Balancing Indexes in Software

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As we ve mentioned, there is overhead in maintaining indexes But the key is to know how many indexes you actually need Make sure to create indexes in situations where searching and returning the data is painfully slow or needs to be extremely quick For example, there is no need to create an index on a lookup table of states in the United States The table will have fewer than 60 records (counting states, DC, and territories), and the entire table can be searched in subseconds, no matter what But if the lookup table is states, counties, and cities, it might be worth creating indexes (assuming you don t normalize the table) Remember that no matter what the usage is, you should create only the indexes you absolutely need so that you can minimize index maintenance
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One other thing to keep in mind is the balance between the clustered index and nonclustered indexes on your table For most operational databases, each table will have a single clustered index on the primary key (whether it is a surrogate or a natural key) This means that the data will be sorted on disk according to its primary usage Even though you could include non-key columns in the clustered index, it is usually pointless because the lowest level of the index is already the data page; the entire row is actually found when you search the index, regardless of the other values in the query Thus, the nonclustered indexes are there to satisfy those queries that search the data in a different order from its natural order, or when the clustered key value is not used in the query at all In the Customers table from Mountain View Music, we could use a nonclustered index to satisfy the e-mail lookup Maintaining this nonclustered index is simple, and it can very easily improve the performance of the query We might also consider nonclustered indexes for the phone numbers Additionally, we might consider including the phone number fields in either the clustered index (not a great idea) or the e-mail nonclustered index (better) If we create an index with the e-mail, home phone, work phone, and mobile phone, we are creating a wider index, but we are creating a single index that SQL Server can use to search for any of those pieces of data This is because SQL Server is smart enough to use an index even if the data it s looking for is in a secondary column of the index The index is still pointing to the data, regardless of the order of the columns defined in the index, so it may still be faster than just scanning the table What we ve created then is a covering index of sorts
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By definition, a covering index specifically includes columns from a given query in order to satisfy that specific query However, in certain situations, such as the Customers table we ve just discussed, you can create an index of the columns not included in the clustered index because they might satisfy 85 percent or more of the unknown, or ad hoc, queries Usually these indexes are created after a database has been in use for some time and a DBA has identified a number of varying queries that could use a common index However, if you can identify a table that will be the target of these types of queries (based on your notes), then you might consider creating a covering index right out of the gate Fortunately, indexes can be modified, created, and destroyed after the initial design phase, so this may be a trialand-error process
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