Basic Usage

Once you are in RA, you will see the ra> prompt. For help, type \help;. You exit RA by issuing the \quit; command. Use the \list; command to see what relations are available for query in your database.

The simplest relational query you can write is one that returns the content of a relation: Just type: rel;, where rel is the relation name. Note that every query/command should be terminated by a semicolon (;).

In RA, relation and attribute names are case-sensitive (although some database systems and/or their Python drivers may let you ignore cases). When in doubt, always use the exact same names shown in the output of the \list; command. Attributes can be of a variety of types; for details see Data Types and Operators. For now just note that RA supports numbers, strings, dates, datetimes, as well as more exotic SQL types.

Here is an example of a complex query, which returns beers liked by those drinkers who do not frequent James Joyce Pub:

\project_{beer} (
  ((\project_{name}          // all drinkers
   (\rename_{name}           // rename so we can diff
      \project_{drinker}     // drinkers who frequent JJP
        \select_{bar = 'James Joyce Pub'}
  \join_{drinker = name}     /* join with Likes to find beers */

RA syntax is insensitive to white space, and you can enter a query on multiple lines. C/C++/Java-style comments (// and /*...*/) are supported.

RA supports the following relational algebra operators. In general, input_relation, input_relation_1, etc. below can be database relations as well as intermediate outputs produced by other relational algebra operators.

Selection: \select_{condition} input_relation

For example, to select Drinker tuples with name Amy or Ben, we can write:

\select_{name='Amy' or name='Ben'} Drinker;

String literals should be enclosed in single quotes. Comparison operators <=, <, =, >, >=, and <> (inequality) work as expected on strings, numbers, and dates. For string match you can use the like operator; e.g.:

\select_{name like 'A%'} Drinker;

finds all drinkers whose name start with “A”, where % is a wildcard character that matches any number of characters. Finally, you can use boolean connectives and, or, and not to construct more complex conditions. More features are available; see Data Types and Operators for details.

Projection: \project_{attr_list} input_relation

Here, attr_list is a comma-separated list of expressions that specifies the output attributes. For example, to find out what beers are served by Talk of the Town (but without the price information), you can write:

\project_{bar, beer} \select_{bar='Talk of the Town'} Serves;

You can also use an expression to compute the value of an output attribute; e.g.:

\project_{bar, 'Special Edition '||beer, price+1} Serves;

Note that || concatenates two strings.

Theta-Join: input_relation_1 \join_{cond} input_relation_2

For example, to join Drinker(name, address) and Frequents(drinker, bar, times_a_week) relations together using drinker name, you can write:

Drinker \join_{name=drinker} Frequents;

Syntax for cond is similar to the case of \select.

You can prefix references to attributes with names of the relations that they belong to, which is sometimes useful to avoid confusion (see Relation Schema and Attribute References for more details):

Drinker \join_{} Frequents;

Natural join: input_relation_1 \join input_relation_2

For example, to join Drinker(name, address) and Frequents(drinker, bar, times_a_week) relations together using drinker name, we can write Drinker \join \rename_{name, bar, times_a_week} Frequents;. Natural join will automatically equate all pairs of identically named attributes from its inputs (in this case, name), and output only one attribute per pair. Here we use \rename to create two name attributes for the natural join; see notes on \rename below for more details.

Cross product: input_relation_1 \cross input_relation_2

For example, to compute the cross product of Drinker and Frequents, you can write:

Drinker \cross Frequents;.

In fact, the following two queries are equivalent:

  (Drinker \cross Frequents);

Drinker \join_{} Frequents;

Set union, difference, and intersection:

input_relation_1 \union input_relation_2

input_relation_1 \diff input_relation_2

input_relation_1 \intersect input_relation_2

For a trivial example, the set union, difference, and intersection between Drinker and itself, should return the contents of Drinker itself, an empty relation, and again the contents of Drinker itself, respectively.


\rename_{new_attr_names} input_relation

This form of the rename operator renames the attributes of its input relation to those in new_attr_names, a comma-separated list of names.

\rename_{new_rel_name: *} input_relation

This form of the rename operator gives a new relation name to its input relation (the attribute names remain the same). For example:

\rename_{s1} Serves
  \join_{ and s1.price>s2.price}
\rename_{s2} Serves;

\rename_{ new_rel_name : new_attr_names } input_relation

This form of the rename operator allows you to rename both the input relation as well as its attributes.