EF Core Performance Optimization: Essential Strategies to Boost Your App's Speed

EF Core Performance Optimization: Essential Strategies to Boost Your App's Speed

Entity Framework Core is a more lightweight, extensible, and modern open-source version of Entity Framework, Microsoft’s Object-Relational Mapping tool for .NET. This post introduces EF Core from a high-level perspective to understand its role in application development and reiterates the importance of performance optimization while using such a tool.

EF Core lets developers manage a database using .NET objects without writing the majority of the data-access code required. As a result, data models are easier to create, data is queryable, and CRUD operations become more straightforward without being concerned with the details of a database. This makes EF Core an invaluable tool for developers who want to maintain the application’s efficiency while developing it at the speed of light.

However, for the same reason, performance optimization is crucial, and it includes understanding and implementing best practices in the query design, entity tracking, connection management, and other aspects of work to avoid accidental mistakes that slow down everything or put unnecessary load on the database. Thus, this brief overview is a lead-in into a detailed discussion, followed by an overview of EF Core’s architecture and comparison with its predecessor, Entity Framework. Then, the discussion shifts to the intricacies of performance optimization, and after reading this article, the audience will understand the tool’s basics and be able to leverage the full power of EF Core.

Understanding and Optimizing Query Performance

Now, we will go over the details of query performance as they pertain to Entity Framework Core. Upon acquiring the understanding of the significance of Language Integrated Query (LINQ) queries in EF Core, recognizing frequent performance downsides, and grounding this knowledge in actual examples, developers will be able to construct applications that are not only capable but also high-performing and elastic.

The Role of LINQ Queries in EF Core

LINQ, or Language Integrated Query, is a unique capability of .NET that allows developers to compose SQL-like queries directly into their C# or VB.NET code. LINQ queries are the primary way in which data is retrieved and manipulated in EF Core. Behind the scenes, however, EF Core handles the transformation of LINQ queries into SQL queries to ensure your data access remains seamless and natural as a developer. LINQ in EF Core exists powerfully in that it enables developers to compose SQL queries without the need to focus on the complexity of complex data structures and relationships. By so doing, developers are absolved of the technical nature of working directly with data while having to understand how LINQ queries transform into SQL and the subsequent database’s performance.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

  1. N+1 Queries Problem: It is present when your code performs more than a single query for each element of a collection. Therefore, ensure you have already loaded related data using the .Include() method or use batched queries.
  2. Over-Fetching Data: Retrieving more data than necessary can lead to significant performance issues. The .Select() method can be utilized to select the required fields.
  3. Improper Indexing: Unindexed queries on the database can be slow. Your queries should be able to utilize the indexed fields for a faster execution time.
  4. Ignoring Async Operations: EF Core has support for async operations which means letting some methods run asynchronously if they are I/O bound. You should avoid blocking calls and record all calls with .ToListAsync() among others as async.

Example: Optimizing a LINQ Query

Consider a scenario where you need to retrieve a list of orders for a particular customer from an e-commerce application. An initial approach might look like this:

var orders = context.Orders
                    .Where(o => o.CustomerId == customerId)

While this query might work fine for a small dataset, it could become a performance bottleneck as the dataset grows, especially if the Orders table contains many columns that are not needed for the operation.

Optimized Query:

That’s a solid strategy for optimizing database operations in Entity Framework Core! Incorporating .Select(), .AsNoTracking(), and asynchronous operations like .ToListAsync() into your query can lead to significant performance improvements. Here’s a breakdown of how each element contributes to the optimization:

  • .Select(): This method allows you to specify exactly which fields you need from your database entities. By limiting the amount of data retrieved to only what is necessary, you can decrease the size of the data transferred over the network, reduce memory usage on the server, and often speed up the query execution time.
  • .AsNoTracking(): This is particularly useful for read-only operations where you don’t need to update the entities retrieved from the database. By disabling change tracking, EF Core can save a considerable amount of overhead, making the operation faster and more resource-efficient. It’s an excellent choice for scenarios where the data is used for display purposes or calculations without the need to reflect any changes back to the database.
  • Asynchronous Operations (ToListAsync()): Asynchronous methods prevent blocking the calling thread while the database operation is executed. This is crucial for web applications where scalability and responsiveness are key. Using ToListAsync() for fetching data asynchronously helps to free up resources to handle other requests, improving the overall efficiency and responsiveness of your application.

