||This is the technical paper from a talk given at the 12th Annual Borland Developer's Conference
By Jeff Overcash
Jeff Overcash graduated from Georgia Tech in 1992. After developing an equipment control system purchased by TransAmerica Leasing, he has for the past four years been doing independent consulting using Delphi, C++Builder, InterBase, and Oracle. Jeff develops the InterBase Express components (available for Delphi, C++Builder, and Kylix) for Borland. Jeff has also been member of TeamB for several years.
Note: No portion of this paper may be distributed or reproduced by any means, or in any form, without the author's and/or Borland's prior written permission.
InterBase Express (IBX) is a set of data access components that
provide a means of building applications with Delphi 5/6 and C++ Builder that
can access, administer, monitor, and run the InterBase Services on InterBase
databases. Delphi 5 and C++ Builder users can use the IBX components to build
InterBase database applications without the overhead of using the Borland
Database Engine (BDE). IBX accesses the InterBase API directly, allowing
increased speed and control within InterBase applications. IBX started life as
Free InterBase (FIB) by Gregory Dietz.
When Borland decided to base IBX on FIB, Ravi Kumar did the initial IBX
release and the IB 6.0 release. Ravi has sense moved on to JBuilder and in
April of 2000 I took over development of IBX with the full support of both the
InterBase and Delphi R&D teams. In May of 2001 IBX for Kylix was released
making IBX is the only native InterBase database access for D5, Kylix and D6 at
Some text here to introduce the topic and give a quick overview of what is
to be covered in the paper.
Overview of components and when to use
IBSQL - This is a non data aware control. It is unidirectional only (no
going backwards). This is easily the fastest of all the IBX components. While
it can't be used with data aware controls, it can be used in network tight
bandwidth areas (like a dial-up connection) and you handle the transfer of the
data to and from non data aware controls. Mainly though it will be using in
applications where you are doing batch processing or need quick lookups.
Another good use is when you need a quick lookup based on values to build
custom text for reports. Generally its low memory overhead and over all speed
improvement any time that you do not need to attach to a data aware control is
a good place for an IBSQL component.
IBDataset - This is the main data aware control I recommend using. It has
advantages of having all the Live mode SQL statements (InsertSQL, DeleteSQL,
ModifySQL and RefreshSQL) built in. It can still use an UpdateObject for more
complicated update sequences. The major difference between an IBDataset and an
IBQuery is the use of the native IBXSQLVAR instead of TParam. This has the
advantage of being able to handle INT64 data types under IB 6.0, but has a
disadvantage of the Params not accessible at design time. Expect future
versions to be able to publish the Params property.
For MIDAS work IBDataset can handle all MIDAS requests except for calls to
SetParams and GetParams as IBDataset does not use TParams. This is also a
feature that will be added in the future, but for now if you need to remotely
set or retrieve param values then you will need to use the TIBQuery or TIBTable
IBQuery - TIBQuery is the component that more directly maps to the TQuery
component from the BDE. It uses TParam and TField objects (which means that
under Delphi 5 they are limited to not be able to handle INT64 data types
correctly). By default this is a read only component, to make it a live query
you need to use a TIBUpdateSQL component.
This component works fully with MIDAS and has the advantage of being able to
have its params set at design time. If you use report writers like
ReportBuilder that has a design time preview mode you will probably find that
using IBQuery to drive the report useful since you can see the results at
IBQuery is a read only component by default. To make the component Read
Write an IBUpdateSQL object needs to be tied to the IBQuery through the
UpdateObject property. One main difference between IBQuery in this
configuration and IBDataset is the Edit functionality. When posting an edit
IBUpdateSQL will raise an exception if you do not modify one and only one
record. IBDataset will allow you to update 0 or more records without any
Performance wise there is little difference between TIBDataset and TIBQuery.
IBTable - This component is similar to the BDE's TTable. The main problem I
have with this component is that the Table paradigm is not a good one for
Client Server databases. The Table paradigm assumes that all the data has to
come local because the engine is local. With Client Server databases it is
better to let the InterBase engine do the work and display only the results to
the user. You also should always be returning only the columns you need and not
all the columns.
There are not too many places I would recommend the TIBTable component. One
place is when you are putting together a quick prototype. You don't have to
write SQL and you are not concerned with performance. Really small datasets can
be a potential use for TIBTable.
