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Is UNQL Dead? Future of NoSQL Query Languages | ArangoDB Blog 2012

Note: We changed the name of the database in May 2012. AvocadoDB is now called ArangoDB.

UNQL started with quite some hype last year. However, after some burst of activity the project came to a hold. So it seems, that – at least as a project – UNQL has been a failure. IMHO one of the major issues with the current UNQL is, that it tries to cover everything in NoSQL, from key-value stores to document-stores to graph-database. Basically you end up with greatest common divisor – namely key-value access. But with graph structures and also document-structures you really want to supports joins, paths or some sort of sub-structures.

Apart from all the technical and theoretical benefits of SQL and what advantages the underlying theory has to offer, the major plus from an users point of view is that it is readable. You simple can see an SQL statement – be it in C, Java, Ruby – and understand what is going on. It is declarative, not imperative. With other imperative solution, like a fluent interface or a map-reduce, you need to understand the underlying syntax or language. With SQL you only need to understand English – at least most of the time.

And here I think is where UNQL is totally right. We need something similar for the NoSQL world. But it should not try to be a “fits all situation”. It should be a fit for 80% of the problems. For simple key-values stores a fluent-interface is indeed enough. For very complex graph traversals a traversal program must be written. For very complex map-reduces you might need to write a program – but check out Google’s talk (www.nosql-matters.org/program) about NoNoSQL. There they describe why they are developing a SQL-like interface for Map/Reduce.

In my experience most of the time you have a set of collections holding different “types” of documents with some relations between them. One of the biggest advantages of document stores or graph databases is that you can have lists and sub-objects. The problem with SQL is, that it has no good way to deal with these structures. So I believe UNQL would be quite successful if it would concentrate on these strong advantages of NoSQL, instead of trying to unify everything – especially after hear Jan’s talk about a document query language at the NoSQL Cologne UG (an English version is also available).



  1. […] * Is UNQL Dead? […]

  2. wcandillon on September 27, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Since this summer, their is a new proposal on the table for being the SQL of NoSQL: http://jsoniq.org.

    • Frank Celler on September 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm

       Yes, indeed. I like the direction in which this is going. A much more “programmatic” approach. I think this is easier to understand when dealing with lists and arrays. Jan has developed AQL in a very similar direction: https://www.arangodb.com/2012/06/20/querying-a-nosql-database-the-elegant-way

    • jsteemann on September 28, 2012 at 9:35 am

      At a first glance, jsoniq looks very nice.
      For simple access patterns (by primary key) it may be still overkill,
      however, NoSQL vendors could still keep APIs for such queries where
      query parsing & planning overhead is undesired.

      But anyway, having a “standard” query language at least for JSON document databases would be help as users wouldn’t need to learn a new language/concept for each database.

      I hope jsoniq will get more adoption than UNQL got.

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