Typesafe’s Slick is Not About SQL

We have stumbled upon an interesting thread on the Typesafe SLICK user group where Slick was compared to jOOQ. In that thread, Christopher Vogt has made a couple of interesting statements.

But let us have a look at the broader context, first.

Unifying Stuff

Ever since the proclamation of UDDI or RUP, we may think that the U for Unified is a clear and unmistakable indicator for what Joel Spolsky would call architecture astronautitis. In case you’ve missed those hilarious posts, here they are:

Today, many software vendors are again trying to unify database query languages. Erik Meijer’s LINQ was the most successful attempt at doing so, so far. But even LINQ doesn’t compare to Codd’s visions, which were about replacing the whole data model first by a rock-solid mathematical theory, and only then, thinking about appropriate languages to query such data models.

Flexible vs. rigid abstractions

We believe that unifying query languages to query RDBMS, XML, Objects, and NoSQL is a bad idea because such a unification is subject to either:

  • being a flexible abstraction
  • being a rigid abstraction

If an abstraction is flexible, then the heterogeneous implementation details of the abstracted data stores will inevitably leak into the query language and into your application. You don’t gain too much, for the price of adding more layers and boiler-plate.

Geek and Poke's Footprints - Licensed CC-BY 2.0
Geek and Poke’s Footprints – Licensed CC-BY 2.0

If an abstraction is rigid, then the unified query language (LINQ, JPQL, etc.) may be concise, but it will inevitably abstract away 80% of all useful features of the underlying data store. LINQ cannot meet the expressivity of SQL. Neither can it match the power of XPath/XQuery/XSLT/XProc, which is the most appropriate tool chain for XML. Maybe, it cannot even match what Java 8 calls the Streams API, which is very likely to become the most appropriate tool chain for objects and collections in Java.

Typesafe’s SLICK is Not About SQL

We’ve already compared Slick with jOOQ in our manual’s preface. Now, Christopher Vogt has made a clear statement about what SLICK is supposed to be and what SQL is:

There are understandable mistakes when your mind is (still) set on SQL. […]

Good luck with jooq and check back if you are ever annoyed by SQL semantics and want Scala back :).

That is only an extract of what Christopher said, of course, and there’s certainly quite a bit of goodness in SLICK. SLICK’s mission is to provide Scala collection semantics when querying databases. That might be a desireable thing to have in the Scala platform, specifically when comparing SLICK with LINQ.

But we’ve mentioned it before, on our blog. SQL is not an undesirable language or technology. Like any legacy technology, SQL has its ways. We’ve blogged about that, too, lots of times. SQL is a standard that is constantly evolving and that is here to stay. In our opinion, any technology operating on RDBMS but at the same time aiming for hiding SQL or abstracting it away completely is against the inevitable trend imposed by the big elephants who will not let go of their best-selling technologies.

SQL is about 10 years ahead of alternative RDBMS querying methods – most specifically Java, Scala, C# collection-based ones. T-SQL has now entered the TIOBE Top 10 and is considered by TIOBE to be the language of the year 2013, PL/SQL isn’t too far behind. Don’t fight SQL any longer, embrace it. Or in Christopher Vogt’s words:

Check back with SQL/jOOQ, if you are ever annoyed by the increasing amount of leaky or rigid abstraction created by modern language architects!

Further reading: “Don’t Jump the SQL Ship Just Yet”.

jOOQ Newsletter: December 30, 2013. Happy New Year!

subscribe to the newsletter here

Tweet of the Day

We would like to contribute this new section of the newsletter to our followers, users, and customers. Here’s Andy Van Den Heuvel, who appreciates jOOQ’s and MyBatis’ (both being “post-JPA” frameworks) return to SQL.


2013 from jOOQ’s perspective

2013 was a very exciting year for jOOQ and jOOQ customers. Not only did we create a company to offer commercial licensing and support, but we have also released the awesome jOOQ 3.0 major release, which brought row-level typesafety to SQL in Java. No competitor product on the market currently lifts SQL to be a first-class citizen in Java as we do. In other words, 2013 was a great year for Java and SQL in general.

After 3.0, great minor releases followed suit:

  • jOOQ 3.1 with support for MariaDB, SQL Server 2012, Oracle 12c, and a new sophisticated SPI to interact with POJO mapping
  • jOOQ 3.2 with new SPIs to interact with record and query rendering lifecycles for advanced SQL transformation. We also introduced a new matcher strategy to allow for fine-grained control over jOOQ’s code generation.

And 2014 won’t be less exciting, as we’re adding support for another popular commercial database: MS Access, besides being the first and only SQL abstraction framework to implement keyset paging in such an intuitive syntax.

In that sense, let us wish you a Happy New Year and a great start to 2014!

Convince Your Manager

It is easy for technical folks like software developers and architects to understand why jOOQ adds value to your projects. You’re the workers and as such, you need the right tools. While there are free alternatives (like Gimp), you’re a database professional who prefers to use the market leader (like Photoshop).

