Efficient use of mysqli_result::$num_rows

I frequently see this pattern in legacy applications using mysqli:

$result = $mysqli->query("
    SELECT *
    FROM table_name
    WHERE conditions = 'whatever'
");
if ($result && $result->num_rows > 0) {
    return;
}

The developer's intent here is to see if there are any rows at all in the database that match a certain condition. He does so by issuing a query, then asking the result object how many rows it has. The developer doesn't actually want any data from the result, and doesn't care about the actual row-count itself; this is just a check to see if at least one row exists in the database.

This is a poor conservation of resources. The database does the work needed to select all the columns for all the rows matching the conditions, allocates memory for them, and returns them. But the developer discards all that immediately.

To accomplish the same end, it is less resource-intensive and just as effective to query for a single column and limit the results to a single row:

$result = $mysqli->query("
    SELECT col_name
    FROM table_name
    WHERE conditions = 'whatever'
    LIMIT 1
");
if ($result && $result->num_rows > 0) {
    return;
}

Now the database only does the work needed for a single column and a single row.

(As a side note, I find it interesting that I have not seen this pattern at all in projects using PDO. I'm not sure why this would be. Perhaps there is some originating example code for mysqli somewhere that has gained a life of its own through copying and reuse.)

UPDATE: Perhaps a better way to conserve resources, courtesy of Reddit user marcjschmidt, is to use a COUNT() in the query, then fetch the count of rows, something more like this ...

$result = $mysqli->query("
    SELECT COUNT(*)
    FROM table_name
    WHERE conditions = 'whatever'
");
if ($result && $result->fetch_array()[0] > 0) {
    return;
}

... thereby avoiding the use of mysqli_result::$num_rows completely.

UPDATE 2: Lots of commentary in the above Reddit thread. To summarize this blog post: selecting all columns of all rows, then examining $num_rows, and then discarding the result set, is a terrible way of determining if there are any matching rows at all in the database. It is trivially easy to something much better, whether by using a LIMIT 1 and $num_rows, or some form of COUNT(), or perhaps some other approach.

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