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These links interface with the different options available in the application, however each link displayed may have a COUNT() value associated with it. For instance one link may be MESSAGES, this particular user may have 3 new messages in the messages.table, the next link may be TASKS, with 4 new tasks in the tasks.table.
I know I could perform a SQL count() on each of the desired tables but I am worried somewhat about the overhead of this (say I have to perform 20 different sql counts) on each page load to display these count numbers.
Has anyone run into this situation? Can your perform counts across multiple tables? One option that crossed my mind was storing these numbers in the users.table but this seems like allot of extra sql-footwork to keep the numbers synced...
That said, COUNT() is generally very fast providing you have indexes set up properly.
The mysql query cache might help depending on the write volume to the table.
Failing that, look into memcached. Store the whole profile as a serialized array (messages=3, tasks=2), and invalidate the key if one of them changes.