This is the third in a series on whatâ€™s seriously limiting MySQL in certain circumstances (links: part 1, 2). This post is about subqueries, which in some cases execute outside-in instead of inside-out as users expect.
It’s easy to pick on subqueries in MySQL, so I’ll try to be gentle. The following query will surprise users unpleasantly:
select * from a where a.id in (select id from b);
Users expect the inner query to execute first, then the results to be substituted into the IN() list. But what happens instead is usually a full scan or index scan of table a, followed by N queries to table b. This is because MySQL rewrites the query to make the inner query dependent on the outer query, which could be an optimization in some cases, but de-optimizes the query in many other cases. NOT IN(SELECT …) queries execute badly, too. (Note: putting a literal list of items in the IN() clause performs fine. It’s only when there is a SELECT inside it that it works poorly.)
The fix for this has been in progress for a few years, and Sergey Petrunia committed working code to the stalled 6.0 release. But it’s not quite clear whether that code was a complete solution. It has not been in any GA or RC release, so it hasn’t been used widely.
To be fair, many other database servers also have poor subquery performance, or have had it in the past and have fixed it. And many MySQL users have learned to simply write JOINs instead, so it isn’t that much of a limitation. But it would be a big improvement if it were fixed.
See if you can guess what limitation number 4 will be!