Gavin Gavin - 10 months ago 56
SQL Question

Strategies for checking ISNULL on varbinary fields?

In the past I've noted terrible performance when querying a varbinary(max) column. Understandable, but it also seems to happen when checking if it's null or not, and I was hoping the engine would instead take some shortcuts.

select top 100 * from Files where Content is null

I would suspect that it's slow because it's

  1. Needing to pull the whole binary out, and

  2. It's not indexed (varbinary can't be part of a normal index)

This question seems to disagree with my premise of slowness here, but I seem to have performance problems with binary fields time and time again.

One possible solution I thought of is to make a computed column that is indexed:

alter table Files
add ContentLength as ISNULL(DATALENGTH(Content),0) persisted

CREATE NONCLUSTERED INDEX [IX_Files_ContentLength] ON [dbo].[Files]
[ContentLength] ASC

select top 100 * from Files where ContentLength = 0

Is that a valid strategy? What other ways are there to efficiently query when binary fields are involved?


I think it's slow because the varbinary column is not (and can't be) indexed. Therefore, your approach to use a computed (and indexed) column is valid.

However, I would use ISNULL(DATALENGTH(Content), -1) instead, so that you can distinguish between length 0 and NULL. Or just use DATALENGTH(Content). I mean, Microsoft SQL Server is not Oracle where an empty string is the same as NULL.