ClickHouse Row Number Functions for High Performance


Row numbering methods play a crucial role in ClickHouse’s performance, particularly when dealing with extensive datasets and intricate queries. Different approaches, such as using the ROW_NUMBER() function, ARRAY JOIN clause, WITH ORDINALITY syntax, or implicit id column in MergeTree tables, offer varying levels of efficiency and impact on performance.

How to use Row Number functions in ClickHouse

Simple row number methods can have a significant impact on ClickHouse’s performance, especially when dealing with large datasets and complex queries. Row numbering involves assigning a unique identifier to each row in the result set, and there are several methods to achieve this in ClickHouse. Let’s explore how different row number methods can influence performance:

  1. Using the ROW_NUMBER() Function:
    • ClickHouse provides the ROW_NUMBER() function, which assigns a unique sequential number to each row in the result set based on the order specified in the ORDER BY clause.
    • This method is straightforward to use and provides accurate row numbering for most scenarios.
    • However, when dealing with large datasets and complex queries, using the ROW_NUMBER() function can lead to performance issues. It requires sorting the data, which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
  2. Utilizing the ARRAY JOIN Clause:
    • In some cases, you can use the ARRAY JOIN clause to achieve row numbering efficiently.
    • By creating an array with a range of numbers and joining it with the original dataset, you can effectively assign row numbers without the need for sorting.
    • This approach can be faster than using the ROW_NUMBER() function for certain use cases, especially when the data is distributed across partitions.
  3. Leveraging WITH ORDINALITY in Arrays:
    • If your data is stored in arrays, ClickHouse provides the WITH ORDINALITY syntax to add an ordinal number to each element of the array.
    • This method is useful when you need to add row numbers to arrays without using additional joins or sorting operations.
    • It is more efficient than using the ROW_NUMBER() function when dealing with array data.
  4. Utilizing the id Column in MergeTree Tables:
    • If your ClickHouse table is using the MergeTree engine, it automatically has an implicit id column, which uniquely identifies each row in the table.
    • The id column can serve as a row number, eliminating the need for additional calculations or functions.
    • For MergeTree tables, relying on the id column for row numbering can be the most performant option.


Optimizing row numbering methods in ClickHouse is crucial for high-performance query execution, especially with large datasets. By leveraging specialized techniques like ARRAY JOIN or MergeTree’s implicit id column, you can achieve faster and more efficient query processing, tailored to your specific use case and data structure.

To know more about functions in ClickHouse, do read the following articles:

About Shiv Iyer 222 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.