This is the Beginning of the End of the N+1 Problem: Introducing Single Query Loading.

Engineering | Jens Schauder | August 31, 2023 | ...


Starting with Spring Data JDBC 3.2.0-M2, Spring Data JDBC supports Single Query Loading. Single Query Loading loads arbitrary aggregates with a single select statement.

To enable Single Query Loading you need to call setSingleQueryLoadingEnabled(true) on your RelationalMappingContext.

In 3.2.0-M2, this works only for simple aggregates, consisting of an aggregate root and a single collection of other entities. It is also limited to the findAll, findById, and findAllByIds methods in CrudRepository. Future versions will improve on that. A final limitation is that the database you use has to support analytic functions (AKA window functions). All the officially supported databases except for the in memory databases (H2 and Hsql DB) do so.

You can abbreviate Single Query Loading as SQL, but please, don't.

If you want to understand how it does work, and a little of how we came up with it, read on.

The Problem

Conceptually Spring Data JDBC loads complete aggregates in one go. So far, though, if you looked at what SQL actually gets run, you realize that, for non-trivial aggregates, multiple SQL statements get run. Consider, for example, the type of Minion that references a collection of Hobby and a collection of Toy entities. When Spring Data JDBC loads a bunch of such minions it:

  2. For each result in that query, it:
  3. Run a SELECT ... FROM HOBBY
  4. Run a SELECT ... FROM TOY

This is inefficient and known as the N+1 problem, since, for an aggregate with a single collection to load N aggregates, N+1 queries get executed (one for the root and N for the child entities). If there is only a single collection, you may do a join, but that falls apart when there are multiple collections.

This problem is by no means specific to Spring Data JDBC. Other ORMs use different strategies to minimize this problem. For example, they may join one child entity to the aggregate root. Alternately, they may use batch loading for related entities. All these approaches limit the effect of the problem, but they merely treat symptoms. Also, most people will actually tell you that you can't really do this in a single query, since you will get a cross product of all the child tables, which can be very bad. Imagine 5 child tables with 10 entries per minion. The cross product of these will be 1010101010 = 10000 rows!

The Idea

Quite some time ago, I remembered something Frank Gerberding, a former coworker of mine said: "The problem with relational databases is that they always return tables, and sometimes you need a tree." Well he said it in German, and I don't remember his exact words, but that was the gist of it. This got me thinking: It's true, a SQL query will always return basically a table. But how would I represent a tree in there? To put it differently: How would you represent the data of an aggregate in Excel? What if you ignore the fact that Excel is basically a relational database with super powers and just treat it as a single spread sheet?

Let's start with a fairly simple case.

class Minion {
    Long id;
    String name;
    List<Toy> toys;
    // the skills you need to excel at this hobby.
    List<Hobby> hobbies;

Toy and Hobby just have a name property for now.

If I want to represent this in Excel, I'd probably do something like this:

Minion id Minion name toys name hobbies name
1 Bob Teddy Hold Teddy
Blue Light Look Cute
Follow Kevin
2 Kevin ... ...

Getting a result like this back from a query would be really nice. It would be not to difficult to construct Java instances from that with a single pass over the ResultSet.

At this point I remembered that SQL is actually Turing-complete. Therefore, I can express this in SQL. It is just a question of how! It always helps to know there is a solution for a problem. When you can shut the voice in your head down that otherwise tries to convince you that there isn't a solution and you are just wasting your time, finding the solution becomes much easier.

Row Numbers

The elements of the collections are kind of "joined" by the index of the row within a Minion. But that index does not exist in the database. Luckily, you can create such an index fairly easily using the row_number() window function.

If you don't know about window functions (AKA analytic functions), they are similar to aggregate functions, but the group by doesn't collapse all matching rows into one. Instead, the analytic function gets applied to the window defined by the group by and the result is available in each row. And it doesn't always have to be the same result for all rows in a group. There is a lot more you can do with these functions. You should read more about it. But for our current problem at hand we need only:

  • row_number(), which assigns a unique, continuously increasing numbers to all rows in a group.
  • count(*), which counts the number of rows in a group. I know, surprising.

