Query hints are an easy way to influence the actions of query optimization. However, you need to very carefully consider their use, as in most cases SQL Server is already choosing the right plan. As a general rule, you should avoid using query hints, as they provide many opportunities to cause more issues than the one you are attempting to solve. In some cases, however, such as with complex queries or when dealing with complex datasets that defeat SQL Server’s cardinality estimates on specific queries, using query hints may be necessary.
Using SQL Server Query Hints
Before using any query hints, run a web search for the latest information on issues with query hints. Try searching on the keywords “SQL Server Query Hints” and look specifically for anything by Craig Freedman, who has written several great blog entries on some of the issues you can encounter when using query hints.
Problems with using hints can happen at any time — from when you start using the hint, which can cause unexpected side effects that cause the query to fail to compile, to more complex and difficult to find performance issues that occur later.
As data in the relevant tables changes, without query hints the Query Optimizer automatically updates statistics and adjusts query plans as needed; but if you have locked the Query Optimizer into a specific set of optimizations using query hints, then the plan cannot be changed, and you may end up with a considerably worse plan, requiring further action (from you) to identify and resolve the root cause of the new performance issue.
One final word of caution about using query hints: Unlike locking hints (also referred to in BOL as table hints), which SQL Server attempts to satisfy, query hints are stronger, so if SQL Server is unable to satisfy a query hint it will raise error 8622 and not create any plan.
Query hints are specified using the OPTION clause, which is always added at the end of the T-SQL statement — unlike locking or join hints, which are added within the T-SQL statement after the tables they are to affect.