But the market leader costs money and your manager needs to be convinced that the money is spent wisely. No problem we told ourselves, and created this simple presentation that can help you convince your managers:

The above presentation compares jOOQ with the industry standard means of accessing RDBMS:

  • JDBC (low-level)
  • JPA (high-level)

This comparison will then be used to explain the return on investment (ROI) that your team will get by using jOOQ.

Upcoming Events

After another welcoming and interesting talk at the JUGS in Berne, we are happy to announce that our talk will now also be hosted in Hamburg, in January 2014:

Here is an overview of our upcoming events

Stay informed about 2014 events on www.jooq.org/news.

SQL Zone – LATERAL joins

Few people may be aware of the SQL:1999 standard LATERAL keyword, which can be applied to table expressions in the FROM clause, in order to allow them to cross-reference other tables within the same FROM clause. This is extremely useful when joining non-scalar table-valued functions to each record of physical tables.

T-SQL (SQL Server and Sybase) users have known this feature for a long time under the vendor-specific CROSS APPLY and OUTER APPLY join keywords. With the recent releases of PostgreSQL 9.3 and Oracle 12c, other databases can now finally also profit from this SQL goodie.

Read more about LATERAL joins and how this will be supported in jOOQ 3.3 in our blog post.

MySQL Bad Idea #666

MySQL… We’ve blogged about MySQL before. Many times. We’ve shown bad ideas implemented in MySQL here:

But this beats everything. Check out this Stack Overflow question. It reads: “Why Oracle does not support ‘group by 1,2,3’?”. At first, I thought this user might have been confused because SQL allows for referencing columns by (1-based!) index in ORDER BY clauses:

SELECT first_name, last_name
FROM customers

The above is equivalent to ORDER BY first_name, last_name. The indexes 1, 2 refer to columns from the projection. This might be useful every now and then to avoid repeating complex column expressions, although it is probably a bit risky as you can change ordering semantics when adding a column to the SELECT clause.

But this user wanted to use the same syntax for the GROUP BY clause. And this actually works in MySQL! Check out the following query:

  SELECT 'a' a, 'b' b, 'c' c UNION ALL
  SELECT 'a'  , 'c'  , 'c'   UNION ALL
  SELECT 'a'  , 'b'  , 'd'
) t

See an example on SQLFiddle

The above yields…

| A | B |
| a | b |
| a | c |

But what would this even mean? According to our in-depth explanation of SQL clauses, the projection (SELECT clause) is logically evaluated after the GROUP BY clause. In other words, the columns defined in the SELECT clause are not yet in scope of the GROUP BY clause. Hence, the only reasonable semantics of column indexes would be the index from the table source t. But that’s not the case. Check out this alternative query:

  SELECT 'a' a, 'b' b, 'c' c UNION ALL
  SELECT 'a'  , 'c'  , 'c'   UNION ALL
  SELECT 'a'  , 'b'  , 'd'
) t

See an example on SQLFiddle

This now yields:

| B | C |
| b | c |
| c | c |
| b | d |

And it’s (probably?) the expected behaviour in MySQL as the documentation states:

Columns selected for output can be referred to in ORDER BY and GROUP BY clauses using column names, column aliases, or column positions. Column positions are integers and begin with 1

The documentation actually treats GROUP BY in a very similar fashion as ORDER BY. For instance, it is possile to specify the ordering direction using GROUP BY only:

MySQL extends the GROUP BY clause so that you can also specify ASC and DESC after columns named in the clause:

FROM test_table GROUP BY a DESC;

While we cannot figure out a reasonable edge-case that breaks this feature, we still think that there is something fishy about it. The fact that the SELECT clause is logically evaluated after the table source (FROM, WHERE, GROUP BY, HAVING), allowing the GROUP BY clause to reference it seems to lead to a weird understanding of SQL.

On the other hand, SQL is a very verbose language with little support for declaring reusable objects, short of common table expressions and the WINDOW clause. It is actually a bit surprising that the SQL standards folks would support this WINDOW clause to declare reusable window frames before introducing much more usable “common column expressions”, e.g:

-- Common column/table expressions:
WITH x AS CASE t1.a 
          WHEN 1 THEN 'a'
          WHEN 2 THEN 'b'
                 ELSE 'c'
     y AS SOME_FUNCTION(t2.a, t2.b)
SELECT x, NVL(y, x)
FROM t1 JOIN t2 ON t1.id = t2.id

With common column expressions, reusing column expressions is independent of the SELECT clause itself. In other words, you can reuse column expressions in JOIN clauses, WHERE clauses, GROUP BY clauses, HAVING clauses, etc. without having to actually SELECT them.

So, to be fair with MySQL, while this feature is a non-feature in its current form, it provides a workaround for SQL’s verbosity.

The Great SQL Implementation Comparison Page

Fortunately, we have SQL standards. Or do we? It’s a well-known secret (or cynical joke) that the SQL standard is yet another SQL dialect among peers.

