Taras Tsugrii
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Column-oriented processing.

Column-oriented processing.

Learning from DBMS series.

Taras Tsugrii's photo
Taras Tsugrii
·Apr 22, 2021·

2 min read

It's tempting to believe that there is a single unifying theory of everything and while we haven't found it yet, there are numerous principles shared between different disciplines responsible for significant performance wins. With this post I'd like to start a series covering such principles. Columnar database management systems (DBMS) store data tables by column rather than by row. column-oriented-database-2.jpeg This way of storing data has many advantages for online analytical processing, including:

  • less IO. Since data is read in pages, in case of row-based storage, in addition to requested column, OS would also fetch other columns that are part of rows.
  • cache-friendly. Cache space is not wasted on storing unnecessary columns.
  • encoding-friendly. Delta-encoding, run-length encoding, delta-of-delta and ZigZag encodings are just a few schemes that are used to significantly reduce storage requirements.

Turns out that a very similar approach known in game development as a parallel array, where instead of array of structs, a struct of arrays is used. In Go this would look something like:

type User struct {
    name string
    age int
type Users []User


type ParallelUsers struct {
    names []string
    ages []int

The benefits of such organization while doing linear scans of age values like in the function below

func SumUserAges(users Users) uint64 {
    var total uint64 = 0
    for _, user := range users {
        total += uint64(user.age)
    return total

are very similar to those of columnar storage in DBMS:

  • reduced IO. While doing a linear scan over ages only relevant data will be fetched from memory.
  • cache-friendly. Only age values are stored in cache, they are also loaded in blocks and cache prefetcher is effective at speculative loading of age values that are going to be used soon.
  • vectorization. Compilers are able to leverage SIMD instructions to perform additions on of multiple age values.

To be continued...

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