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Use of DETERMINISTIC in Function RETURN

There are different real life problems where you have to use a function in the WHERE statement of your query which will often slow it down to a level where it's not acceptable anymore.
Go through the script below and you'll probably understand in which situations you'd want to use a deterministic function.

Using a deterministic function to improve your query

First, a quick word about deterministic. A deterministic function always returns the same value if the input parameters are identical. 1+1 is always equal to 2 but a function called Get_Customer_Name(4711) won't return the same value because it fetches data from the database which changes.

Deterministic declares that the above function -- when given the same inputs -- will always return the exact same output. This keyword is needed in order to create an index on a user written function. You must tell Oracle that the function is «deterministic» and will return a consistent result given the same inputs. This implies for example that you cannot index using the package «dbms_rand», the random number generator. Its results are not deterministic, given the same inputs you'll get random output. The builtin sql function UPPER on the other hand is deterministic so you can create an index on the UPPER of a column.

Let's create an example including a custom function to show this possible improvement.
CREATE TABLE deterministic_test (column_a NUMBER, column_b VARCHAR2(100));

After you've created that table, use the query below to insert some example data. 100'000 records took about one second on my server, if you're running it on a slow computer you'll have to wait for a bit more.
INSERT INTO deterministic_test
SELECT ROWNUM N, DBMS_RANDOM.STRING ('X', 16) FROM dual  
CONNECT BY LEVEL <= 100000;

Now that we have our test able including some data in it, we have to create our test function. In this case we're going to create a simple function which will return the average letter of a string. For example: If you use AC it will return B since the average ASCII code of A and C is B. Probably not very useful but simple enough to show you the concept of deterministic functions. 
CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION Get_Average_Char(input_ VARCHAR2) RETURN VARCHAR2
IS
  i_   NUMBER;
  sum_ NUMBER := 0;
BEGIN
  FOR i_ IN 1..LENGTH(input_) LOOP
     sum_ := sum_ + ASCII(SUBSTR(input_,i_,1));
  END LOOP;
 
  RETURN CHR(sum_/LENGTH(input_));
END Get_Average_Char;

Now let's try to find all rows where the average character of column B is equal to G:
SELECT COUNT(*) FROM deterministic_test dt WHERE Get_Average_Char(column_b) = 'G';
Even on a fast computer this is going to take a while. Let's look at the explain plan:
DescriptionObject NameCostCardinalityBytes
SELECT STATEMENT, GOAL = ALL_ROWS 5661202
  SORT AGGREGATE  1202
    TABLE ACCESS FULLDETERMINISTIC_TEST566862174124

Let's create that function again but this time using the magic keyword DETERMINISTIC:
CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION Get_Average_Char(input_ VARCHAR2)
   RETURN VARCHAR2 DETERMINISTIC
IS
  i_   NUMBER;
  sum_ NUMBER := 0;
BEGIN
  FOR i_ IN 1..LENGTH(input_) LOOP
     sum_ := sum_ + ASCII(SUBSTR(input_,i_,1));
  END LOOP;
 
  RETURN CHR(sum_/LENGTH(input_));
END Get_Average_Char;

Now that we have a deterministic function we can tell our database to put an index on the result of that function. It's pretty straight forward - works exactly the same as it does for a normal table column:
CREATE INDEX DETERMINISTIC_TEST_IX1
   ON DETERMINISTIC_TEST (Get_Average_Char(column_b));

Run the same query from above again:
SELECT COUNT(*) FROM deterministic_test dt WHERE Get_Average_Char(column_b) = 'G';

The query returns in no time and when we look at the explain plan we can clearly see why:

DescriptionObject NameCostCardinalityBytes
SELECT STATEMENT, GOAL = ALL_ROWS 11202
  SORT AGGREGATE  1202
    INDEX RANGE SCANDETERMINISTIC_TEST_IX11862174124

We were able to replace the FULL SCAN with a much better INDEX RANGE SCAN and suddenly the cost dropped from 566 to 1. In this case Oracle doesn't have to execute the function at all after it created the index. It simply looks for the value in the index and returns the data records matching the requested value.

This works as well for built Oracle methods like UPPER when you want to create a case insensitive query on a database which is set up to do case sensitive matches.
It's not something you'll need on a daily basis but if there's a chance to add the keyword DETERMINISTIC, do it and you'll get a much better result in no time! 

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