Supporting top-k join queries in relational databases

Ihab F. Ilyas, Walid G. Aref, Ahmed Elmagarmid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

140 Citations (Scopus)


Ranking queries, also known as top-k queries, produce results that are ordered on some computed score. Typically, these queries involve joins, where users are usually interested only in the top-k join results. Top-k queries are dominant in many emerging applications, e.g., multimedia retrieval by content, Web databases, data mining, middlewares, and most information retrieval applications. Current relational query processors do not handle ranking queries efficiently, especially when joins are involved. In this paper, we address supporting top-k join queries in relational query processors. We introduce a new rank-join algorithm that makes use of the individual orders of its inputs to produce join results ordered on a user-specified scoring function. The idea is to rank the join results progressively during the join operation. We introduce two physical query operators based on variants of ripple join that implement the rank-join algorithm. The operators are nonblocking and can be integrated into pipelined execution plans. We also propose an efficient heuristic designed to optimize a top-k join query by choosing the best join order. We address several practical issues and optimization heuristics to integrate the new join operators in practical query processors. We implement the new operators inside a prototype database engine based on PREDATOR. The experimental evaluation of our approach compares recent algorithms for joining ranked inputs and shows superior performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-221
Number of pages15
JournalVLDB Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2004
Externally publishedYes



  • Query operators
  • Ranking
  • Top-k queriesrank aggregation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Information Systems

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