Clustered and Non Clustered Index

In SQL Server database there are mainly two types of indexes, Clustered index and Non Clustered index. For those, who are not aware of benefits of Index or why we use index in database, they help in making your SELECT query faster.
you must index on columns which are frequently used in WHERE clause of SELECT query, or which forms major criterion for searching in database. For example in Employee database, EmployeeId or EmployeeName are common conditions to find an Employee in database. There can be either clustered index or non clustered index in database, former is used to decide how data is physically stored in disk and that’s why there can be only one clustered index in any table.

Clustered Index
Suppose we have a table named Employee which has a column named EmployeeID. Let’s say we create a clustered index on the EmployeeID column. What happens when we create this clustered index? Well, all of the rows inside the Employee table will be physically – sorted (on the actual disk) – by the values inside the EmployeeID column. What does this accomplish? Well, it means that whenever a lookup/search for a sequence of EmployeeID’s is done using that clustered index, then the lookup will be much faster because of the fact that the sequence of employee ID’s are physically stored right next to each other on disk – that is the advantage with the clustered index. This is because the rows in the table are sorted in the exact same order as the clustered index, and the actual table data is stored in the leaf nodes of the clustered index.

Remember that an index is usually a tree data structure – and leaf nodes are the nodes that are at the very bottom of that tree. In other words, a clustered index basically contains the actual table level data in the index itself.

Non-clustered Index
As an example of a non-clustered index, let’s say that we have a non-clustered index on the EmployeeID column. A non-clustered index will store both the value of the EmployeeID AND a pointer to the row in the Employee table where that value is actually stored. But a clustered index, on the other hand, will actually store the row data for a particular EmployeeID – so if you are running a query that looks for an EmployeeID of 15, the data from other columns in the table like EmployeeName, EmployeeAddress, etc. will all actually be stored in the leaf node of the clustered index itself.

This means that with a non-clustered index extra work is required to follow that pointer to the row in the table to retrieve any other desired values, as opposed to a clustered index which can just access the row directly since it is being stored in the same order as the clustered index itself. So, reading from a clustered index is generally faster than reading from a non-clustered index.

A table can have multiple non-clustered indexes?

A table can have multiple non-clustered indexes because they don’t affect the order in which the rows are stored on disk like clustered indexes.

Why can a table have only one clustered index?

Because a clustered index determines the order in which the rows will be stored on disk, having more than one clustered index on one table is impossible. Imagine if we have two clustered indexes on a single table – which index would determine the order in which the rows will be stored? Since the rows of a table can only be sorted to follow just one index, having more than one clustered index is not allowed.

4 Thoughts on “Clustered and Non Clustered Index

  1. Pramod Bablad on November 6, 2014 at 10:58 pm said:

    Very Very useful site… have great content.

  2. Ramesh Babu Yagnam on November 8, 2014 at 9:51 am said:

    nice article

  3. Vishal Koladiya on November 23, 2014 at 6:51 pm said:

    Thank you

  4. Excellent explanation

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