An index is a set of pointers that are logically ordered by the values of one or more keys. The pointers can refer to rows in a table, blocks in an MDC or ITC table, XML data in an XML storage object, and so on.

Indexes are used to:
  • Improve performance. In most cases, access to data is faster with an index. Although an index cannot be created for a view, an index created for the table on which a view is based can sometimes improve the performance of operations on that view.
  • Ensure uniqueness. A table with a unique index cannot have rows with identical keys.

As data is added to a table, it is appended to the bottom (unless other actions have been carried out on the table or the data being added). There is no inherent order to the data. When searching for a particular row of data, each row of the table from first to last must be checked. Indexes are used as a means to access the data within the table in an order that might otherwise not be available.

Typically, when you search for data in a table, you are looking for rows with columns that have specific values. A column value in a row of data can be used to identify the entire row. For example, an employee number would probably uniquely define a specific individual employee. Or, more than one column might be needed to identify the row. For example, a combination of customer name and telephone number. Columns in an index used to identify data rows are known as keys. A column can be used in more than one key.

An index is ordered by the values within a key. Keys can be unique or non-unique. Each table should have at least one unique key; but can also have other, non-unique keys. Each index has exactly one key. For example, you might use the employee ID number (unique) as the key for one index and the department number (non-unique) as the key for a different index.

Not all indexes point to rows in a table. MDC and ITC block indexes point to extents (or blocks) of the data. XML indexes for XML data use particular XML pattern expressions to index paths and values in XML documents stored within a single column. The data type of that column must be XML. Both MDC and ITC block indexes and XML indexes are system generated indexes.


Table A in Figure 1 has an index based on the employee numbers in the table. This key value provides a pointer to the rows in the table. For example, employee number 19 points to employee KMP. An index allows efficient access to rows in a table by creating a path to the data through pointers.

Unique indexes can be created to ensure uniqueness of the index key. An index key is a column or an ordered collection of columns on which an index is defined. Using a unique index will ensure that the value of each index key in the indexed column or columns is unique.

Figure 1 shows the relationship between an index and a table.

Figure 1. Relationship between an index and a table
Graphic showing the relationship between an index and a table.

Figure 2 illustrates the relationships among some database objects. It also shows that tables, indexes, and long data are stored in table spaces.

Figure 2. Relationships among selected database objects
Graphic showing the relationship between database objects.