# Re: [PERFORM] Bad n_distinct estimation; hacks suggested?

```Josh Berkus <josh@agliodbs.com> writes:

> ... I think the problem is in our heuristic sampling code.  I'm not the first
> person to have this kind of a problem.  Will be following up with tests ...```
```
I looked into this a while back when we were talking about changing the
sampling method. The conclusions were discouraging. Fundamentally, using
constant sized samples of data for n_distinct is bogus. Constant sized samples
only work for things like the histograms that can be analyzed through standard
statistics population sampling which depends on the law of large numbers.

n_distinct requires you to estimate how frequently very rare things occur. You
can't apply the law of large numbers because even a single instance of a value
out of a large pool alters the results disproportionately.

To get a valid estimate for n_distinct you would need to sample a fixed
percentage of the table. Not a fixed size sample. That just isn't practical.
Moreover, I think the percentage would have to be quite large. Even if you
sampled half the table I think the confidence interval would be quite wide.

The situation is worsened because it's unclear how to interpolate values for
subsets of the table. If the histogram says you have a million records and
you're adding a clause that has a selectivity of 50% then half a million is a
million records with 1,000 distinct values and then apply a clause that
filters 50% of them, how do you estimate the resulting n_distinct? 500 is
clearly wrong, but 1,000 is wrong too. You could end up with anywhere from 0
to 1,000 and you have no good way to figure out where the truth lies.

So I fear this is fundamentally a hopeless situation. It's going to be
difficult to consistently get good plans for any queries that depend on good
estimates for n_distinct.

--
greg