How does a database handle pagination?

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How does a database handle pagination?

It doesn’t. First, a database is a collection of related data, so I assume you mean DBMS or database language.

Second, pagination is generally a function of the front-end and/or middleware, not the database layer.

But some database languages provide helpful facilities that aide in implementing pagination. For example, many SQL dialects provide LIMIT and OFFSET clauses that can be used to emit up to n rows starting at a given row number. I.e., a “page” of rows. If the query results are sorted via ORDER BY and are generally unchanged between successive invocations, then that can be used to implement pagination.

That may not be the most efficient or effective implementation, though.

So how do you propose pagination should be done?

On context of web apps , let’s say there are 100 mn users. One cannot dump all the users in response.

Cache database query results in the middleware layer using Redis or similar and serve out pages of rows from that.

What if you have 30, 000 rows plus, do you fetch all of that from the database and cache in Redis?

I feel the most efficient solution is still offset and limit. It doesn’t make sense to use a database and then end up putting all of your data in Redis especially data that changes a lot. Redis is not for storing all of your data.


If you have large data set, you should use offset and limit, getting only what is needed from the database into main memory (and maybe caching those in Redis) at any point in time is very efficient.

With 30,000 rows in a table, if offset/limit is the only viable or appropriate restriction, then that’s sometimes the way to go.

More often, there’s a much better way of restricting 30,000 rows via some search criteria that significantly reduces the displayed volume of rows — ideally to a single page or a few pages (which are appropriate to cache in Redis.)

It’s unlikely (though it does happen) that users really want to casually browse 30,000 rows, page by page. More often, they want this one record, or these small number of records.

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Question: This is a general question that applies to MySQL, Oracle DB or whatever else might be out there.

I know for MySQL there is LIMIT offset,size; and for Oracle there is ‘ROW_NUMBER’ or something like that.

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But when such ‘paginated’ queries are called back to back, does the database engine actually do the entire ‘select’ all over again and then retrieve a different subset of results each time? Or does it do the overall fetching of results only once, keeps the results in memory or something, and then serves subsets of results from it for subsequent queries based on offset and size?

If it does the full fetch every time, then it seems quite inefficient.

If it does full fetch only once, it must be ‘storing’ the query somewhere somehow, so that the next time that query comes in, it knows that it has already fetched all the data and just needs to extract next page from it. In that case, how will the database engine handle multiple threads? Two threads executing the same query?

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something will be quick or slow without taking measurements, and complicate the code in advance to download 12 pages at once and cache them because “it seems to me that it will be faster”.

Answer: First of all, do not make assumptions in advance whether something will be quick or slow without taking measurements, and complicate the code in advance to download 12 pages at once and cache them because “it seems to me that it will be faster”.

YAGNI principle – the programmer should not add functionality until deemed necessary.
Do it in the simplest way (ordinary pagination of one page), measure how it works on production, if it is slow, then try a different method, if the speed is satisfactory, leave it as it is.


From my own practice – an application that retrieves data from a table containing about 80,000 records, the main table is joined with 4-5 additional lookup tables, the whole query is paginated, about 25-30 records per page, about 2500-3000 pages in total. Database is Oracle 12c, there are indexes on a few columns, queries are generated by Hibernate. Measurements on production system at the server side show that an average time (median – 50% percentile) of retrieving one page is about 300 ms. 95% percentile is less than 800 ms – this means that 95% of requests for retrieving a single page is less that 800ms, when we add a transfer time from the server to the user and a rendering time of about 0.5-1 seconds, the total time is less than 2 seconds. That’s enough, users are happy.


And some theory – see this answer to know what is purpose of Pagination pattern

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