Star-Join Optimisation – Prerequisites

A colleague of mine asked recently: Do we need to have foreign keys between our fact tables and dim tables in order to take advantage of the new SQL Server 2008 star-join optimisation. I decided to ask the question at the MSDN Forums. Just now I got a reply and I thought it may be good to share with everyone:

Charles Wang – MSFT

To use star join, indexes are required on tables. FK constraints are not necessary, but it is recommended that you have FK constraints defined since without it SQL Server must depend on heuristics to detect star schema query patterns. There are some restrictions for heuristics to determine a start join query. And it may not pick up a correct start join query plan under some cases. You can find the detailed information in the section “Star Join Heuristics” of this article, Data Warehouse Query Performance. The following is an extraction of the content:

Many physical designs for data warehouses follow the star schema but do not completely specify the relationships between the fact and dimension tables, as mentioned earlier for foreign key constraints, for instance. Without the foreign key constraints explicitly specified, SQL Server must depend on heuristics to detect star schema query patterns. The following heuristics are applied to detect star join query patterns

1. The largest of the tables participating in the n-ary join is considered the fact table. There are additional restrictions on the minimum size of the fact table. For instance, if even the largest table is not beyond a specific size, the n-ary join is not considered a star join.

2.All join conditions of the binary joins in a star join query have to be single column equality predicates. The joins have to be inner joins. While this might sound restrictive, it covers the vast majority of joins between the fact table and dimension tables on the surrogate key in typical star schemas. If a join has a more complex join condition that doesn’t fit the pattern described above, the join is excluded from the star join. A five-way join, for example, can lead to a three-way star join (with two additional joins later on), if two of the joins have more complex join predicates.

There we go – so we need indexes, while FK constraints would be good to have but not necessary. I also wrote to the CSS SQL Server Team, so if they come back with more information, I will update this post.