Creating a flattened table/view of a hierarchically-defined set of data

I have a table containing hierarchical data. There are currently ~8 levels in this hierarchy.

I really like the way the data is structured, but performance is dismal when I need to know if a record at level 8 is a child of a record at level 1.

I have PL/SQL stored functions which do these lookups for me, each having a select * from tbl start with ... connect by... statement. This works fine when I'm querying a handful of records, but I'm in a situation now where I need to query ~10k records at once and for each of them run this function. It's taking 2-3 minutes where I need it to run in just a few seconds.

Using some heuristics based on my knowledge of the current data, I can get rid of the lookup function and just do childrecord.key || '%' LIKE parentrecord.key but that's a really dirty hack and will not always work.

So now I'm thinking that for this hierarchically-defined table I need to have a separate parent-child table, which will contain every relationship...for a hierarchy going from level 1-8 there would be 8! records, associating 1 with 2, 1 with 3,...,1 with 8 and 2 with 3, 2 with 4,...,2 with 8. And so forth.

My thought is that I would need to have an insert trigger where it will basically run the connect by query and for every match going up the hierarchy it will insert a record in the lookup table. And to deal with old data I'll just set up foreign keys to the main table with cascading deletes.

Are there better options than this? Am I missing another way that I could determine these distant ancestor/descendant relationships more quickly?

EDIT: This appears to be exactly what I'm thinking about: http://evolt.org/working_with_hierarchical_data_in_sql_using_ancestor_tables

Answers


So what you want is to materialize the transitive closures. That is, given this application table ...

 ID   | PARENT_ID
------+----------
    1 | 
    2 |         1
    3 |         2
    4 |         2
    5 |         4

... the graph table would look like this:

 PARENT_ID | CHILD_ID
-----------+----------
         1 |        2
         1 |        3
         1 |        4
         1 |        5
         2 |        3
         2 |        4
         2 |        5
         4 |        5

It is possible to maintain a table like this in Oracle, although you will need to roll your own framework for it. The question is whether it is worth the overhead. If the source table is volatile then keeping the graph data fresh may cost more cycles than you will save on the queries. Only you know your data's profile.

I don't think you can maintain such a graph table with CONNECT BY queries and cascading foreign keys. Too much indirect activity, too hard to get right. Also a materialized view is out, because we cannot write a SQL query which will zap the 1->5 record when we delete the source record for ID=4.

So what I suggest you read a paper called Maintaining Transitive Closure of Graphs in SQL by Dong, Libkin, Su and Wong. This contains a lot of theory and some gnarly (Oracle) SQL but it will give you the grounding to build the PL/SQL you need to maintain a graph table.


"can you expand on the part about it being too difficult to maintain with CONNECT BY/cascading FKs? If I control access to the table and all inserts/updates/deletes take place via stored procedures, what kinds of scenarios are there where this would break down?"

Consider the record 1->5 which is a short-circuit of 1->2->4->5. Now what happens if, as I said before, we delete the the source record for ID=4? Cascading foreign keys could delete the entries for 2->4 and 4->5. But that leaves 1->5 (and indeed 2->5) in the graph table although they no longer represent a valid edge in the graph.

What might work (I think, I haven't done it) would be to use an additional synthetic key in the source table, like this.

 ID   | PARENT_ID | NEW_KEY
------+-----------+---------
    1 |           | AAA
    2 |         1 | BBB
    3 |         2 | CCC
    4 |         2 | DDD
    5 |         4 | EEE

Now the graph table would look like this:

 PARENT_ID | CHILD_ID | NEW_KEY
-----------+----------+---------
         1 |        2 | BBB
         1 |        3 | CCC
         1 |        4 | DDD
         1 |        5 | DDD
         2 |        3 | CCC
         2 |        4 | DDD
         2 |        5 | DDD
         4 |        5 | DDD

So the graph table has a foreign key referencing the relationship in the source table which generated it, rather than linking to the ID. Then deleting the record for ID=4 would cascade deletes of all records in the graph table where NEW_KEY=DDD.

This would work if any given ID can only have zero or one parent IDs. But it won't work if it is permissible for this to happen:

 ID   | PARENT_ID
------+----------
    5 |         2
    5 |         4

In other words the edge 1->5 represents both 1->2->4->5 and 1->2->5. So, what might work depends on the complexity of your data.


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