On one of the databases I’m looking after (126.96.36.199, Solaris, non-RAC), several different INSERT statements (all into tablespaces with manually managed segments) suffer from occasional hiccups. The symptoms are always the same: in one of the sessions, the INSERT gets stuck doing lots of single-block I/O against one of the indexes on the inserted table, and if other sessions are running similar INSERTs, they hang on enq: TX – index contention. The situation can last just a few seconds, but sometimes it’s much longer than this (several minutes), in which case the impact on the application is quite serious.
Nested loop join appears like the simplest thing there could be — you go through one table, and as you go, per each row found you probe the second table to see if you find any matching rows. But thanks to a number of optimizations introduced in recent Oracle releases, it has become much more complex than that. Randolf Geist has written a great series of posts about this join mechanism (part 1, part 2 and part 3) where he explores in a great detail how numerous nested loop optimization interact with various logical I/O optimizations for unique and non-unique indexes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover the physical I/O aspects, and that seems to me like the most interesting part — after all, that was the primary motivation behind introducing all those additional nested loop join mechanism on the top of the basic classical nested loop. So I conducted a study on my own, and I’m presenting my results in the mini-series that I’m opening with this post.