8.8.2 EXPLAIN Output Format

The EXPLAIN statement provides information about the execution plan for a SELECT statement.

EXPLAIN returns a row of information for each table used in the SELECT statement. It lists the tables in the output in the order that MySQL would read them while processing the statement. MySQL resolves all joins using a nested-loop join method. This means that MySQL reads a row from the first table, and then finds a matching row in the second table, the third table, and so on. When all tables are processed, MySQL outputs the selected columns and backtracks through the table list until a table is found for which there are more matching rows. The next row is read from this table and the process continues with the next table.

When the EXTENDED keyword is used, EXPLAIN produces extra information that can be viewed by issuing a SHOW WARNINGS statement following the EXPLAIN statement. EXPLAIN EXTENDED also displays the filtered column. See Section 8.8.3, “EXPLAIN EXTENDED Output Format”.

Note

You cannot use the EXTENDED and PARTITIONS keywords together in the same EXPLAIN statement.

EXPLAIN Output Columns

This section describes the output columns produced by EXPLAIN. Later sections provide additional information about the type and Extra columns.

Each output row from EXPLAIN provides information about one table. Each row contains the values summarized in Table 8.1, “EXPLAIN Output Columns”, and described in more detail following the table.

Table 8.1 EXPLAIN Output Columns

ColumnMeaning
idThe SELECT identifier
select_typeThe SELECT type
tableThe table for the output row
partitionsThe matching partitions
typeThe join type
possible_keysThe possible indexes to choose
keyThe index actually chosen
key_lenThe length of the chosen key
refThe columns compared to the index
rowsEstimate of rows to be examined
filteredPercentage of rows filtered by table condition
ExtraAdditional information

EXPLAIN Join Types

The type column of EXPLAIN output describes how tables are joined. The following list describes the join types, ordered from the best type to the worst:

EXPLAIN Extra Information

The Extra column of EXPLAIN output contains additional information about how MySQL resolves the query. The following list explains the values that can appear in this column. If you want to make your queries as fast as possible, look out for Extra values of Using filesort and Using temporary.

EXPLAIN Output Interpretation

You can get a good indication of how good a join is by taking the product of the values in the rows column of the EXPLAIN output. This should tell you roughly how many rows MySQL must examine to execute the query. If you restrict queries with the max_join_size system variable, this row product also is used to determine which multiple-table SELECT statements to execute and which to abort. See Section 8.11.2, “Tuning Server Parameters”.

The following example shows how a multiple-table join can be optimized progressively based on the information provided by EXPLAIN.

Suppose that you have the SELECT statement shown here and that you plan to examine it using EXPLAIN:

EXPLAIN SELECT tt.TicketNumber, tt.TimeIn,
               tt.ProjectReference, tt.EstimatedShipDate,
               tt.ActualShipDate, tt.ClientID,
               tt.ServiceCodes, tt.RepetitiveID,
               tt.CurrentProcess, tt.CurrentDPPerson,
               tt.RecordVolume, tt.DPPrinted, et.COUNTRY,
               et_1.COUNTRY, do.CUSTNAME
        FROM tt, et, et AS et_1, do
        WHERE tt.SubmitTime IS NULL
          AND tt.ActualPC = et.EMPLOYID
          AND tt.AssignedPC = et_1.EMPLOYID
          AND tt.ClientID = do.CUSTNMBR;

For this example, make the following assumptions:

Initially, before any optimizations have been performed, the EXPLAIN statement produces the following information:

table type possible_keys key  key_len ref  rows  Extra
et    ALL  PRIMARY       NULL NULL    NULL 74
do    ALL  PRIMARY       NULL NULL    NULL 2135
et_1  ALL  PRIMARY       NULL NULL    NULL 74
tt    ALL  AssignedPC,   NULL NULL    NULL 3872
           ClientID,
           ActualPC
      Range checked for each record (index map: 0x23)

Because type is ALL for each table, this output indicates that MySQL is generating a Cartesian product of all the tables; that is, every combination of rows. This takes quite a long time, because the product of the number of rows in each table must be examined. For the case at hand, this product is 74 × 2135 × 74 × 3872 = 45,268,558,720 rows. If the tables were bigger, you can only imagine how long it would take.

One problem here is that MySQL can use indexes on columns more efficiently if they are declared as the same type and size. In this context, VARCHAR and CHAR are considered the same if they are declared as the same size. tt.ActualPC is declared as CHAR(10) and et.EMPLOYID is CHAR(15), so there is a length mismatch.

To fix this disparity between column lengths, use ALTER TABLE to lengthen ActualPC from 10 characters to 15 characters:

mysql> ALTER TABLE tt MODIFY ActualPC VARCHAR(15);

Now tt.ActualPC and et.EMPLOYID are both VARCHAR(15). Executing the EXPLAIN statement again produces this result:

table type   possible_keys key     key_len ref         rows    Extra
tt    ALL    AssignedPC,   NULL    NULL    NULL        3872    Using
             ClientID,                                         where
             ActualPC
do    ALL    PRIMARY       NULL    NULL    NULL        2135
      Range checked for each record (index map: 0x1)
et_1  ALL    PRIMARY       NULL    NULL    NULL        74
      Range checked for each record (index map: 0x1)
et    eq_ref PRIMARY       PRIMARY 15      tt.ActualPC 1

This is not perfect, but is much better: The product of the rows values is less by a factor of 74. This version executes in a couple of seconds.

A second alteration can be made to eliminate the column length mismatches for the tt.AssignedPC = et_1.EMPLOYID and tt.ClientID = do.CUSTNMBR comparisons:

mysql> ALTER TABLE tt MODIFY AssignedPC VARCHAR(15),
    ->                MODIFY ClientID   VARCHAR(15);

After that modification, EXPLAIN produces the output shown here:

table type   possible_keys key      key_len ref           rows Extra
et    ALL    PRIMARY       NULL     NULL    NULL          74
tt    ref    AssignedPC,   ActualPC 15      et.EMPLOYID   52   Using
             ClientID,                                         where
             ActualPC
et_1  eq_ref PRIMARY       PRIMARY  15      tt.AssignedPC 1
do    eq_ref PRIMARY       PRIMARY  15      tt.ClientID   1

At this point, the query is optimized almost as well as possible. The remaining problem is that, by default, MySQL assumes that values in the tt.ActualPC column are evenly distributed, and that is not the case for the tt table. Fortunately, it is easy to tell MySQL to analyze the key distribution:

mysql> ANALYZE TABLE tt;

With the additional index information, the join is perfect and EXPLAIN produces this result:

table type   possible_keys key     key_len ref           rows Extra
tt    ALL    AssignedPC    NULL    NULL    NULL          3872 Using
             ClientID,                                        where
             ActualPC
et    eq_ref PRIMARY       PRIMARY 15      tt.ActualPC   1
et_1  eq_ref PRIMARY       PRIMARY 15      tt.AssignedPC 1
do    eq_ref PRIMARY       PRIMARY 15      tt.ClientID   1

Note that the rows column in the output from EXPLAIN is an educated guess from the MySQL join optimizer. Check whether the numbers are even close to the truth by comparing the rows product with the actual number of rows that the query returns. If the numbers are quite different, you might get better performance by using STRAIGHT_JOIN in your SELECT statement and trying to list the tables in a different order in the FROM clause.

It is possible in some cases to execute statements that modify data when EXPLAIN SELECT is used with a subquery; for more information, see Section 13.2.10.8, “Subqueries in the FROM Clause”.