10x Performance Improvement for Expression Evaluation Made Possible by Vectorized Execution and the Community

Yuanjia Zhang

Image for post
Image for post

The query execution engine plays an important role in database system performance. TiDB, an open-source MySQL-compatible Hybrid Transactional/Analytical Processing (HTAP) database, implemented the widely-used Volcano model to evaluate queries. Unfortunately, when querying a large dataset, the Volcano model caused high interpretation overhead and low CPU cache hit rates.

Inspired by the paper MonetDB/X100: Hyper-Pipelining Query Execution, we began to employ vectorized execution in TiDB to improve query performance. (Besides this article, we also suggest you take Andy Pavlo’s course on Query Execution, which details principles about execution models and expression evaluation.)

At the end of 2017, we performed three optimizations on the TiDB SQL execution engine:

  • Implemented a column-oriented memory layout to store data tuples in the execution engine. This approach is analogous to the memory layout used by Apache Arrow. See pull request (PR) #4856.
  • Changed the once-per-tuple iteration (the Volcano model) to a once-per-batch iteration (1024 tuples). See PR #5178.
  • Optimized various query operators based on the principles of vectorized query execution. See PR #5184.

Benefited by these optimizations, TiDB 2.0 significantly boosted analytical query performance, compared with TiDB 1.0. For information on the TPC-H benchmark we used, see TiDB TPC-H 50G Performance Test Report.

Later, we released TiDB 2.1 and TiDB 3.0, and our vectorized execution engine has become more stable. We’re now developing TiDB 4.0, which includes vectorizing expressions to further improve TiDB’s performance.

In this post, I’ll deep dive into why we need vectorized execution, how we implement it, how we managed to vectorize more than 360 functions along with community contributors, and our thoughts about the future.

Why do we need vectorized execution?

Previously, TiDB implemented the Volcano-style execution engine. This iterator model uses a standard data access interface. It has open()-next()-close() between algebra operators and processes data row by row. The Volcano model is simple and extensible.

But when evaluating large queries, the Volcano model causes high interpretation overhead. In addition, it cannot make the best of modern CPU hardware characteristics, such as CPU cache, branch prediction, and instruction pipelining.

Vectorized execution executes a sequential set of similar data items in memory using a single instruction. Compared with the Volcano model, the vectorization model greatly reduces the interpretation overhead. Therefore, we choose vectorized execution.

In this section, I’ll use the TiDB expression colA * 0.8 + colB to show the overhead gap between row-based execution and vectorized execution.

According to arithmetic operators and their operator precedence, TiDB parses this expression into an expression evaluation tree.

In this tree, each non-leaf node represents an arithmetic operator, and the leaf node represents the data source. Each non-leaf node is either a constant (like 0.8) or a field (like colA) in the table. The parent-child relationship between nodes indicates a computationally dependent relationship: the evaluation result of the child node is the input data for the parent node.

An expression evaluation tree
An expression evaluation tree
An expression evaluation tree

The computing logic of each node can be abstracted as the following evaluation interface:

type Node interface {
evalReal(row Row) (val float64, isNull bool)

Taking *, 0.8, and col nodes as examples, all three nodes implement the interface above. Their pseudocode is as follows:

func (node *multiplyRealNode) evalReal(row Row) (float64, bool) {
v1, null1 := node.leftChild.evalReal(row)
v2, null2 := node.rightChild.evalReal(row)
return v1 * v2, null1 || null2
func (node *constantNode) evalReal(row Row) (float64, bool) {
return node.someConstantValue, node.isNull // 0.8 in this case
func (node *columnNode) evalReal(row Row) (float64, bool) {
return row.GetReal(node.colIdx)

The interpretation overhead of row-based execution

Similar to the Volcano model, the expression implementation discussed above is iterating over rows.

How much is the interpretation overhead for row-by-row iteration? Let’s take a look at the implementation of a function in TiDB.

The builtinArithmeticMultiplyRealSig function multiplies two floating-point numbers. The following code block describes the implementation of this function. The numbers on the right indicate the number of assembly instructions for the corresponding row, which are obtained after code assembling. Note that this block includes only rows that are iterated in normal conditions, and ignores logic for error processing.

func (s *builtinArithmeticMultiplyRealSig) evalReal(row chunk.Row)      
(float64, bool, error) { 9
a, isNull, err := s.args[0].EvalReal(s.ctx, row) 27
if isNull || err != nil { 3
return 0, isNull, err
b, isNull, err := s.args[1].EvalReal(s.ctx, row) 25
if isNull || err != nil { 3
return 0, isNull, err
result := a * b 2
if math.IsInf(result, 0) { 6
return 0, true, types.ErrOverflow.GenWithStackByArgs(...)
return result, false, nil 7

The following table lists each builtinArithmeticMultiplyRealSig function task and the number of assembly instructions to perform it. (If a task requires multiple lines of code, the number of instructions per line is shown in parentheses.)