When you implement these optimisations, it will have a huge impact on the performance and the scalability of your EF Core queries and the effect will be more pronounced as your dataset increases. This is how the optimised query above will look like when we implement all the strategies:

var optimizedOrders = await context.Orders
    .Where(o => o.CustomerId == customerId)
    .Select(o => new {
        // Only select the necessary fields
        // Potentially include related entities but minimized and selected fields
    .AsNoTracking() // Use for read-only scenarios to improve performance
    .ToListAsync(); // Fetch the data asynchronously

This query efficiently retrieves the data needed without the additional overhead of tracking or returning unnecessary data fields. It does so in a way that improves the responsiveness of your application by leveraging asynchronous execution.

Utilizing Indexes Effectively

In any database-driven application, including those using Entity Framework Core, optimizing query performance involves not just operations developers run in the application but also understanding and leveraging indexes. This section covers what indexes are, what and how they affect performance, how to design them effectively, and demonstrates adding an index with the help of EF Core migrations.

Explanation of Indexes and Their Impact on Performance

In many ways, an index in a database can be compared to an index in a book: it allows the database engine to find data without scanning all the rows in the table, which greatly speeds up query processing. Nevertheless, although indexes can help speed up read operations, it is important to remember that this effect is achieved through tradeoffs: additional storage is consumed, and write operations are often slowed down due to the need to update all indexes after each write operation. As a result, proper management of the indexes is crucial to maintain an optimal balance between speed and resources.

Strategies for Designing Effective Indexes

  1. Understand Your Queries: The first step in effective index design is to understand the queries your application runs most frequently, especially those that are critical for performance. This understanding will guide you in choosing which columns to index.
  2. Primary vs. Secondary Indexes: Every table should have a primary index, but consider another index for columns frequently used in WHERE conditions or JOIN conditions or columns frequently used in the ORDER BY clause.
  3. Use Composite Indexes Wisely: The composite index contains multiple columns. When you create a composite index, the order of the columns is essential. The index will be most effective if the first column in the index is the one most frequently used in your queries.
  4. Monitor and Review Index Performance: Tools and monitoring query performance will help you see how your indexes are impacting your query performance. Even though indexes are for a lifetime, they may become outmoded.

Code Snippet: Adding an Index Using EF Core Migrations

EF Core Migrations offer better data control via incremental database schema modifications. An index should be included in a migration to increase search performance. The following is an example of how to include an index in the Users table on the EmailAddress column:

  1. First of all, we need to create a new migration with the following command: dotnet ef migrations add AddUserEmailIndex.
  2. Then, in the generated migration file, you should manually insert the following code snippet into the Up method:
protected override void Up(MigrationBuilder migrationBuilder)
        name: "IX_Users_EmailAddress",
        table: "Users",
        column: "EmailAddress");
  1. Run dotnet ef database update to apply the migration to your database. This command will run the migrations for the appropriate DbContext and update your database schema accordingly. Keep in mind, an index will be added to the table.

This code snippet shows how to add an index with a single column. If your usage patterns necessitate it, EF Core is also familiar with creating composite indexes. The secret to making indexes efficient is to make sure they correspond to the data access model of your application in all cases, optimizing the concerns between reading and writing to get a good gain in read performance.

To sum it up, EF Core indexes are implements that help solve the problem of reducing the performance of queries in case of a large amount of data and tables. Properly understanding the mechanics and ratio of indexes, it is possible to achieve a significant increase in the speed of solving queries.

Tips for Improving Performance

Performance optimization in Entity Framework Core applications is an essential characteristic of creating a .NET application that is scalable and performs efficiently. This section gives the guidelines and principles of fetching for performance optimization, batch operations which play a role in it, and batching in EF Core.

Selecting the Right Fetching Strategy

The decision about choosing the right strategy between lazy loading, eager loading, or explicit loading has a crucial impact on the effectiveness of your application. The selection depends on the existing situation and requires choosing the most appropriate approach with most downsides. The following strategies can be used in these cases:

  • Lazy Loading: The entity with its related objects are loaded from the database automatically when the navigation property is accessed. It is less effective to identify the data needed since everything is loaded. However, because of the N+1 queries problem, when too many queries are used from a database, this approach is not recommended.
  • Eager Loading: The related data is loaded with the main entity by using the .Include() method. This option is used when it is evident how the related data is required for each entity, and it also supports reducing the N+1 queries problem. However, it uses the downside of fetching too much data even if it won’t be used.
  • Explicit Loading: The related data is loaded separately from the primary query and is not returned immediately with the query. This option is balanced from lazy and eager loading since it provides more control over when and what data to load.