Standards by xkcd
Standards by xkcd

On this blog, we have pointed out so many differences between SQL dialects, it is hard to believe that anyone would even consider writing SQL strings rather than using jOOQ or Hibernate if they ever risk migrating their application to another database. Just consider these examples:

From the perspective of the jOOQ implementation, we know how tough it can be to abstract vendor-specific SQL away. Here’s an example piece of code that you don’t want to have in your application, dealing with the NVL() function:

switch (configuration.dialect().family()) {
  case ACCESS:
    return field("{iif}({0} is null, {1}, {0})");

  case DB2:
  case INGRES:
  case ORACLE:
  case H2:
  case HSQLDB:
    return field("{nvl}({0}, {1})", ..);

  case DERBY:
  case POSTGRES:
    return field("{coalesce}({0}, {1})", ..);

  case MARIADB:
  case MYSQL:
  case SQLITE:
    return field("{ifnull}({0}, {1})", ..);

  // By default, resort to the CASE expression
    return DSL.decode()
              .when(arg1.isNotNull(), arg1)

Now, trust us. The above is one of the easier cases. Consider the standardisation of the LIMIT .. OFFSET clause, for instance.

For an even more frightening overview, we recommend you visit Troels Arvin’s Comparison of Different SQL Implementations. Be warned, though!

Ecto a Slick Query DSL for the Elixir Language

Elixir? What on earth is Elixir? It is a programming language that somewhat reminds me of Ruby. Here is some example Elixir code:

defmodule Hello do
  IO.puts "Defining the function world"

  def world do
    IO.puts "Hello World"

  IO.puts "Function world defined"

And it has a Stack Overflow community with around 50 tagged questions as of December 2013. And it has a query DSL library called Ecto, which describes itself as such:

Ecto is a domain specific language for writing queries and interacting with databases in Elixir.

Example queries can be seen on the project’s GitHub readme page:

A simple SELECT

use Ecto.Query

query = from w in Weather,
      where: w.prcp > 0 or w.prcp == nil,
     select: w


Using JOINs

query = from p in Post,
      where: p.id == 42,
  left_join: c in p.comments,
     select: assoc(p, c)

[post] = Repo.all(query)


Looks like a slick (but not typesafe?) querying DSL mix between LINQ and Clojure’s sqlkorma.

For those brave ones among you using the Elixir language, this might be your one (and only) choice to access a SQL database! Good luck!

MyBatis’ Alternative Transaction Management

On the jOOQ user group, we’re often being asked how to perform transaction management with jOOQ. And we have an easy answer ready: You don’t do that with jOOQ. You choose your favourite transaction management API, be it:

And the above list is far from being exhaustive. Transaction management is something very delicate, and it certainly should not be imposed by a library whose main purpose is not transaction management, because any such library / framework will provide you with at most a very leaky abstraction of its transaction model. In other words, if you just slightly want to deviate from “the standard” model (e.g. as imposed by Hibernate), you will suffer greatly, as soon as you want to run 2-3 queries outside of Hibernate – e.g. batch or reporting statements through jOOQ.

MyBatis’ Alternative Transaction Management

MyBatis is a SQL templating engine that provides a couple of features on top of alternative templating engines, such as Velocity, or StringTemplate. One of these features built on top of templating is precisely transaction management, as can be seen in the docs.

From what we can read in the docs, it looks as though MyBatis’ transaction managers can be overriden by Spring, for instance. However, it is not easy to see how this is done. In fact, given that MyBatis also solves Connection pooling (for which there are also very viable alternatives, such as c3p0 and DBCP), and mapping (which could be solved more easily with custom transformers, such as offered by Spring’s JdbcTemplate, or jOOQ’s RecordMapper).

As many frameworks, MyBatis tries to solve problems outside its core scope, which is SQL templating. While this may be a good thing as you only rely on a single dependency, it is also quite a lock-in, in case you have a more complex model. In the case of transaction management, we believe that this was not a good idea by MyBatis.

Thoughts from MyBatis users?

A Bit of SQL History

SQL has been around for a while. Just recently, I’ve read this refreshing article about Codd’s Relational Vision – Has NoSQL Come Full Circle? SQL is one of those awesome technologies that was invented almost two generations ago, and we’re still using it in production and for new projects. It is both legacy and state-of-the-art.

The RDBMS timeline from Wikipedia

In the early 70s, Ingres (which still exists today) was built at the Berkely University of California. Parts of Ingres still go strong in today’s RDBMS market under the name of PostgreSQL, and many other databases. Michael Stonebraker has been involved with these early dinosaurs, and he’s currently promoting NewSQL storage, which isn’t listed in the above chart, unfortunately.

What’s also not listed, unfortunately, are all those various NoSQL storage systems, which will eventually merge in a greater timeline of DBMS, should they survive the upcoming second renaissance of Codd’s Vision. Love it or hate it, but SQL is a piece of software category that we will deal with for another generation of software engineers!