Image for post
Image for post

As the table reveals, every time this function performs a multiplication, only 8 out of 82 (9+30+28+8+7=82) instructions are doing the “real” multiplication. That’s only about 10% of the total instructions. The other 90% are considered interpretation overhead. Once we vectorized this function, its performance was improved by nearly nine times. See PR #12543.

Batch processing reduces interpretation overhead

Like vectorized optimization for SQL operators, we can process and return one batch of data at a time. This decreases the interpretation overhead in the expression evaluation process.

Assume that there are 1024 rows in a batch of data. After optimization, every time a function is called, 1024 rows of data are processed and then returned. The interpretation overhead for function calling becomes 1⁄1024 of the original one.

Therefore, we can add the following interface to evaluate an expression in a batch way:

type Node interface {
batchEvalReal(rows []Row) (vals []float64, isNull []bool)

What does our vector-processing interface look like? Why?

The real source code is not exactly the same as the model shown above. It looks like this:

type VecNode interface {
vecEvalReal(input *Chunk, result *Column)

You might wonder why.

To explain the reason, let me briefly introduce TiDB’s Chunk structure, which is the data representation in memory during the query execution phase.

At the end of 2017, we were working on vector optimization and introduced the concept of a Chunk. A Chunk is composed of multiple columns.

There are two types of columns:

  • Fixed-length columns, in which the data has a specified length that cannot be changed.
  • Variable-length columns, in which the data length can change.
TiDB’s Chunk structure
TiDB’s Chunk structure
TiDB’s Chunk structure

No matter whether the data length is fixed or variable, data in columns are contiguously stored in memory in the Column.data field (which is an array). If the data length varies, Column.offset records the data offset. If the data is with fixed length, no offset is recorded.

The following figure illustrates the new vector access interface we’ve recently introduced for Chunks:

New vector access interface
New vector access interface
New vector access interface
  • For fixed-length data, such as int64 numbers, the Golang unsafe package directly converts Column.data to []int64 in Int64s() []int64, and returns the result. The user who wants to read or modify Column.data can directly manipulate the array. This is the most efficient way to access fixed-length data.
  • For variable-length data, such as a string, we can use only GetString(rowIdx int) string to obtain the data in the corresponding row, and only append data to update it. Randomly modifying an element in the variable-length data column involves moving all the subsequent data. This creates a heavy overhead. To improve the overall performance, this operation is not implemented in Column.

Now that you understand the basics of TiDB Chunks, let’s come back to the interface design.

Based on the Chunk implementation and the Golang characteristics, we optimized the expression evaluation interface in these aspects:

  • We directly passed *Chunk instead of []Row to avoid creating a large number of Row objects. This reduced the pressure on Golang garbage collection (GC) and improved the performance.
  • We accessed data (which was stored in Column.data) via Column instead of Row to reduce the number of function calls. This helped decrease interpretation overhead and speed up accessing data.
  • We put columns for storing data in parameters and passed the parameters instead of directly returning []float64 and []bool arrays. This improved the memory reuse rate and reduced the Golang GC overhead.

Based on these optimizations, our expression vectorization evaluation interface has become what it is today.

How do we implement vectorized execution?

This section covers how to implement vectorized execution for functions.

Take multiplyRealNode as an example:

func (node *multiplyRealNode) vecEvalReal(input *Chunk, result *Column) {
buf := pool.AllocColumnBuffer(TypeReal, input.NumRows())
defer pool.ReleaseColumnBuffer(buf)
node.leftChild.vecEvalReal(input, result)
node.rightChild.vecEvalReal(input, buf)
f64s1 := result.Float64s()
f64s2 := buf.Float64s()
for i := range i64s1 {
if result.IsNull(i) {
i64s1[i] *= i64s2[i]

For this function:

  1. The first two lines apply for ColumnBuffer in the cache pool to cache the data of the right child (second parameter). The data of the left child (first parameter) is stored in memory which is pointed to the result pointer.
  2. Columns.MergeNulls(cols…) merges NULL flags of multiple columns. This method is like result.nulls[i] = result.nulls[i] || buf.nulls[i]. Column internally uses a bitmap to maintain NULL flags. When this function is called, a column does a bitwise operation to merge NULLs.
  3. A loop directly multiplies the data of the left and right child nodes.
  4. During the multiplication process, this function calls the left and right child interfaces to get their data.

