I have concerns about whether we are overallocating memory for use in
external sorts. (All code relating to this is in tuplesort.c)
When we begin a sort we allocate (work_mem | maintenance_work_mem) and
attempt to do the sort in memory. If the sort set is too big to fit in
memory we then write to disk and begin an external sort. The same memory
allocation is used for both types of sort, AFAICS.
The external sort algorithm benefits from some memory but not much.
Knuth says that the amount of memory required is very low, with a value
typically less than 1 kB. I/O overheads mean that there is benefit from
having longer sequential writes, so the optimum is much larger than
that. I've not seen any data that indicates that a setting higher than
16 MB adds any value at all to a large external sort. I have some
indications from private tests that very high memory settings may
actually hinder performance of the sorts, though I cannot explain that
and wonder whether it is the performance tests themselves that have
Does anyone have any clear data that shows the value of large settings
of work_mem when the data to be sorted is much larger than memory? (I am
well aware of the value of setting work_mem higher for smaller sorts, so
any performance data needs to reflect only very large sorts).
If not, I would propose that when we move from qsort to tapesort mode we
free the larger work_mem setting (if one exists) and allocate only a
lower, though still optimal setting for the tapesort. That way the
memory can be freed for use by other users or the OS while the tapesort
proceeds (which is usually quite a while...).
Best Regards, Simon Riggs
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