ClickHouse Performance: Optimizing HASH GROUP BY and ORDER BY Queries


In the realm of database management, particularly with ClickHouse, query optimization is a critical aspect of ensuring efficient data processing and retrieval. Among the various queries, HASH GROUP BY and ORDER BY stand out due to their significant impact on system performance. These queries, if not optimized properly, can lead to considerable resource strain on the ClickHouse server. Understanding the intricacies of how these queries affect system resources, especially in a high-performance environment like ClickHouse, is essential for database administrators and developers. This discussion delves into the impacts of suboptimal HASH GROUP BY and ORDER BY queries and explores strategies for mitigating their performance implications.

Suboptimal HASH GROUP BY and ORDER BY Query Impact


    • High Memory Usage: HASH GROUP BY operations can consume a lot of memory, especially when dealing with large datasets or high cardinality groupings. This can lead to memory exhaustion and increased disk I/O if ClickHouse starts using temporary disk storage.
    • CPU Overhead: Calculating hash values for each row can be CPU-intensive, particularly with complex grouping expressions.
    • Risk of Spilling to Disk: If the memory gets exhausted, ClickHouse might spill data to disk, significantly slowing down the query.

2. ORDER BY Impact

    • Disk I/O: ORDER BY can require significant disk I/O if the sorted data does not fit into memory. This is especially costly if the ordering is not aligned with the primary key of the table, as it prevents ClickHouse from using its efficient data skipping mechanisms.
    • CPU Utilization: Sorting large datasets is computationally expensive and can put a heavy load on the CPU, leading to slower query performance.
    • Memory Pressure: Large sort operations require significant memory, which can strain the server’s resources and impact the performance of concurrent queries.

Strategies to Optimize HASH GROUP BY and ORDER BY Queries

  • Minimize Group By Cardinality: Try to limit the cardinality of GROUP BY operations. High cardinality can lead to performance issues as mentioned above.
  • Use Appropriate Data Types: Smaller data types (like Int32 instead of Int64, or LowCardinality strings) can reduce memory and CPU overhead.
  • Optimize Data Ordering: If possible, structure your data so that the most common ORDER BY operations align with the physical order of data in the table.
  • Leverage ClickHouse Features: Use features like materialized views to pre-aggregate data, which can significantly speed up GROUP BY queries.
  • Indexing Strategies: While ClickHouse does not use traditional B-tree indexes, it uses primary keys and data skipping indexes to optimize data access. Ensure your table is structured to take advantage of this.
  • Adjust Memory Settings: Increasing settings like max_bytes_before_external_group_by can help keep more of the operation in memory, though this must be balanced with the overall memory availability.
  • Query Refinement: Break down complex GROUP BY and ORDER BY queries into simpler parts or use subqueries to manage resource utilization better.


Optimizing HASH GROUP BY and ORDER BY queries in ClickHouse is not just about enhancing query execution speed; it’s a crucial practice for overall system health and efficiency. The impact of these queries, when suboptimally executed, can be profound – leading to excessive CPU usage, memory pressure, and disk I/O, which in turn, can drastically slow down the database performance. To combat these issues, implementing strategies such as minimizing group by cardinality, optimizing data types and ordering, and leveraging ClickHouse’s unique features are imperative. Properly tuned, these queries can significantly improve the performance of ClickHouse, ensuring a more robust, responsive, and efficient data management system. Ultimately, the key lies in careful query design, strategic resource management, and a deep understanding of ClickHouse’s internal mechanics.

To read more about ClickHouse GROUPBY, do consider reading the following article:

About Shiv Iyer 215 Articles
Open Source Database Systems Engineer with a deep understanding of Optimizer Internals, Performance Engineering, Scalability and Data SRE. Shiv currently is the Founder, Investor, Board Member and CEO of multiple Database Systems Infrastructure Operations companies in the Transaction Processing Computing and ColumnStores ecosystem. He is also a frequent speaker in open source software conferences globally.