This implementation method diminishes the interpretation overhead by batch processing and is more beneficial to modern CPUs:

  • A vector of data is sequentially accessed. This reduces CPU cache misses.
  • Most of the computational work is within a simple loop. This facilitates CPU branch prediction and instruction pipelining.

Benchmark comparison between vectorized execution and row-based execution

In this section, I’ll use the TiDB source code for benchmark testing and compare the performance before and after code vectorization.

We use the same data (1024 rows formed by two columns of floating-point numbers) to respectively compute col0 * 0.8 + col1 in two ways: row-based execution and vectorized execution. The results are as follows:

BenchmarkVec-12           152166              7056 ns/op               0 B/op          0 allocs/op
BenchmarkRow-12 28944 38461 ns/op 0 B/op 0 allocs/op

The results above show vectorized execution is four times faster than row-based execution.

The following figure compares the performance of various less than (LT) functions before and after vectorization. The horizontal axis indicates the LT functions for testing, and the vertical axis represents the execution duration (in nanoseconds) to complete an operation.

Before-and-after performance comparison for various LT functions
Before-and-after performance comparison for various LT functions
Before-and-after performance comparison for various LT functions

The following figure compares the performance of arithmetic functions before and after vectorization:

Before-and-after performance comparison for arithmetic functions
Before-and-after performance comparison for arithmetic functions
Before-and-after performance comparison for arithmetic functions

After we tested more than 300 vectorized functions, we found that over 50% of these functions more than doubled their performance, and 18.7% of functions achieved 10x performance.

Performance improvement for vectorized functions
Performance improvement for vectorized functions
Performance improvement for vectorized functions

How do we vectorize 360+ built-in functions?

On our journey towards TiDB 4.0, expression vectorization is a huge project, as expressions involve more than 500 built-in functions. Since we have so many built-in functions in TiDB’s code — and a fairly small staff — handcrafting these built-in functions one by one is a nearly impossible mission.

To develop our code more efficiently, we’re vectorizing as many built-in functions as we can by using the Golang text/template. This template generates the source code of vectorized functions. To get more people working on the project, we founded the Vectorized Expression Working Group in the developer community. In this approach, community contributors take the vast majority of work during the vectorizing progress.

With our joint efforts, we have refactored more than two-thirds of our built-in functions, and most of them have gained an impressive performance boost. Some have even achieved performance gains of one or two orders of magnitude.

Vectorization using a template

When we vectorized built-in functions, we found that many functions had similarities. For example, most of the LT (<), GT (>), and LE (<=) functions have similar logic. They only differ in the operators they use. Therefore, it’s possible to use a template to generate the code of these functions.

Currently, Golang doesn’t support generic types and macro definition, so we use the text/template package to generate code.

Based on the syntax of the Golang template, we abstract the functions to be generated into a template. For example, here is the template for comparison functions like LT and GT:

var builtinCompareVecTpl = template.Must(template.New("").Parse(`
func (b *builtin{{ .compare.CompareName }}{{ .type.TypeName }}Sig) vecEvalInt(input *chunk.Chunk, result *chunk.Column) error {
n := input.NumRows()
buf0, err := b.bufAllocator.get(types.ET{{ .type.ETName }}, n)
if err != nil {
return err
if err := b.args[0].VecEval{{ .type.TypeName }}(b.ctx, input, buf0); err != nil {
return err
for i := 0; i < n; i++ {
{{ if eq .type.ETName "Json" }}
val := json.CompareBinary(buf0.GetJSON(i), buf1.GetJSON(i))
{{ else if eq .type.ETName "Real" }}
val := types.CompareFloat64(arg0[i], arg1[i])
{{ else if eq .type.ETName "String" }}
val := types.CompareString(buf0.GetString(i), buf1.GetString(i))
if val {{ .compare.Operator }} 0 {
i64s[i] = 1
} else {
i64s[i] = 0
return nil

For different types of data and operators, the template generates the corresponding code. For the complete code, see PR #12875.

This template is in the expression/generator package. We can run the main() function in this template file to generate the corresponding built-in function code (xx_vec_generated.go) in the expression package.