One place I've seen people misuse TIBTable is using them with
DBLookupComboBox. Usually the table driving the lookup items has more columns
that you need on the client side. When that is the case TIBQuery is a better
When your underlying database is a dialect 3 database be aware that your
case of the table must match exactly the case in the database. At design time
this is not an issue, but it is at run time if you are assigning table names in
TIBTable has no known issues with TClientDataset.
IBStoredProc - This component mainly just makes using a stored procedure
easier. It is designed to work with stored procedures that do not return result
sets. Either no return values or a singleton return value only. Even if you do
use stored procedures in your database this component is not necessary. You
will probably find that using an IBSQL or IBDataset easier because those are
the components you use all the time.
One of the deficiencies of IBX is its memory model. Most performance issues
can be directly traced to the memory model. In many cases though there are
little tuning tricks you can do to improve performance.
First lets look at the memory model and why it is not overly efficient.
Basically IBX uses a flat contiguous memory space to hold its local copy of the
data. As you read or insert more records that memory space will grow over time
as needed. This seems to be very straight forward and it is, but it leads to
some complications. Here is a normal series of events as you work with a
First the dataset is opened. This will cause the dataset to allocate enough
memory to hold 1000 records (1000 is the default buffer size). Each record
"slot" will be the size of the record in bytes.
Do some work reading and inserting records
Once the 1000 record buffer is full then the event (either an insert of a
new record or reading the 1001st record) IBX then has to allocate more space to
hold these records. What ends up happening is that a call to ReallocMem will be
made to allocate enough space for another 1000 records. ReallocMem will first
allocate enough space for 2000 records, then it will copy the first 1000
records from the old memory space to the new one and finally free the memory
that the first 1000 records held on to. At this time IBX can read/insert the
ReallocMem is actually a very expensive method both in terms of memory
needed and time required. On very large result sets the ReallocMem phase will
usually have to hit the paging space of Windows. This is when everything slows
down to a crawl as the original memory gets paged to disk so there is enough
RAM to allocate the new memory space and then paging comes into effect again
when the copy of the old data to the new memory space happens.
Looking at this it starts to become evident why the decision to not insert
in place, but always append was made. There are two problems with this memory
model and inserting in place. The first is that the slot where the record has
to go has to be "freed" up. To free it up there will have to be a
memory content move by one record slot. This will also affect all the bookmarks
and they will have to all be adjusted to the new offsets (in IBX Bookmarks are
just integer offsets into this single large contiguous memory space). This
process can be slow and would also require a different bookmarking scheme
altogether if Insert in place was implemented. Finally if the insert is
canceled the reverse process to close up the unused slot should be done (but
could be skipped and treated like a deleted record and just waste the slot).
So the main performance drawbacks to this type of model are
- Very memory intensive.
- Slows up over time as the dataset gets larger. Each reallocation will take
slightly longer than the one before with a significant drop in performance once
the page file comes into play.
- Insert in place is expensive on anything but very small datasets.
- Not mentioned above, but if you use CachedUpdates each record gets its own
cache slot basically doubling the memory overhead.
So how can IBX be tuned to get the best performance with these limitations?
Unidirectional datasets can solve the memory intensive problem. When a
dataset is placed in unidirectional mode enough memory is allocated to hold
only 2 records. That memory is never reallocated, the slots are just reused.
When in unidirectional mode you get a one way traversal through the dataset
(you do have the option of a single previous call only). Because of this if you
are attaching data aware controls you usually will not be able to use
unidirectional := true. Most data aware controls like DBLookupComboBox,
DBGrids, DBNavigators etc. assume the availability of a bi-directional dataset
(bi-directional means you can go forwards and backwards through the data). For
instance if you have unidirectional to true and attach it to a DBLookupComboBox
you will see two records repeated over and over in the list.
Unidirectional datasets are valuable when you plan on doing some batch
operations like a batch insert. Since this case usually means you never need to
go backwards this will greatly improve both speed and memory overhead.
Also when you are attaching a IBX dataset to a ClientDataset you can always
do unidirectional work. As a matter of fact, you are doubling the memory
consumption if you keep a copy of the data in the IBX dataset and another copy
in the ClientDataset.
Demo - Show the difference time wise of inserting 50,000 1K records with
unidirectional both true and false.
As discussed earlier, internally IBX stores the records in a flat memory
space. BufferChunk indicates how many records to grow whenever growth is
required. It does not determine how many records to retrieve at a time (a
BufferChunks is there for one primary reason. Doing a lot of reallocations
gets slower and slower as the memory space gets larger. So you can increase the
buffer chunks to reduce the number of times you will have to reallocate memory
at the cost of more 'wasted' memory space (I put wasted in quotes because if
you have a fairly static size for the result set you can tune it close). For
instance if you have 1,230,010 records you need to retrieve for a report. With
BufferChunk of 1000 you will have to reallocate 1,230 times and will have
wasted space of 990 * record size. If you up the BufferChunk to 100,000 you
will only have to reallocate 12 times but your wasted space will be 999930 *
record size which can be very large. The second would be much faster, but at
the cost of memory. The first is much slower but requires much less memory.
Demo - compare the difference time/memory space retrieving ~1,000,000
records with different buffer sizes.
CHAR vs. VarChar vs. Blob
This one is not really an IBX but an IB tip. InterBase versions 6.0 and
earlier always pass the maximum size that a record can be across the net. I've
seen people have columns like VarChar(32000). The problem with such columns is
that when you retrieve a single record with that type of column size it will
require a minimum of 8 4K packets to bring it across the network because IB
will pad out the VarChar column to 32000 even if all you have in it is a single
Blobs work differently and only the Blob ID is passed and the Blob retrieval
is delayed until you try to access it for the first time in IBX. Of course the
problems with switching to Blobs are that Blobs can't be manipulated in stored
procedures or triggers directly, but if you don't require that Blobs are the
better way to go with larger Text columns from a performance standpoint.
This also points out the advantage of only retrieving the columns you need.
Always be suspicious of 'Select * from <TABLE>' type of SQL statements
because you rarely need all the columns. IB will pack each package with the
most data it can. So if you have a record whose maximum size if 400 bytes and
you fetch a record, IB will return ~10 records in the 4K packet that is sent
back. The next 9 records don't do a network call, but is fed from GDS32. On the
10th record another fetch is done. But if your SQL statements isn't using 3
columns and by eliminating those three columns the max. size comes down to 230
bytes IB will be able to pack 17 records per network fetch. Even on faster
networks network traffic is a limiting factor in how much data can be retrieved
How bad can the performance drop be? Here are some timings. What I did was
for each Load rate (500, 1000, 2000, etc.) I ran two timings. The first was how
long to do 1000 inserts the second how long to do 1000 selects. I also did the
same with a table that had as its only column a VarChar of the length that the
test was for. This was to roughly simulate the timings if only the needed data
All the source (plus the Project2 is a Linux version writing with Kylix) is
included in the zip.
What was found was that the VarChar(32000) table started at 3295ms and
stayed roughly at the same spot for inserts/selects all the way through (as
expected). We see inserts at 60% performance increase and selects at a 80+%
increase until we get over 4K, then normal decreases as each size that required
another packet to get the data through.
The Windows to Linux had an amazing jump once 4K level was passed. Also the
Linux version of the program had problems at the 2K level, and I'm not certain
Windows client - PIII 750 w/ 384
Windows server - PIII 600 w/ 256 (wide SCSI)
Linux Server - PIII 600 w/128 running SuSE 7.1 and the Jan build.
| Windows numbers
|| Linux Numbers
| Insert 500 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3295ms
| Insert 500 on VarChar(500) for 1000 rows = 1052ms
| Select 500 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3625ms
| Select 500 on VarChar(500) for 1000 rows = 90ms
| Insert 1000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3355ms
| Insert 1000 on VarChar(1000) for 1000 rows = 1182ms
| Select 1000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3635ms
| Select 1000 on VarChar(1000) for 1000 rows = 150ms
| Insert 2000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3595ms
| Insert 2000 on VarChar(2000) for 1000 rows = 1642ms
| Select 2000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3586ms
| Select 2000 on VarChar(2000) for 1000 rows = 270ms
| Insert 4000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3855ms
| Insert 4000 on VarChar(4000) for 1000 rows = 1973ms
| Select 4000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3665ms
| Select 4000 on VarChar(4000) for 1000 rows = 541ms
| Insert 8000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 4927ms
| Insert 8000 on VarChar(8000) for 1000 rows = 3876ms
| Select 8000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 7481ms
| Select 8000 on VarChar(8000) for 1000 rows = 2013ms
| Insert 16000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 5337ms
| Insert 16000 on VarChar(16000) for 1000 rows = 5518ms
| Select 16000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3856ms
| Select 16000 on VarChar(16000) for 1000 rows = 2072ms
| Insert 24000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 6940ms
| Insert 24000 on VarChar(24000) for 1000 rows = 7170ms
| Select 24000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3976ms
| Select 24000 on VarChar(24000) for 1000 rows = 3124ms
