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Re: Group by

From: Jonathan Robie <jonathan.robie@datadirect-technologies.com>
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 09:58:03 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: Eddie McGreal <emcgreal@BlackPearl.com>, "'public-qt-comments@w3.org'" <public-qt-comments@w3.org>

At 02:42 AM 10/31/2002 -0500, Eddie McGreal wrote:

>Although the spec includes a "Group by" example we have found that such an
>xquery performs very poorly. The reason for this is that the number of
>comparisons explode as it behaves quadratically.
>Since there is a sort by expression why not a group by as well - it would
>also make mapping to SQL a little easier.
>At the moment we have implemented group by as a function - with enormous
>performance gains

Hi Eddie,

Several companies have proposed or implemented group by extensions, and 
these extensions differ. It would be helpful to have information on the 
group by function that you have implemented. One of the big questions is a 
central semantic one - what exactly is a group, given the definition of FLWR?

Earlier in the WG's history, we had some group by proposals. One of the 
issues was defining exactly what is meant by a group, and what relationship 
a group has to the tuple stream of FLWR and its variable bindings. Several 
of us felt that trying to add group by, at least in the given proposals, 
was complicating and muddling the language, without adding functionality. 
This may or may not be true of the group by that you have developed - more 
details would be helpful.

In one proposal we examined, GROUP BY would be used in the RETURN clause as 

for $b in document("http://www.bn.com")/bib/book,
     $a in $b/author,
     $y in $b/@year
return  groupby $a, $y
         in <result>
               { $a, },
               <year>{ $y }</year>,
               <total>{ count($b) }</total>

But to make this work, the return clause needs access to more than one 
tuple, which it does not have. Another possibility would be to make group 
by a separate clause in FLWR, eg:

for $b in document("http://www.bn.com")/bib/book
group by
     $a in $b/author,
     $y in $b/@year
               { $a, },
               <year>{ $y }</year>,
               <total>{ count($b) }</total>

This is more plausible, but defining the interaction between the tuple 
stream and the groups is somewhat problematic. Do you want the return 
clause to be executed once per group? Do you want the above query to be 
equivalent to this:

for $a in distinct-values($b/author),
     $y in distinct-values($b/@year)
let $b := document("http://www.bn.com")/bib/book[author=$a and @year=$y]
               { $a, },
               <year>{ $y }</year>,
               <total>{ count($b) }</total>

If so, then arguably the group by example should have used let rather than 
for to bind the variable. What exactly is the definition of for and let in 
the presence of group by? Should we allow both group by and for to exist in 
the same FLWR expression? Is the group by version any clearer for the user? 
Is the version that doesn't use group by really that hard to optimize?

In your mail, you suggest that the number of comparisons explodes 
quadratically without group by. What comparisons would you make for the 
query with group by, and what comparisons would you make for the query 
without group by?

In other words, should we just teach the people who want group by to use 
the idiom shown above? Many of the proposals I have seen for grouping show 
equivalent XQueries without grouping that are just awful. That may be a 
matter of just learning the appropriate idioms.

I believe that the main reason for group by is to aid optimization. When I 
write queries that do grouping, I generally see clear patterns that can be 
identified - when all the for bindings use distinct-values(), and a let 
clause filters by all a set of these variables, that's probably an 
indication that your optimizer could do something useful, probably 
something not much different from what you want to do with group by.

I think that grouping is something we should explore further in XQuery 2.0, 
but it's way too late for us to be adding features of this magnitude in 
XQuery 1.0. We spent a lot of time exploring grouping early in the WG 
history, and we didn't come up with an approach that was particularly 
helpful. Perhaps vendors will go out and implement various grouping 
extensions that we can learn from in our XQuery 2.0 design work, or perhaps 
we will find that what we have works fine without a grouping operator.

Received on Thursday, 31 October 2002 09:58:39 UTC

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