The Importance of Batching Operations

Batching is running many operations at once in a round trip to the database instead of depending on an individual query for each operation. Batching will reduce the number of round trips taken by your application and in turn reduce network latency. Therefore, it is more efficient to use when dealing with a high number of data or transactions.

EF Core allows batching in some areas, like changes saved to the database and queries. Even when it batches multiple SaveChanges() operations in the same transaction by default, it is important to have an understanding and control of these batches for more significant performance improvements.

Example: Implementing Batching in EF Core

Imagine you have to add many new records to the database. Instead of calling SaveChanges for every record, you can insert all the entities into the context and then save the changes. This will let EF Core batch insert operations.

using (var context = new YourApplicationContext())
    for (int i = 0; i < 200; i++)
        var user = new User { Name = $"UserName{i}", Email = $"useremail{i}@example.com" };

    // EF Core batches these inserts into as few commands as possible

This example adds 200 new User entities to the context, and SaveChanges is called once after all the entities are added. When doing this, EF Core batches the inserts in the background so we reduce the total number of round trips to the database.

Advanced Techniques

Developers who want to wring all the performance possible from their Entity Framework Core application need to learn about advanced optimization techniques. In this part, I will cover compiled queries for those requests that are executed often, profiling and diagnosing with tools, and will also give some extra code to show how to use compiled queries.

What are Compiled Queries?

EF Core’s compiled queries provide a way to pre-compile LINQ queries into an executable form that can be subsequently executed with low performance overhead. Throughout the normal course of execution, when an EF Core LINQ query is run against the data source, the LINQ to SQL converter must parse and convert the given LINQ expressions to suitable SQL queries. Thus, up to a high volume of hits, the translation process can impact performance, specifically because the translation process is carried out through the LINQ optimized for developers and not designed for SQL server inference.

EF Core makes it possible to compile queries ahead of time with the help of CompileQuery and CompileAsyncQuery methods: the compiled queries can be saved and run multiple times which will result in lower execution time, once no translation is needed.

Benefits of Using Compiled Queries

  1. Improved Performance: The most obvious benefit of using compiled queries is that they reduce the time taken to execute the query. Because there is no need to parse and translate the queries every time something is executed, compiled queries work best in situations where a given piece of work is being done more frequently inside your application.
  2. Reduced Resource Utilization: Compiled queries reduce the frequency and complexity of query parsing and execution. This will reduce the stress on the database server, which in turn reduces CPU and memory usage. This, in turn, reduces the load on the application server.
  3. Consistency in Execution Plans: Compiled queries mean the execution plan for a query needs to be determined once during compile time. The second and subsequent executions use the same plan, which gives consistency across different runs. This could be helpful in troubleshooting performance issues.

When to Use Compiled Queries

Use compiled queries when:

  • You execute a query consistently with the same parameters as previously;
  • You experience problems with application performance due to query compilation overhead;
  • You require ensured response times in performance-critical applications.

However, compiled queries have restrictions. They are less flexible than ad-hoc queries since they are compiled with the same parameters. If the data source utilizes different parameters frequently, a new compiled query version must be compiled.

Example: Using a Compiled Query

Implementing compiled queries in EF Core involves a few straightforward steps:

  1. Query Definition: Start by defining the LINQ query you want to compile. Here’s an example in C#:
var query = EF.CompileQuery((MyDbContext ctx, int id) => ctx.Products.Where(p => p.Id == id));
  1. Compilation and Execution: Once compiled, execute the query by passing the required parameters along with the context. Here’s how you do it:
var product = query.Invoke(context, 10);
  1. Compiled Query Management: It’s important to manage the lifecycle of your compiled queries effectively. Consider implementing a storage pattern to make compiled queries readily accessible and reusable throughout the application.

Profiling and Diagnosing Performance Issues with Tools

The following factors can cause performance problems: improperly formulated queries, excessive calls to the database, and the lack of necessary indexing. To address these performance-related concerns, developers may use a number of profiling and diagnostic tools that allow for monitoring EF Core data operations. Let’s explore the profiling and diagnostic features available for EF Core, their purposes, capabilities, and how they can be implemented to achieve stronger application performance.

1. EF Core Logging

EF Core comes with out-of-the-box logging that provides complete information on the executed queries and other interactions with the database. EF Core logging captures events of command execution, query data, and transaction management. Developers can utilize logging at various levels, such as Information, Debug, and Trace, to extract valuable information from the logs.

  • Configuration: EF Core logging can be configured during the registration of the database context by using DbContextOptionsBuilder, by setting the appropriate log level. For example, setting the log level to Debug will log detailed information for each SQL query sent to the database.
  • Usage: Logging is essential to identify ineffective queries and optimize their execution. It can also be used to understand the order of data manipulations in the database, which is invaluable for performance optimization.

