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Oracle WITH clause to simplify complex SQL

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting

Using the WITH clause to simplify complex SQL

Oracle SQL can run faster when complex subqueries are replaced with global temporary tables.  Starting in Oracle9i release 2, there was an incorporation of a subquery factoring utility implemented the SQL-99 WITH clause.  The WITH clause is a tool for materializing subqueries to save Oracle from having to recompute them multiple times.

Also see these notes:

Use of the SQL WITH clause is very similar to the use of Global Temporary Tables (GTT), a technique that is often employed to improve query speed for complex subqueries.  The following are some important notes about the Oracle WITH clause:

§       The SQL WITH clause only works on Oracle 9i release 2 and beyond.

§       Formally, the WITH clause was called subquery factoring.

§       The SQL WITH clause is used when a subquery is executed multiple times.

§       The ANSI WITH clause is also useful for recursive queries, but this feature has not yet been implemented in Oracle SQL.

The following example shows how the Oracle SQL WITH clause works and see how the WITH clause and Global temporary tables can be used to speed up Oracle queries.

All Stores with above average sales

To keep it simple, the following example only references the aggregations once, where the SQL WITH clause is normally used when an aggregation is referenced multiple times in a query. 

The following is an example of a request to see the names of all stores with above average sales.  For each store, the average sales must be compared to the average sales for all stores:


The relationship between STORE and SALES

Essentially, the query below accesses the STORE and SALES tables, comparing the sales for each store with the average sales for all stores.  To answer this query, the following information must be available:

§       The total sales for all stores.

§       The number of stores.

§       The sum of sales for each store.

To answer this in a single SQL statement, inline views will be employed along with a subquery inside a HAVING clause:

   sum(quantity)                                                  store_sales,
   (select sum(quantity) from sales)/(select count(*) from store) avg_sales
   store  s,
   sales  sl
   s.store_key = sl.store_key
   sum(quantity) > (select sum(quantity) from sales)/(select count(*) from store)
group by

While this query provides the correct answer, it is difficult to read and complex to execute as it is recomputing the sum of sales multiple times. 

To prevent the unnecessary re-execution of the aggregation (sum(sales)), temporary tables could be created and used to simplify the query. The following steps should be followed:

  • 1.      Create a table named T1 to hold the total sales for all stores.

  • 2.      Create a table named T2 to hold the number of stores. 

  • 3.      Create a table named T3 to hold the store name and the sum of sales for each store.

A fourth SQL statement that uses tables T1, T2, and T3 to replicate the output from the original query should then be written.  The final result will look like this:

create table t1 as
select sum(quantity) all_sales from stores;
create table t2 as
select count(*) nbr_stores from stores
create table t3 as
select store_name, sum(quantity) store_sales from store natural join sales;
   store_sales > (all_sales / nbr_stores)

While this is a very elegant solution and easy to understand and has a faster execution time, the SQL-99 WITH clause can be used instead of temporary tables.  The Oracle SQL WITH clause will compute the aggregation once, give it a name, and allow it to be referenced, perhaps multiple times, later in the query.

The SQL-99 WITH clause is very confusing at first because the SQL statement does not begin with the word SELECT.  Instead, the WITH clause is used to start the SQL query, defining the aggregations, which can then be named in the main query as if they were real tables:

  (the aggregation SQL statement)
  (query naming subquery_name);


Retuning to the oversimplified example, the temporary tables should be replaced with the SQL WITH clause:

  sum_sales      AS
      select /*+ materialize */
      sum(quantity) all_sales from stores
  number_stores  AS
      select /*+ materialize */ 
      count(*) nbr_stores from stores;
  sales_by_store AS
      select /*+ materialize */
      store_name, sum(quantity) store_sales from
      store natural join sales
   store_sales > (all_sales / nbr_stores)

Note the use of the Oracle undocumented materialize hint in the WITH clause.  The Oracle materialize hint is used to ensure that the Oracle CBO materializes the temporary tables that are created inside the WITH clause, and its opposite is the undocumented inline hint.  This is not necessary in Oracle10g, but it helps ensure that the tables are only created one time.

Tip!  Depending on the release of Oracle in use, the global temporary tables (GTT) might be a better solution than the WITH clause because indexes can be created on the GTT for faster performance.


This is an excerpt from my latest book "Oracle Tuning: The Definitive Reference". 

You can buy it direct from the publisher for 50%-off and get instant access to the code depot of Oracle tuning scripts:



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