Secondary dimensions

Dimensions characterize the relational structure of the tables processed by Envision. With the proper dimensions in place between the tables of interest, most operations can be performed with little syntactic overhead. This approach differs from the more traditional approach taken by query languages, like SQL, which emphasize explicit joins.

In Envision, broadcasts and aggregations derives from the presence of dimensions. A table can be broadcast into all its downstream tables. A table can be aggregated into all its upstream table. Below, we do not revisit those operations. Instead, we strictly focus on the dimensions which allow them in the first place.

Table of contents

Primary and secondary dimensions

Each table has one, and only one, primary dimension. The table can be seen as a “container” of vectors, while the primary dimension can be seen as the “shared structure” that is backing every vector. The primary dimension is frequently implicit:

table Colors = with
  [| "red" as Color |]
  [| "blue"        |]
  [| "green"       |]

show table "Colors" a1a3 with Colors.Color

In the above script, the primary dimension of the table Colors exists but remains implicit. This dimension can be named:

table Colors[c] = with
  [| "red" as Color |]
  [| "blue"         |]
  [| "green"        |]

show table "Colors" a1a3 with Colors.Color

In the above script, the primary dimension is named c. It is auto-generated with the type ordinal.

The ordinal type has some uses in Envision, but these are for relatively fringe cases. In practice, when explicitly naming a primary dimension, it is also of interest to have this vector explicitly constructed as well:

table Colors[color] = with
  [| "red" as Color |]
  [| "blue"         |]
  [| "green"        |]

show table "Colors" a1a3 with name

In the above script, as the name of the primary dimension color associated with the declaration of the table Colors matches the name of one of the input vectors, this matching vector becomes the primary dimension itself.

Let’s point out that not all vectors can become a primary dimension: values have to be distinct, or the creation of the primary dimension fails at runtime, as illustrated by:

table Colors[color] = with
  [| "red" as Color |]
  [| "blue"         |]
  [| "green"        |]
  [| "green"        |] // WRONG! Duplicate!

show table "Colors" a1a3 with color

A secondary dimension is a vector that only contains values originating from a known primary dimension. The secondary dimension is found in a table that differs from the table originally associated with the primary dimension. Let’s refer to those two tables as the primary table and secondary table. The concept of secondary dimension comes with one central property: when a secondary dimension is present, every line of the secondary table has exactly one corresponding line in the primary table.

The simplest way to add a secondary dimension consists of directly leveraging a (primary) dimension to construct one of its vectors:

table Colors[color] = with
  [| "red" as Color |]
  [| "blue"         |]
  [| "green"        |]

table Products = with
  [| "Hat" as Label, color as color |]
  [| "Shirt",        color          |]

where Colors.color == "red" // 2 lines displayed
  show table "Products" a1b6 with Products.Label, Products.color

In the above script, the vector Products.color is directly constructed through color - the primary dimension of the table Colors. As a result, the table Products gets color as a secondary dimension. The presence of this secondary dimension within the table Products is demonstrated by the impact of the where filter applied to the table Colors, which triggers a secondary filter on the Products table.

In the Envision terminology, the table that contains the secondary dimension is referred to as being downstream of the table that contains the primary dimension. Conversely, the table that contains the primary dimension is referred to as being upstream of the table that contains the secondary dimension. These concepts of upstream and downstream play an important role in the mechanics involved with the each blocks, which will be introduced later.

The creation of the secondary dimension requires the vector to match the name of the primary dimension, otherwise, a vector is created based on the values found in the primary dimension but without enforcing the newly created vector as being a secondary dimension:

table Colors[color] = with
 [| "red" as Color |]
 [| "blue"         |]
 [| "green"        |]

table Products = with
 [| "Hat" as Label, color as Variant |]
 [| "Shirt",        color            |]

where Colors.color == "red" // 6 lines displayed
 show table "Products" a1b6 with Products.Label, Products.Variant

In the above script, the where filter applied to Colors has no effect on Products. The vector Products.Variant is merely a vector of type text. The values of this vector originate from the vector Colors.color (which could also be more concisely written as color) but the dimensional aspect is ignored.

Filtering and dimensions

Filtering is a mechanism in Envision that creates a table out of a pre-existing table. Filtering preserves dimensions, primary or secondary, if any, as secondary dimensions:

table Colors[color] = with
  [| "red" as Color, 0 as Code |]
  [| "blue",         1         |]
  [| "green",        2         |]

table Products = with // 6 lines
  [| "Hat" as Label, color as color |]
  [| "Shirt",        color          |]

table FewProducts = where not (Products.Label == "Hat" and color == "red")

FewProducts.Label = Products.Label
FewProducts.ColorCode = Colors.Code // 'color' as secondary dimension

show table "Some products" with FewProducts.Label, FewProducts.ColorCode

In the above script, the table Products has color as a secondary dimension. The table FewProducts inherits this secondary dimension as a secondary dimension of its own via the table creation mechanism table FewProducts = where ...