2. Performance Profilers

EF Core can be integrated with several third-party performance profilers such as MiniProfiler, JetBrains dotTrace, and Redgate’s ANTS Performance Profiler, which are instrumental in identifying and resolving performance bottlenecks. These tools offer detailed insights into database queries, execution times, and system resource usage.

  • MiniProfiler: A lightweight profiler that can be easily integrated into a web application, MiniProfiler provides detailed timing data for database queries alongside web requests. It presents this information directly in the web browser, showcasing the execution plan and timing of SQL queries, which helps in pinpointing slow queries efficiently.
  • JetBrains dotTrace: This tool offers comprehensive profiling that extends beyond just database interactions to include CPU usage and memory allocation. It helps in diagnosing more complex performance issues by providing a deeper look into the system’s resource consumption during the execution of your application.

3. Database Engine-Specific Tools

Database engine-specific tools can be used for in-depth analysis, such as the SQL Server Profiler for SQL Server, or EXPLAIN for PostgreSQL. Such tools provide data on how the queries are executed on the database aspect, including query plans and the opportunities for optimization:

  • SQL Server Profiler: SQL Server Profiler captures and displays all SQL statements that were sent to the server. It is capable of showing detailed information about the execution times, query plans, and the internal activity of the database engine itself.
  • EXPLAIN: For databases like PostgreSQL, the EXPLAIN command presents the execution plan for a SQL query. It means that primary algorithms utilized by the database to execute the code and excellent ways to place the indexes are revealed.

4. EF Core Power Tools

EF Core Power Tools is a Visual Studio extension developed to provide developers with a set of tools to improve EF Core’s high-performance development. It enables the performance of Model Visualization, Code Generation, and Query Profiling in the editor. The latter is a feature that assists developers in viewing and optimizing database interaction created by EF Core.

5. Application Insights and Diagnostic Tools

There are many cloud-based monitoring solutions, such as Azure Application Insights, designed for tracking the performance of cloud applications, which can monitor EF Core operations. The tools gather telemetry data about app health, provide key performance indicators, metrics, and track app usage time. The diagnostics capabilities aid in diagnosis and performance tuning.

Best Practices for Using Tools

  • Integrate Early and Regularly: Utilize the tools early in the development cycle so that performance issues are identified early.
  • Combine Tools: Apply multiple tools to identify issues with instance-level as well as application-level performance analysis to monitor and investigate performance problems.
  • Continuous Monitoring: Constantly monitor and profile your application as the performance optimization needs to be a continuous process to remain optimized.

Adhering to these tools will result in developing stronger, more scalable applications using EF Core due to enhanced regular performance from developers.

Best Practices

In looking to achieve high performance for your EF Core applications, it is essential to have knowledge of its internal mechanisms as well as adopt powerful data access patterns. Additionally, utilize more advanced optimization methods. The key takeaways from this guide and available places to learn more are synthesized in this section to enable you to master optimization in EF Core.

Summary of Key Takeaways:

  • Knowing Fetching Strategies: The correct data loading strategy must be chosen to optimize query performance and avoid common pitfalls such as the N+1 queries problem.
  • Optimizing Query Performance: LINQ queries should be used selectively, choosing only the required fields, not loading database relationships unless necessary, and considering how complex queries affect performance.
  • Proper Indexing: Understanding your query patterns will be beneficial because they can guide you in logically indexing based on how queries are executed.
  • Batch Operations: Significantly reduce the number of roundtrips to the database by executing batch operations, cutting down on the number of queries through updates and separate filtering.
  • Compiled Queries: These have less overhead of repeatedly having to convert LINQ queries into SQL upon execution, especially beneficial when queries are executed frequently.
  • Profiling and Diagnosis: Utilize tools such as EF Core logging, SQL Profiler, and other performance tools to help identify and solve performance problems.
  • Keep Up to Date with EF Core Releases: Each new release includes performance optimizations and new functionality, making it crucial to stay current.


Entity Framework Core performance optimization is a multidimensional task that involves query performance insights, efficient index usage, and advanced approaches and standards. As long as developers follow the recommendations and examples provided in this post, their EF Core applications will run faster and more effectively, providing users with quick and responsive services. I hope that developers will be eager to try these techniques and get benefits throughout their learning journey. There are many new tips and functionality features to be discovered since performance optimization is a learning to work routine, after all. Happy coding and optimization 🙂

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