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Table Structure in RDBMS / SQL Server



Table Organization

A table is contained in one or more partitions and each partition contains data rows in either a heap or a clustered index structure. The pages of the heap or clustered index are managed in one or more allocation units, depending on the column types in the data rows.


Partitions

Table and index pages are contained in one or more partitions. A partition is a user-defined unit of data organization. By default, a table or index has only one partition that contains all the table or index pages. The partition resides in a single filegroup. A table or index with a single partition is equivalent to the organizational structure of tables and indexes in earlier versions of SQL Server.

When a table or index uses multiple partitions, the data is partitioned horizontally so that groups of rows are mapped into individual partitions, based on a specified column. The partitions can be put on one or more filegroups in the database. The table or index is treated as a single logical entity when queries or updates are performed on the data.



SQL Server tables use one of two methods to organize their data pages within a partition:

  • Clustered tables are tables that have a clustered index.
    The data rows are stored in order based on the clustered index key. The clustered index is implemented as a B-tree index structure that supports fast retrieval of the rows, based on their clustered index key values. The pages in each level of the index, including the data pages in the leaf level, are linked in a doubly-linked list. However, navigation from one level to another is performed by using key values.
  • Heaps are tables that have no clustered index.
    The data rows are not stored in any particular order, and there is no particular order to the sequence of the data pages. The data pages are not linked in a linked list.

Nonclustered Indexes

Nonclustered indexes have a B-tree index structure similar to the one in clustered indexes. The difference is that nonclustered indexes do not affect the order of the data rows. The leaf level contains index rows. Each index row contains the nonclustered key value, a row locator and any included, or nonkey, columns. The locator points to the data row that has the key value.


Lets take a look at the structured searches :

1. Heap Structures

A heap is a table without a clustered index. Heaps have one row in sys.partitions, with index_id = 0 for each partition used by the heap. By default, a heap has a single partition. When a heap has multiple partitions, each partition has a heap structure that contains the data for that specific partition. For example, if a heap has four partitions, there are four heap structures; one in each partition.
Depending on the data types in the heap, each heap structure will have one or more allocation units to store and manage the data for a specific partition. At a minimum, each heap will have one IN_ROW_DATA allocation unit per partition. The heap will also have one LOB_DATA allocation unit per partition, if it contains large object (LOB) columns. It will also have one ROW_OVERFLOW_DATA allocation unit per partition, if it contains variable length columns that exceed the 8,060 byte row size limit. 
The column first_iam_page in the sys.system_internals_allocation_units system view points to the first IAM page in the chain of IAM pages that manage the space allocated to the heap in a specific partition. SQL Server uses the IAM pages to move through the heap. The data pages and the rows within them are not in any specific order and are not linked. The only logical connection between data pages is the information recorded in the IAM pages.

SQL Server Database Engine uses IAM pages to retrieve data rows in a single partition heap.

2. Clustered Index Structures

In SQL Server, indexes are organized as B-trees. Each page in an index B-tree is called an index node. The top node of the B-tree is called the root node. The bottom level of nodes in the index is called the leaf nodes. Any index levels between the root and the leaf nodes are collectively known as intermediate levels. In a clustered index, the leaf nodes contain the data pages of the underlying table. The root and intermediate level nodes contain index pages holding index rows. Each index row contains a key value and a pointer to either an intermediate level page in the B-tree, or a data row in the leaf level of the index. The pages in each level of the index are linked in a doubly-linked list.
Clustered indexes have one row in sys.partitions, with index_id = 1 for each partition used by the index. By default, a clustered index has a single partition. When a clustered index has multiple partitions, each partition has a B-tree structure that contains the data for that specific partition. For example, if a clustered index has four partitions, there are four B-tree structures; one in each partition.
Depending on the data types in the clustered index, each clustered index structure will have one or more allocation units in which to store and manage the data for a specific partition. At a minimum, each clustered index will have one IN_ROW_DATA allocation unit per partition. The clustered index will also have one LOB_DATA allocation unit per partition if it contains large object (LOB) columns. It will also have one ROW_OVERFLOW_DATA allocation unit per partition if it contains variable length columns that exceed the 8,060 byte row size limit

Structure of a clustered index in a single partition.

3. Nonclustered Index Structures

Nonclustered indexes have the same B-tree structure as clustered indexes, except for the following significant differences:
  • The data rows of the underlying table are not sorted and stored in order based on their nonclustered keys.
  • The leaf layer of a nonclustered index is made up of index pages instead of data pages.
Nonclustered indexes can be defined on a table or view with a clustered index or a heap. Each index row in the nonclustered index contains the nonclustered key value and a row locator. This locator points to the data row in the clustered index or heap having the key value.
The row locators in nonclustered index rows are either a pointer to a row or are a clustered index key for a row, as described in the following:
  • If the table is a heap, which means it does not have a clustered index, the row locator is a pointer to the row. The pointer is built from the file identifier (ID), page number, and number of the row on the page. The whole pointer is known as a Row ID (RID).
  • If the table has a clustered index, or the index is on an indexed view, the row locator is the clustered index key for the row. If the clustered index is not a unique index, SQL Server makes any duplicate keys unique by adding an internally generated value called a uniqueifier. This four-byte value is not visible to users. It is only added when required to make the clustered key unique for use in nonclustered indexes. SQL Server retrieves the data row by searching the clustered index using the clustered index key stored in the leaf row of the nonclustered index.
Nonclustered indexes have one row in sys.partitions with index_id >0 for each partition used by the index. By default, a nonclustered index has a single partition. When a nonclustered index has multiple partitions, each partition has a B-tree structure that contains the index rows for that specific partition. For example, if a nonclustered index has four partitions, there are four B-tree structures, with one in each partition.
Structure of a nonclustered index in a single partition.

                                                                                                                        By Mohammed Adil

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