Indexes are used to find rows with a specific value of one column fast. Without an index MySQL has to start with the first record and then read through the whole table until it finds the relevant rows. The bigger the table, the more this costs. If the table has an index for the colums in question, MySQL can quickly get a position to seek to in the middle of the data file without having to look at all the data. If a table has 1000 rows, this is at least 100 times faster than reading sequentially. Note that if you need to access almost all 1000 rows it is faster to read sequentially because we then avoid disk seeks.