Entity Framework is the new (as of .NET 3.5 SP1) ORM technology for the .NET Framework. ORM technologies are widely accepted as the "better" way of accessing relational databases, because they allow you to work with relational data as objects in the world of objects. However, ORM tech can be slower than writing manual SQL queries yourself. This can be seen in this blog that benchmarks Entity Framework versus LINQ to SQL and a manual SQLDataReader.

Hardware is cheap (compared to programmer labour, which is not) so getting a faster machine could be an effective strategy to counter performance issues with ORM. However, what if we could squeeze some extra performance out of Entity Framework with only a little effort?

This is where Compiled Queries come in. Compiled queries are good to use where you have one particular query that you use over and over again in the same application. A normal query (using LINQ) is passed to Entity Framework as an expression tree. Entity Framework translates it into a command tree that is then translated by a database-specific provider into a query against a database. It does this every time you execute the query. Obviously, if this query is in a loop (or is called often) this is suboptimal because the query is recompiled every time, even though all that's probably changed is the parameters in the query. Compiled queries ensure that the query is only compiled once, and the only thing that varies is the parameters.

I created a quick benchmark app to find out just how much faster compiled queries are against normal queries. I'll illustrate how the benchmark works and then present the results.

Basically, I had a particular non-compiled LINQ to Entities query which I ran 100 times in a loop and timed how long it took. I then created the same query, but as a compiled query instead. I ran it once, because the query is compiled the first time you run it, not when you construct it. I then ran it 100 times in a loop and timed how long it took. Also, before doing any of the above, I ran the non-compiled query once, because it seemed to take a long time for the very first operation using the Entity Framework to run, so I wanted that time excluded from my results.

The non-compiled query I ran looked like this:

IQueryable<Transaction> transactions = 
                from transaction in context.Transaction
                  transaction.TransactionDate >= FromDate &&
                  transaction.TransactionDate <= ToDate
                select transaction;

List<Transaction> list = transactions.ToList();

As you can see, it's nothing fancy, just a simple query with a small where clause. This query returns 39 Transaction objects from my database (SQL Server 2005).

The compiled query was created like this:

Func<DHEntities, DateTime, DateTime, IQueryable<Transaction>> 

query = CompiledQuery.Compile(
            (DHEntities ctx, DateTime fromD, DateTime toD) =>
                from transaction in ctx.Transaction
                  transaction.TransactionDate >= fromD &&
                  transaction.TransactionDate <= toD
                select transaction);

As you can see, to create a compiled query you pass your LINQ query to CompiledQuery.Compile() via a lambda expression that defines the things that the query needs (ie the Object Context (in this case, DHEntities) and the parameters used (in this case two DateTimes). The Compile function will return a Func delegate that has the types you defined in your lambda, plus one extra: the return type of the query (in this case IQueryable<Transaction>).

The compiled query was executed like this:

IQueryable<Transaction> transactions = query.Invoke(context, FromDate, ToDate);

List<Transaction> list = transactions.ToList();

I ran the benchmark 100 times, collected all the data and then averaged the results:

  Average Standard Deviation
Non-compiled Query Loop 534.1ms 20.6ms
Compiled Query Loop 63.1ms 0.6ms

The results are impressive. In this case, compiled queries are 8.5 times faster than normal queries! I've showed the standard deviation so that you can see that the results didn't fluctuate much between each benchmark run.

The use case I have for using compiled queries is doing database access in a WCF service. I expose a service that will likely be beaten to death by constant queries from an ASP.NET MVC webserver. Sure, I could get larger hardware to make the WCF service go faster, or I could simply get a rather massive performance boost just by using compiled queries.