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Oracle SQL execution plan is incorrect

Oracle Database Tips by Donald BurlesonJuly 5, 2015

Question:  I've done a SQL trace using TKPROF and noticed that my real SQL execution plan does not match my explain plan display.  Why would the explain plan for a SQL query fail to give me the correct execution plan?

Answer:  It's proven that the standard relational "explain plan for" syntax can show a execution plan that is wrong, and you may not see the execution plan that is actually being used by the SQL optimizer. 
 
This "incorrect plan" issue commonly happens when your query has a bind variable.  This happens because the ancient explain plan utility does not consider the value of a host variable, while the Oracle optimizer may consider a host variable (when bind variable peeking is enabled with the 11g adaptive cursor sharing feature.
 
Remember, you should always use the dbms_xplan utility and avoid using the Oracle implementation of the ANSI standard "explain plan for querylist" syntax.

Wrong plans when not using "explain plan"

The CBO is extremely sophisticated proprietary software, and Oracle does not release details of its internal machinations. In general, the execution plan with match the actual execution and fetch, but sometimes the explain plan does not match the real-time execution plan, even when not using "explain plan for" syntax.  Some possible explanations may include:

  •  An "older" execution plan is cached in the library cache
  •  Dynamic sampling is altering the execution plan
  •  A bind variable influence runtime execution by using query rewrite (via setting cursor_sharing=force or cursor_sharing=similar), prior to the 11g adaptive cursor sharing enhancement.
  •  Your materialized view re-write has a bug

For complete details on advanced SQL tuning techniques, see my book "Oracle Tuning: The Definitive Reference". 

 
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