Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Performance of LIKE vs = in SQL queries

Got a question from a coworker yesterday about the relative performance of LIKE vs = in a SQL query, and had to think about it a bit. He wanted to know whether there was a performance penalty to using LIKE if there were no wildcards. In other words, if this:


would perform equivalently to this:

SELECT * FROM tbFoo WHERE colA = 'bar'

My knee-jerk response was that the = would be faster, but I thought about it and realized that the query optimizer would actually see them as the same thing. A check of the query plans against a quickly-created tbFoo confirmed it. So that's what I told him.

Except that I realized a moment later that there was a major caveat - the query optimization depends on how the statement is parameterized. If it's purely ad hoc SQL and being compiled at run-time, then the statements are equivalent, but if there's going to be any plan re-use, either by including the statement in a stored proc or preparing it and executing via sp_executesql, the LIKE will impose a significant penalty.

This is because the optimizer doesn't know at compile time whether the parameter to the LIKE operator will contain a wild card, so it can't use the more specific optimization (including index selection) that it could with an = operator. So if you mostly pass parameters without wildcards, you will be executing a suboptimal query plan. Keep this in mind when designing your query!


I realized after writing this that this topic has been covered in more depth and with more eloquence by Erland Sommarskog and any number of other SQL MVPs and bloggers, but this post is already written, so I'm releasing it into the wild anyway.

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