Vectorization with the community’s help

Besides using a template to vectorize built-in functions, we also started our vectorization campaign in the community to get more hands involved in vectorization. At the beginning of the campaign, we found that when we merged PRs, conflicts often occurred. Therefore, we wrote a script to generate vectorization interfaces for all built-in functions, and reserved these interfaces in the code:

func (b *builtinCastStringAsIntSig) vecEvalInt(input *chunk.Chunk, result *chunk.Column) error {
return errors.Errorf("not implemented")
func (b *builtinCastStringAsDurationSig) vectorized() bool {
return false

Since then, we’ve been asking contributors to fill or refactor the functions they’re interested in.

Reserving function interfaces can avoid conflicts caused by different pull requests simultaneously modifying the same document when merging code.

We also wrote a testing framework. After a contributor vectorizes the function, they can use the framework to test the correctness and performance of a built-in function by writing just a few simple lines of configuration.

As shown in the code below, a contributor only needs to add related parameters to vecBuiltinArithemeticCases.

var vecBuiltinArithmeticCases = map[string][]vecExprBenchCase{
ast.Div: {
{retEvalType: types.ETReal, childrenTypes: []types.EvalType{types.ETReal, types.ETReal}},
func (s *testEvaluatorSuite) TestVectorizedBuiltinArithmeticFunc(c *C) {
testVectorizedBuiltinFunc(c, vecBuiltinArithmeticCases)
func BenchmarkVectorizedBuiltinArithmeticFunc(b *testing.B) {
benchmarkVectorizedBuiltinFunc(b, vecBuiltinArithmeticCases)

Next, they can run following two functions that we’ve written. Then, they can perform correctness and performance tests.

> GO111MODULE=on go test -check.f TestVectorizedBuiltinArithmeticFunc                                              
PASS: builtin_arithmetic_vec_test.go:30: testEvaluatorSuite.TestVectorizedBuiltinArithmeticFunc 0.002s
OK: 1 passed
ok github.com/pingcap/tidb/expression 0.636s
> go test -v -benchmem -run=BenchmarkVectorizedBuiltinArithmeticFunc -bench=BenchmarkVectorizedBuiltinArithmeticFunc
BenchmarkVectorizedBuiltinArithmeticFunc/builtinArithmeticDivideReal Sig-VecBuiltinFunc-12 424515 2808 ns/op 0 B/op 0 allocs/op
BenchmarkVectorizedBuiltinArithmeticFunc/builtinArithmeticDivideRealSig-NonVecBuiltinFunc-12 47856 25272 ns/op 0 B/op 0 allocs/op
ok github.com/pingcap/tidb/expression 4.116s

Both correctness and performance tests directly generate random data and compare the performance of vectorized execution and row-based execution.

The two operations above help contributors easily vectorize our built-in functions.

With the community’s help, we’ve vectorized more than 360 functions in just two months. During this period, our community contributors have filed 256 PRs.

This campaign also resulted in nine Active Contributors (who merge at least eight PRs in one year) and two Reviewers (who merge at least 30 PRs in one year).

What’s next

By introducing vectorized execution, we’ve dramatically improved the performance of expression execution. Currently, vectorized execution is enabled on our master branch by default. Once all built-in functions of an expression support vectorized execution, this expression will use vectorized execution. In the future, we’ll also use vectorized execution to improve TiDB’s HTAP capabilities.

Note that all the performance test data above is in memory. If the data is stored on disk, reading it might cause high overhead. In that case, the benefits of vectorized execution may be less noticeable. But on the whole, vectorized execution has noticeably enhanced the performance of TiDB expression evaluation.

In addition, when we vectorized expressions, we found that vectorized execution could be applied to many other cases to improve the performance. For example:

  • In hash joins, we vector-calculated hash keys for the inner data (see PR #12076) and outer data (see PR #12669). In some scenarios, the performance improved by 7% and 18% respectively. We would like to thank a community contributor named sduzh who finished these improvements all by himself.
  • In hash aggregation, we vector-encoded data. In a local test, the performance was 20% to 60% faster than before. For details, see PR #12729.
  • In the StreamAggregation operator, we vector-divided data into groups. In a local test, the performance improved by about 60%. For details, see PR #12903.

We welcome you to join us in our vectorization campaign for built-in functions.

In a future post, we’ll introduce how we use the vectorization idea to optimize other parts of the SQL execution engine. Stay tuned.

Written by

PingCAP is the team behind TiDB, an open source MySQL compatible NewSQL HTAP database. Official website: https://pingcap.com/ GitHub: https://github.com/pingcap

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store