I've been thinking about what it will take to solve the problem noted here:
which briefly is that 8.2 is really bad at estimating the number of
rows returned by locutions like

        SELECT ... FROM
          tab1 LEFT JOIN tab2 ON (tab1.x = tab2.y)
        WHERE tab2.y IS NULL;

the point being to extract just those rows of tab1 that have no join
partner in tab2.  We frequently recommend this idiom as a better-performing
substitute for NOT IN.  However, the selectivity of the IS NULL clause
is estimated without thought for the effects of the outer join; thus for
example if there are no nulls in the actual tab2.y column, the estimate
will be that there are no rows in the join result.  (Which gets clamped to
the minimum estimate of one row, but that's not much help.)  If this join
is then joined to something else, 8.2 is likely to think it should put the
"one-row-out" join on the outside of a nestloop join, yielding horrible
performance if there are actually many rows out.

Although pre-8.2 releases also failed to consider the effects of outer
joins' null insertion, they misestimated this case as returning at least
as many result rows as there were in the lefthand input relation (because
they didn't distinguish WHERE and JOIN/ON conditions in this context).
That's perhaps less likely to give rise to a fatally bad plan.

AFAICS the only principled fix for this is to give selectivity estimator
functions more knowledge about the context their argument clause appears
in.  For instance if we restructure the above as

        SELECT ... FROM
          tab1 LEFT JOIN tab2 ON (tab1.x = tab2.y AND tab2.y IS NULL);

the IS NULL estimator should certainly *not* count the effects of the
outer join, even though it's looking at exactly the same clause.  So
there has to be some context passed in to show which outer joins we are
"above" and which not.

There already is some context passed to the estimators, in the form of
"varRelid" and join-type parameters.  In the long term I am inclined to
replace these rather ad-hoc parameters with something along the lines of
"ClauseContext *context" to carry info about the context in which the
estimate needs to be made.  This notation would let us add or redefine
fields in the ClauseContext struct without having to touch every estimator
function again.  But it's a bit late to be considering that for 8.3, and
it's certainly a nonstarter to think of retrofitting it into 8.2.

The only way I can see to fix the problem in 8.2 is to store clause
context information within the PlannerInfo data structures.  This is
pretty grotty, since PlannerInfo is supposed to be global state
information for a planner run; but I can't see any need for selectivity
estimation code to be re-entrant with respect to a particular planner
invocation, so it should work without any problems.

The specific hack I'm thinking of is to extend the OuterJoinInfo
structures with some fields that would indicate whether the currently
considered clause is "above" or "below" each outer join, and further
show the estimated percentage of injected nulls for each one we're
"above".  A traversal of this list would then provide enough knowledge
for nulltestsel() or other routines to derive the right answer.  Callers
of clause_selectivity or clauselist_selectivity would need to ensure that
the correct state was set up beforehand.

For the moment I'm inclined to teach only nulltestsel() how to use the
info.  Probably in the long run we'd want all the selectivity estimators
to incorporate this refinement, but I'm not sure how good the estimates
of null-injection will be; seems prudent not to rely on them everywhere
until we get more field experience with it.

This is a pretty large and ugly patch to be thinking of back-patching :-(.
A quick-hack approach would be to revert this patch:
which would cause 8.2 to uniformly overestimate rather than underestimate
the size of the result.  That pretty well sucks too, as seen here:
but maybe it's less bad than an underestimate.

Comments, better ideas?

                        regards, tom lane

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