Querying Datasets with SQL

Ad-hoc Querying of Continuuity Reactor Datasets using SQL


Procedures are a programmatic way to access and query the data in your Datasets. Yet sometimes you may want to explore a Dataset in an ad-hoc manner rather than writing procedure code. This can be done using SQL if your Dataset fulfills two requirements:

  • it defines the schema for each record; and
  • it has a method to scan its data record by record.

For Reactor Datasets, this is done by implementing the RecordScannable interface. The Reactor built-in Dataset KeyValueTable already implements this and can be used for ad-hoc queries.

Let’s take a closer look at the RecordScannable interface.

Defining the Record Schema

The record schema is given by returning the Java type of each record, and the Reactor will derive the record schema from that type:

Type getRecordType();

For example, suppose you have a class Entry defined as:

class Entry {
  private final String key;
  private final int value;

You can implement a record-scannable Dataset that uses Entry as the record type:

class MyDataset ... implements RecordScannable<Entry> {
  public Type getRecordType() {
    return Entry.class;

Note that Java’s Class implements Type and you can simply return Entry.class as the record type. The Reactor will use reflection to infer a SQL-style schema from the record type.

In the case of the above class Entry, the schema will be:

(key STRING, value INT)


  • The record type must be a structured type, that is, a Java class with fields. This is because SQL tables require a structure type at the top level. That means, the record type cannot be a primitive, collection or map type. However, these types may appear nested inside the record type.

  • The record type must be that of an actual Java class, not an interface. The same applies to the types of any fields contained in the type. The reason is that interfaces only define methods but not fields; hence, reflection would not be able to derive any fields or types from the interface.

    The one exception to this rule is that Java collections such as List and Set are supported as well as Java Map. This is possible because these interfaces are so commonly used that they deserve special handling. These interfaces are parameterized and require special care as described in the next section.

  • The record type must not be recursive. In other words, it cannot contain any class that directly or indirectly contains a member of that same class. This is because a recursive type cannot be represented as a SQL schema.

  • Fields of a class that are declared static or transient are ignored during schema generation. This means that the record type must have at least one non-transient and non-static field. For example, the java.util.Date class has only static and transient fields. Therefore a record type of Date is not supported and will result in an exception when the dataset is created.

  • A dataset can only be used in ad-hoc queries if its record type is completely contained in the dataset definition. This means that if the record type is or contains a parametrized type, then the type parameters must be present in the dataset definition. The reason is that the record type must be instantiated when executing an ad-hoc query. If a type parameter depends on the jar file of the application that created the dataset, then this jar file is not available to the query execution runtime.

    For example, you cannot execute ad-hoc queries over an ObjectStore<MyObject> if the MyObject is contained in the application jar. However, if you define your own dataset type MyObjectStore that extends or encapsulates an ObjectStore<MyObject>, then MyObject becomes part of the dataset definition for MyObjectStore. See the Purchase application for an example.

Parameterized Types

Suppose instead of being fixed to Strings, the Entry class is generic with type parameters for both key and value:

class GenericEntry<KEY, VALUE> {
  private final KEY key;
  private final VALUE value;

We should easily be able to implement RecordScannable<GenericEntry<String, Integer>> by defining getRecordType(). However, due to Java’s runtime type erasure, returning GenericEntry.class does not convey complete information about the record type. With reflection, the Reactor can only determine the names of the two fields, but not their types.

To convey information about the type parameters, we must instead return a ParameterizedType, which Java’s Class does not implement. An easy way is to use Guava’s TypeToken:

class MyDataset ... implements RecordScannable<GenericEntry<String, Integer>>
  public Type getRecordType() {
    return new TypeToken<GenericEntry<String, Integer>>() { }.getType();

While this seems a little more complex at first sight, it is the de-facto standard way of dealing with Java type erasure.

Complex Types

Your record type can also contain nested structures, lists, or maps, and they will be mapped to type names as defined in the Hive language manual. For example, if your record type is defined as:

class Movie {
  String title;
  int year;
  Map<String, String> cast;
  List<String> reviews;

The SQL schema of the dataset would be:

(title STRING, year INT, cast MAP<STRING, STRING>, reviews ARRAY<STRING>)

Refer to the Hive language manual for more details on schema and data types.

Scanning Records

The second requirement for enabling SQL queries over a Dataset is to provide a means of scanning the Dataset record by record. Similar to how the BatchReadable interface makes Datasets readable by Map/Reduce jobs by iterating over pairs of key and value, RecordScannable iterates over records. You need to implement a method to partition the Dataset into splits, and an additional method to create a record scanner for each split:

List<Split> getSplits();
RecordScanner<RECORD> createSplitRecordScanner(Split split);

The RecordScanner is very similar to a SplitReader; except that instead of nextKeyValue(), getCurrentKey(), and getCurrentValue(), it implements nextRecord() and getCurrentRecord().

Typically, you do not implement these methods from scratch but rely on the BatchReadable implementation of the underlying Tables and Datasets. For example, if your Dataset is backed by a Table:

class MyDataset implements Dataset, RecordScannable<Entry> {

  private Table table;
  private static final byte[] VALUE_COLUMN = { 'c' };

  // ..
  // All other Dataset methods
  // ...

  public Type getRecordType() {
    return Entry.class;

  public List<Split> getSplits() {
    return table.getSplits();

  public RecordScanner<Entry> createSplitRecordScanner(Split split) {

    final SplitReader<byte[], Row> reader = table.createSplitReader(split);

    return new RecordScanner<Entry>() {
      public void initialize(Split split) {

      public boolean nextRecord() {
        return reader.nextKeyValue();

      public Entry getCurrentRecord()  {
        return new Entry(

      public void close() {


While this is straightforward, it is even easier if your Dataset already implements BatchReadable. In that case, you can reuse its implementation of getSplits() and implement the split record scanner with a helper method (Scannables.splitRecordScanner) already defined by Reactor. It takes a split reader and a RecordMaker that transforms a key and value, as produced by the BatchReadable‘s split reader, into a record:

public RecordScanner<Entry> createSplitRecordScanner(Split split) {
  return Scannables.splitRecordScanner(
    new Scannables.RecordMaker<byte[], Row, Entry>() {
      public Entry makeRecord(byte[] key, Row row) {
        return new Entry(Bytes.toString(key), row.getInt(VALUE_COLUMN));

Note there is an even simpler helper (Scannables.valueRecordScanner) that derives a split record scanner from a split reader. For each key and value returned by the split reader it ignores the key and returns each the value. For example, if your dataset implements BatchReadable<String, Employee>, then you can implement RecordScannable<Employee> by defining:

public RecordScanner<Employee> createSplitRecordScanner(Split split) {
  return Scannables.valueRecordScanner(table.createSplitReader(split));

An example demonstrating an implementation of RecordScannable is included in the Continuuity Reactor SDK in the directory examples/Purchase, namely the PurchaseHistoryStore.

Formulating Queries

When creating your queries, keep these limitations in mind:

  • The query syntax of the Reactor is a subset of the variant of SQL that was first defined by Apache Hive.
  • In contrast to HiveQL, Reactor queries only allow reading from data sets, not writing
  • These SQL commands are not allowed on Reactor Datasets: INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE.
  • When addressing your datasets in queries, you need to prefix the data set name with the Reactor namespace. For example, if your Dataset is named ProductCatalog, then the corresponding table name is continuuity_user_ProductCatalog.

Where to Go Next

Now that you’ve seen ad-hoc querying, take a look at: