I’ve been tuning our production MySQL server (RDS), and I had to refresh some of my memory about how to analyze the EXPLAIN. Reading and understanding this correctly can really help improve your MySQL performance.

Here’s a sample output:

mysql> explain select * from tablea where id = 10;
| id | select_type | table  | type  | possible_keys | key     | key_len | ref  | rows | Extra       |
|  1 | SIMPLE      | tablea | const | PRIMARY       | PRIMARY | 4       | NULL | 1    | Using where |


In our case, we hardly use subqueries or joins on our production application, so out select_type will most likely be SIMPLE. Other select_types can be found here.


The type tells us how the rows are being fetched. const is one of the best cases, where only one row is found. In our case we are using where id = 10, where the id is our primary key. Selecting for an exact comparison on primary keys usually get you a const type.


This lists all the possible indexes which the engine can use. We shouldn’t care for this too much, because what matters is what ACTUALLY is used.


The actual key used. This will be only one of the possible_keys, or even not included in them. What key is used can change according to the size of the data, so don’t count on the result of this being idempotent just because you have the same table schema.


I don’t worry about this too much when I am not joining or doing anything fancy.


This lets us know how many rows are estimated to be examined. This is a really important number; A large number of rows can mean trouble.

So, what I would do is, I would look at the type. If that’s an index or an ALL, it’s usually not good. I then look at the key to see that an appropriate index is being used.
Lastly I look at rows to see the number of rows being examined.

We want to fiddle with different indexes, and different query patterns, in order to see what query would have the best EXPLAIN. Many times it can mean adding an extra where clause to narrow down the condition or to nudge the engine to use a particular index.
Other times, you will need to design and add an index. (doing ALTER TABLE to add index can be extremely expensive, so be very careful with doing this on a live database).

This can be a quick reminder for how to deal with query optimizations.