Similarly, a primary dimension can also be inherited, but it will be inherited as a secondary dimension instead of a primary one:

table Colors[color] = with
  [| "red" as Color, 0 as Code |]
  [| "blue",         1         |]
  [| "green",        2         |]

table FewColors = where color != "red"

FewColors.Code = Colors.Code

show table "Some products" with FewColors.Code

In the above script, the table Colors has color as its primary dimension. The table FewColors inherits color as a secondary dimension via the same table creation mechanism.

Adding a secondary dimension

As secondary dimensions are pivotal in Envision to express operations across multiple tables without resorting to explicit joins, Envision offers a short series of mechanisms to add a secondary dimension to a table, namely:

Those mechanisms have in common that, once the name dim has been given to a dimension, a vector T.dim can only exist if it represents that dimension in the table T. Pre-existing variables (prior to the introduction of the dimension) become hidden and inaccessible. Furthermore, no value can be assigned to T.dim outside the three mechanisms listed in this section to add a secondary dimension to the table T.

Safe at compile time

A secondary dimension can be added at compile time when the Envision compiler can prove that the operation is correct. The situations where such a proof can be obtained without obtaining the dimension by design through the construction of the table itself are somewhat rare. Such a situation occurs with cross tables (cross tables will be detailed later on):

table Colors[color] = with
  [| "red" as Color, 0 as Code |]
  [| "blue"        , 1         |]
  [| "green"       , 2         |]

table Products = with // 6 lines
  [| "Hat" as Label, color as color |]
  [| "Shirt",        color          |]

table Locations = with
  [|"New York" as City |]
  [| "Paris"           |]

table SKUs = cross(Locations, Products) // 12 lines

SKUs.color = Products.color // 'color' dimension added to 'SKUs'
SKUs.ColorCode = Colors.Code

show table "SKUs" with Locations.City, Products.Label, SKUs.ColorCode

In the above script, the table SKUs is a Cartesian product between Locations and Products. The table SKUs is referred to as a cross table and it does not automatically inherit the secondary dimensions from its source tables. However, color, which is already a secondary dimension of Products, is declared as a secondary dimension of SKUs via the assignment SKUs.color = Products.color.

The syntax U.dim = T.dim, where dim is a dimension, represents a special type of assignment which goes being the simple broadcast: the dimension dim becomes a secondary dimension of the table U. However, let’s immediately point out that in the general case, the Envision compiler cannot prove that such an assignment is correct. Thus, unless there are some special circumstances that make this proof possible, as illustrated by the cross table case above, such an assignment typically results in a compilation error.

Safe at runtime

A secondary dimension can be added at runtime while performing a filtering operation at the same time. The purpose of the filter is to remove all the values that do not match the dimension. Thus, by construction, whatever passes through the filter, possibly nothing, offers a proper secondary dimension:

table Colors[color] = with
  [| "red" as Color, 0 as Code |]
  [| "blue",         1         |]
  [| "green",        2         |]

table Products = with 
  [| "Hat" as Label, "red" as Col |]
  [| "Shirt",        "blue"       |]
  [| "Shirt",        "white"      |]

where Products.color = Products.Col
  show table "Products" a1b3 with Products.Label, Colors.Code // 2 lines

In the above script, the statement where Products.color = Products.Col is both a filter and an addition of a secondary dimension to the table Products. With color as a secondary dimension, it becomes possible to broadcast from Colors into Products, which happens in the display of the table tile.

The syntax where T.dim = expr requires dim to be a named primary dimension. Assuming that the expression on the right side of the assignment has the correct type and that the expression does broadcast into the table T, the operation always succeeds, no matter whether the expression returns values matching those of dim or not. If zero matches are found then the table T is empty within the where block.

Guarded at runtime

A secondary dimension can be added at runtime on the premise that values will be valid dimension-wise and suffer an execution failure otherwise:

table Colors[color] = with
  [| "red" as Color, 0 as Code |]
  [| "blue",         1         |]
  [| "green",        2         |]

table Products = with 
  [| "Hat" as Label, "red" as Col |]
  [| "Shirt",        "blue"       |]
  [| "Shirt",        "red"        |]

expect Products.color = Products.Col

show table "Products" a1b3 with Products.Label, Colors.Code

In the above script, the statement expect Products.color = Products.Col is more than a simple vector assignment: the dimension color is added as a secondary dimension to the table Products. The values found in Products.Col are matched with those found in the vector color. If a value found in Products.Col cannot be found in color, then the execution fails.

The syntax expect T.dim = expr also requires dim to be a named primary dimension. Unlike the where T.dim = expr mechanism, this mechanism can fail. The mechanism is referred to as guarded because this syntax still offers a certain degree of correctness: a successful execution of the script occurs if, and only if, the values of the expression do match the values of the dimension.