by Markus Winand.

Partial Results

Sometimes you do not need the full result of an SQL query but only the first few rows—e.g., to show only the ten most recent messages. In this case, it is also common to allow users to browse through older messages—either using traditional paging navigation or the more modern “infinite scrolling” variant. The related SQL queries used for this function can, however, cause serious performance problems if all messages must be sorted in order to find the most recent ones. A pipelined order by is therefore a very powerful means of optimization for such queries.

Using a pipelined order by is not only about saving the effort to sort the result, it is more about delivering the first results without reading and sorting all rows. That means the pipelined order by has very low startup costs. It is therefore possible to abort the execution after fetching a few rows without discarding the efforts to prepare the final result.

On my Own Behalf

I make my living from training, other SQL related services and selling my book. Learn more at

This chapter demonstrates how to use a pipelined order by to efficiently retrieve partial results. Although the syntax of these queries varies from database to database, they still execute the queries in a very similar way. Once again, this illustrates that they all put their pants on one leg at a time.


  1. Selecting Top-N Rows — if you need the first few rows only

  2. Fetching The Next Page — The offset and seek methods compared

  3. Window-Functions — Pagination using analytic queries

Previous pageNext page

About the Author

Photo of Markus Winand

Markus Winand is the SQL Renaissance Ambassador. He is on a mission to introduce developers to the evolution of SQL in the 21st century. Markus can be hired as trainer, speaker and consultant via

Buy his Book on Amazon

Cover of “SQL Performance Explained”: Squirrel running on grass

The essence of SQL tuning in 200 pages

Buy on Amazon
(paperback only)

Paperback and PDF also available at Markus’ store.

Hire Markus

Markus offers SQL training and consulting for developers working at companies of any size.
Learn more »

Do not use offset for pagination

Learn why

Visit my sibling!A lot changed since SQL-92!

The Use The Index, Luke! mug

Stickers, coasters, books and coffee mugs. All you need for learning.

Shop now

Connect with Markus Winand

Markus Winand on LinkedInMarkus Winand on XINGMarkus Winand on Twitter
“Use The Index, Luke!” by Markus Winand is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
Legal | Contact | NO WARRANTY | Trademarks | Privacy and GDPR | CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 license