We start by creating with a subselect for each child table. Each subselect selects all columns from the underlying table, a row_number() and the count(*), each grouped by the minion_id.

  select *,
    row_number() over (partition by minion_id) h_rn,
    count(*) over (partition by minion_id) h_cnt
  from hobby
) h

We actually do the same for the aggregate root. However, we don't need a row_number, since we know that there is only one minion per row. Therefore, we can fix that to 1.

  select *,
    1 m_rn
  from minion
) m

Join by Id

Next we join all these subselects together, with a standard left join:

select *
from ( ... ) m
left join 
  ( ... ) h
  on = h.minion_id
left join 
  ( ... ) t
  on = t.minion_id

This gives exactly the cross product that I declared unacceptable above.

Minion id m_rn Minion name toys name t_rn hobbies name h_rn
1 1 Bob Teddy 1 Hold Teddy 1
1 1 Bob Blue Light 2 Hold Teddy 1
1 1 Bob Teddy 1 Look Cute 2
1 1 Bob Blue Light 2 Look Cute 2
1 1 Bob Teddy 1 Follow Kevin 3
1 1 Bob Blue Light 2 Follow Kevin 3
2 1 Kevin ... ... ... ...

What we want instead is similar to a full outer join on the different row numbers. Unfortunately, you can't have a left join on one column and a full outer join on another column in SQL. But we can solve this with a where clause.

Pseudo Full Outer Join on Row Numbers

The naive version of that where clause would be:

where m_rn = h_rn
and   m_rn = t_rn

This ignores the fact that we need the outer join semantics. To fix that, a lot of is null checks and comparisons with the cnt columns are added, making the where clause rather hard to read. And it is also sufficiently complicated that I'm not able to write it down without probably making a ton of mistakes. I therefore spare you the details. Go ahead and enable SQL logging, if you really have to know.

With this we have the number of rows down to the correct number. Great! But we are still duplicating parts of the data.

Minion id m_rn Minion name toys name t_rn hobbies name h_rn
1 1 Bob Teddy 1 Hold Teddy 1
1 1 Bob Blue Light 2 Look Cute 2
1 1 Bob Teddy 1 Follow Kevin 3
2 1 Kevin ... ... ... ...

For example, for the hobbies that don't have a matching toy, the data of one toy gets repeated over and over again. We really want to reduce that to null values. It doesn't make much of a difference in this toy example, but those values might be long comments on a blog post and take a considerable amount of time to transfer over the wire. For this, we replace almost all the columns with expressions like the following:

case when x_rn = rn then name end

Here x_rn is the row_number of the subselect that is the source of the column in question. rn is the total row_number - that is, the row_number that all the subselects join on. This condition basically expresses: If the subselect has data for this row, use it; otherwise, just use null. We use this pattern on all normal columns. Only columns that are used in further join as described in the following paragraph aren't treated with this.

Now our result looks just as desired.

Minion id m_rn Minion name toys name t_rn hobbies name h_rn
1 1 Bob Teddy 1 Hold Teddy 1
1 1 Blue Light 2 Look Cute 2
1 1 Follow Kevin 3
2 1 Kevin ... ... ... ...

We return a minimum number of rows and also no duplicate data! But we only do that for a single level of nested entities! This is solved by simple recursion: The result we got just looks like a simple table. It can, therefore, be used as such. To be precise, it can be used instead of the subselect that adds a row number to a select, because it already has a row number.


So far, we basically looked at the query for a findAll operation. And about half a year ago I already had a solution that worked for findAll but didn't yield an efficient solution for things like findById or findByAddressName. This is not a problem with the solution presented above. Any where clause gets applied to the inner most select of the aggregate root and, thanks to the joins, restricts all data. This is well supported by the indexes you'd create for foreign keys and IDs anyway, so we are confident that this way of querying can be executed efficiently.


As outlined at the start of this article, this approach is currently only implemented for Spring Data JDBC, simple aggregate, and very specific query methods. We want to make this available for all aggregates, all Spring Data JDBC query methods, and even Spring Data R2DBC. The last one would enable reading full aggregates for Spring Data R2DBC! It will certainly have an effect on how you will specify queries for Spring Data Relational in future. Of course, downstream projects that consume Spring Data Relational will benefit from this as well. Spring's REST and GraphQL support come to mind.

Follow this Github issue to learn more about progress on this topic.


We found a way to load data from arbitrary trees of tables with a single query. This fits Spring Data JDBC perfectly, because the aggregates it is working on are such trees. The resulting queries are a little more complex, but RDBMS's should be able to execute them efficiently.

Of course, we are now looking for real world experiences and feedback: Do you experience problems? Does it make a performance difference for you? Please let us know via Github, Stackoverflow.

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