Forest of trees


Forest of trees (FOT) indices were a new feature in 11.70 and are designed to avoid multiple sqlexec threads competing for access to the same index root node (top level of the index) and wasting CPU cycles. When a thread cannot access the root node because it is latched by another thread, it will spin and re-try. This informs the approach taken by the Informix official documentation to finding where a FOT will be beneficial: checking for database objects (that happen to be indices) with the most spin locks.

You can create a FOT like this:
CREATE INDEX fotidx ON tab(c1) hash on (c1) with 100 buckets;

The idea behind FOTs is to split the index into many “buckets”, each with its own root node, improving concurrency by reducing competition between threads. A hash function on a specified column is used to determine in which bucket to place to retrieve or place a row, which in most cases can only practicably be a hash on the leading column of the index. From this it follows that the leading column needs to have a lot of distinct values and not be skewed otherwise the hash function will return the same value frequently negating the potential benefits. Certainly it is pointless to have more buckets than you have distinct values on the hashed column and, unless you want a set of index buckets consisting of a single value, you’ll want the number of buckets to be a fraction of the distinct values since different column values can of course hash to the same bucket.

If you’ve so far ignored this feature do you need it? What can be the benefits of implementing a FOT given there are some potential drawbacks such as not being able to do range scans on the hashed column? What other symptoms are there? And is the implementation as good as it could be?

Do I need one?

As the problem FOTs attempt to solve is competition between threads for access to the same index root nodes, it follows that you are unlikely to ever need one on systems with one or only a few CPU virtual processors (CPU VPs). Without multiple CPU VPs it is impossible for multiple sqlexec threads to be accessing the same buffers at the same time. It also follows that you need a fair number of database connections and for these to be doing similar things. By similar I don’t mean exactly the same because the threads would still compete for the same root node. A good example of where a FOT would work well is where multiple sessions select all the data for a customer by customer id.: the same query is being run in many sessions but the customer id. is different. It’s worth mentioning that this contention occurs purely in memory on the database server; and the performance problem the feature addresses is not related to fetching rows from storage.

What are the benefits?

At the instance level, a large number of spin locks manifests itself as high CPU usage without the database server doing much useful work. Of course there can be many causes of high CPU usage such as poor SQL, poor query plans, slow disk etc. but a feature of systems suffering this kind of contention is that they don’t scale linearly. If an index is not very busy the FOT is not giving you any benefits over a standard B-Tree index but as load ramps up and an index is used more intensively by multiple concurrent threads, spin waits with a standard B-Tree can increase dramatically consuming CPU cycles for no real gain.

What other symptoms are there of spin waits caused by index root node contention?

  1. CPU load suddenly jumping up when load hits a certain level.
  2. A large number of buffer waits (‘onstat -X‘) on the index concerned.
  3. Many running sqlexec threads are all running the same SQL statements. You may see these threads in this state:
    tid name rstcb flags curstk status
    5362439 sqlexec 1f519b358 ---PR-- 11888 running-

Is the implementation as good as it could be?

There are a couple of missing features in the implementation, both around the creation of the index itself rather than accessing or updating it.:

  • While you can allocate more memory to the session building the index by setting PDQPRIORITY building an FOT is always a single-threaded operation, meaning it can be slow with large tables.
  • Rebuilding an index as an FOT via “alter fragment on index” is not supported, meaning you can’t rebuild the index and leave the logical schema intact. Instead you must drop and recreate the index. This isn’t too painful if the index is there for performance reasons only but if it’s supporting constraints you need to drop/recreate these too and, if it’s a primary key, any referencing foreign keys will be implicitly dropped. You can find any foreign keys referencing a given table with:
    sysconstraints c,
    systables t
    c.tabid=t.tabid AND
    c.constrid IN (
    ptabid IN (

    Then use dbschema to fetch the SQL to recreate the foreign keys.

If you think these improvements to the implementation would be beneficial to you, there is an IBM RFE you can vote for.


This is a feature that you may never need and aimed at solving a specific type of performance problem very effectively.