

On the face of there was no obvious reason why the query should not have made use of this index. After trying a few things and not succeeding in getting the query to use the index I decided to see what the Database Engine Tuning Advisor (DETA) made of the query. At this point I suddenly realised what the problem was – there was no primary key on the table.

The problem was that although the optimiser could use the index to identify the correct rows in the table to meet the where condition, it would then have to go back to the table to get the columns specified in the select statement, but it required a primary key on the table to be able to do that look up.

If this was a database we owned then we could have added a primary key, either by identifying an existing column to use or to add an extra column and specifying it as an identity column. Unfortunately it was a third party supplied database and it wasn’t practical to make structural changes.

The solution was to specify an index which had include columns covering the columns specified in the select statement :
(     DateLeft ASC,
      DateAppointed ASC )
INCLUDE (Title,Forename,Surname)
This is the index specified by the DETA and resolves the problem because all the information is contained in the index. This is because the INCLUDE clause contains all the columns in the SELECT part of the query – no further look up is required on the underlying table and the execution plan confirms that the query does indeed do an index seek using the new index :
Index Seek

All in all a neat solution to the problem in this instance, though I can’t help feeling that it would still have been better to have had a primary key on the table in the first place.

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