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Performance differences counting records in a Microsoft Access Database

by Philipp Stiefel, originally published May 6th, 2016

I just stumbled upon a blog post of Microsoft Access MVP Daniel Pineault about different approaches to count the records in a table/query. In the process of optimizing a database created by another developer, he came across the following code to count records.

Dim rs As DAO.Recordset Dim lRecCount As Long Set rs = db.OpenRecordset("SELECT * FROM TableName;") rs.MoveLast lRecCount = rs.RecordCount rs.Close Set rs = Nothing

This is awful code! It is extremely inefficient because it forces the database engine to retrieve all the records in a table/query even though only the count is needed. The database engine should be able to query the number of records in a table much more efficiently. – I think this is so bad, I will ignore this approach completely.

Daniel than compared the above code to variations of using the DCount-Function and a SELECT-COUNT()-Recordset. Here are his results:

Daniel Pineault’s results for a small database Daniel Pineault’s results for a large database

Surprising details

I was surprised by those results for two reasons.

  1. I would have expected a massive difference between the DCount approach and using a SELECT-COUNT()-Recordset in favor of the Recordset. Back in the days of Access 97 I wrote my own functions to replace the built-in Domain Aggregate Functions because those were slow, resource hogging and sometimes even failed with a “Cannot open any more tables”-Error if called in a loop or for each record in a query.
  2. I did not expect any significant difference in performance between the DCount(pk) and DCount(*) approach. I would have thought they were processed exactly the same way internally.

With a clear difference there showing in Daniel’s result, I was curious if there would have been a similar difference between SELECT-COUNT(pk) and SELECT-COUNT(*). Unfortunately this was not included in the results.

So I felt the need to do a performance test myself.

My performance test

I used Microsoft Access 2013 for my test and the Northwind database template included with Access 2013. To get a decent table size I created a Cartesian query including the Customers table 4 times. Then I appended the results of that query to the existing customer data, thus creating 707,310 records in the Customers table.

Then I wrote a couple of simple functions for my performance test. Here they are:

Public Function DCountId() As Long DCountId = DCount("ID", "Customers") End Function Public Function DCountStar() As Long DCountStar = DCount("*", "Customers") End Function Public Function SelectCountId() As Long Dim rs As DAO.Recordset Set rs = CurrentDb.OpenRecordset("SELECT COUNT(ID) FROM Customers") SelectCountId = rs.Fields(0).Value rs.Close Set rs = Nothing End Function Public Function SelectCountStar() As Long Dim rs As DAO.Recordset Set rs = CurrentDb.OpenRecordset("SELECT COUNT(*) FROM Customers") SelectCountStar = rs.Fields(0).Value rs.Close Set rs = Nothing End Function Public Sub TimedExecute(ByVal functionName As String) Const ITERATIONS As Long = 1000 Dim i As Long Dim startTime As Date Dim discardedDummy As Variant functionName = IIf(Right(functionName, 1) = ")", functionName, functionName & "()") startTime = Now For i = 1 To ITERATIONS discardedDummy = Eval(functionName) Next i Debug.Print functionName & ": average time per iteration: "; CDbl(DateDiff("s", startTime, Now())) / CDbl(ITERATIONS) * 1000 & " (ms)" End Sub

With this code in place, I ran all the test functions by using the TimedExecute method like this.

Call TimedExecute("SelectCountStar")

First I ran the test with the database on my local disk (SSD RAID). – The results were useless. Flat 8 milliseconds for each of the functions. – No difference at all. Zero. None.

But with a real world database, you should always consider your backend database being accessed over the network. - That’s where you sift the wheat from the chaff. – So I moved the backend to a network share (accessed via 100Mbit Ethernet) and re-ran my test procs.

Now we’re talking. There are quite noticeable performance differences between the approaches. Here are the results in detail.


 

Execution Time (ms)

Delta w/4. (ms)

% Decrease w/ 4.

% Decrease w/ 3.

1. DCount(pk)

54

33

157.14%

80.00%

2. DCount(*)

32

11

52.38%

6.67%

3. SELECT COUNT(pk)

30

9

42.86%

0.00%

4. SELECT COUNT(*)

21

0

0.00%

-


While the tabular results are pretty comprehensible already, here is a visual chart representation as well.

Chart for performance test results

Conclusion

These results are absolutely in line with Daniel’s findings. There is only a tiny difference between the DCount(*)-approach and SELECT COUNT(pk). I guess Microsoft has made significant performance improvements to the DCount-Function since the days of Access 97. Hence we are not seeing the massive differences I would have expected.

However, the first interesting comparison is between DCount(*)  and SELECT COUNT(*). As you can see, DCount(*) is 52% slower than the Recordset approach. That is a very clear win for the Recordset! J

But let’s keep this in perspective here. While there is a clear performance advantage to the Recordset, it still is only 11 milliseconds faster. If you are using a DCount here and there and not calling DCount hundreds or thousands of times in a loop, I suggest you continue to use whatever you like best.

If you are not simply counting all records in a table, it is much more important to write an efficient WHERE-Condition for your SELECT-Query or the DCount-Function. Then make sure there is a useful index on the columns of the table, which are used in the WHERE-Condition.

My results confirm the performance difference between SELECT COUNT(pk) and SELECT COUNT(*). I still am curious why this difference exists and I still have no explanation for it.

We could find out by using the JetShowPlan Registry Setting to force the Jet/ACE-Engine to expose its execution plans of these queries.  – But that will have to wait for another day.

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