| Insert 32000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 8612ms
| Insert 32000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 9344ms
| Select 32000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 4136ms
| Select 32000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 4126ms
| Insert 500 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 1462ms
| Insert 500 on VarChar(500) for 1000 rows = 942ms
| Select 500 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 681ms
| Select 500 on VarChar(500) for 1000 rows = 440ms
| Insert 1000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 1913ms
| Insert 1000 on VarChar(1000) for 1000 rows = 1402ms
| Select 1000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 1181ms
| Select 1000 on VarChar(1000) for 1000 rows = 812ms
| Insert 2000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 2944ms
| Insert 2000 on VarChar(2000) for 1000 rows = 2944ms
| Select 2000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 1743ms
| Select 2000 on VarChar(2000) for 1000 rows = 1582ms
| Insert 4000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 4406ms
| Insert 4000 on VarChar(4000) for 1000 rows = 4006ms
| Select 4000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 3305ms
| Select 4000 on VarChar(4000) for 1000 rows = 3154ms
| Insert 8000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 7651ms
| Insert 8000 on VarChar(8000) for 1000 rows = 7551ms
| Select 8000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 7801ms
| Select 8000 on VarChar(8000) for 1000 rows = 6269ms
| Insert 16000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 93505ms
| Insert 16000 on VarChar(16000) for 1000 rows = 94165ms
| Select 16000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 13149ms
| Select 16000 on VarChar(16000) for 1000 rows = 13149ms
| Insert 24000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 146832ms
| Insert 24000 on VarChar(24000) for 1000 rows = 160440ms
| Select 24000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 20629ms
| Select 24000 on VarChar(24000) for 1000 rows = 19839ms
| Insert 32000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 203953ms
| Insert 32000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 199667ms
| Select 32000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 54339ms
| Select 32000 on VarChar(32000) for 1000 rows = 106493ms
So as you can see there is a huge difference in performance when your
average size is below 50% of the Max load.
Use the SQL Monitor
It is sometimes difficult to track down performance or semantic problems in
client server environments. The IBX SQL Monitor allows you to get a little
deeper into what is really being sent to the server from your application. It
also gives rough timing so you can use it as a minor profiler. It is not meant
to be a full fledged profiler as it does not take into consideration what is
happening in your code, only when network calls are happening.
What kind of information can you get out of the SQL Monitor? The SQL Monitor
allows you to see things like the Plan for a statement, the parameters passed
in a statement, fetches made, service API calls and transaction control. This
low level information can be gleamed while debugging ,but you will find it
faster to use a SQL Monitor in most cases. In particular help is the ability to
see the parameters that are being sent for a statement.
Setting up an application to be traced is very easy and can be done either
at design time or in code at run time. To start tracing you need turn on the
trace flags that you want to track (see the online help for TIBDatabase -
TraceFlags property). Once the senders know what to send, you can drop a
IBSQLMonitor on a form (or use a standalone application like the SQL Monitor
demo I've included) and set an OnSQL event handler.
Tracing can be controlled at multiple levels. Each connection type object
(TIBDatabase and TIBService) can control what messages it will send. The
MonitorHook can control globally what messages an application will send (by
default it passes on all messages). Finally the IBSQLMonitor component can
filter what messages get passed on to the OnSQL event.
Note that the SQL Monitoring code actually uses two helper threads - a
Reader thread and a Writer thread. When no IBSQLMonitor components exist in
your application there will not be a Reader thread. The writer thread is not
created until the first tracing message goes out that passes all the filters.
The Writer thread is closed down by either a call to DisableMonitoring or
during the finalization section during application shutdown. If you have a DLL
that is being dynamically loaded and unloaded (like an ISAPI DLL) it is
important that this writer thread is terminated (if started) before the DLL is
unloaded. Failure to do this will result in a freezing of the unload process as
DLL waits for the writer thread to terminate (this is a limitation of Windows).
IBX has come a ways since its initial release with Delphi 5. It is more stable,
has more user features and is becoming one of the most popular component sets
to access InterBase. The plans for the future are aggressive and should make
working with InterBase even more easier than it is today. Borland has a couple
newsgroups setup to help people with IBX - borland.public.delphi.database.interbaseexpress,
borland.public.cppbuilder.database.interbaseexpress. I and other TeamB
members frequent these groups to try and answer any questions you have on IBX.
IBX updates normally will appear first on my CodeCentral
author page and later on the InterBase
page when I feel that no major issues were introduced in the latest update.
Additional demos will also appear on my author page so it isn't bad to check
it every couple of weeks.