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The move toward declarative query languages

An advantage of specifying joins as relational operators, compared to spelling out the code that performs the join, is that the framework can analyze the properties of the join inputs and automatically decide which of the aforementioned join algorithms would be most suitable for the task at hand. Hive, Spark, and Flink have cost-based query optimizers that can do this, and even change the order of joins so that the amount of intermediate state is minimized [66, 77, 78, 79].

The choice of join algorithm can make a big difference to the performance of a batch job, and it is nice not to have to understand and remember all the various join algorithms we discussed in this chapter. This is possible if joins are specified in a declarative way: the application simply states which joins are required, and the query optimizer decides how they can best be executed. We previously came across this idea in “Query Languages for Data” on page 42.

However, in other ways, MapReduce and its dataflow successors are very different from the fully declarative query model of SQL. MapReduce was built around the idea of function callbacks: for each record or group of records, a user-defined function (the mapper or reducer) is called, and that function is free to call arbitrary code in order to decide what to output. This approach has the advantage that you can draw upon a large ecosystem of existing libraries to do things like parsing, natural language analysis, image analysis, and running numerical or statistical algorithms.

The freedom to easily run arbitrary code is what has long distinguished batch processing systems of MapReduce heritage from MPP databases (see “Comparing Hadoop to Distributed Databases” on page 414); although databases have facilities for writing user-defined functions, they are often cumbersome to use and not well integrated with the package managers and dependency management systems that are widely used in most programming languages (such as Maven for Java, npm for JavaScript, and Rubygems for Ruby).

However, dataflow engines have found that there are also advantages to incorporating more declarative features in areas besides joins. For example, if a callback function contains only a simple filtering condition, or it just selects some fields from a record, then there is significant CPU overhead in calling the function on every record. If such simple filtering and mapping operations are expressed in a declarative way, the query optimizer can take advantage of column-oriented storage layouts (see “Column-Oriented Storage” on page 95) and read only the required columns from disk. Hive, Spark DataFrames, and Impala also use vectorized execution (see “Memory bandwidth and vectorized processing” on page 99): iterating over data in a tight inner loop that is friendly to CPU caches, and avoiding function calls. Spark generates JVM bytecode [79] and Impala uses LLVM to generate native code for these inner loops [41].

By incorporating declarative aspects in their high-level APIs, and having query optimizers that can take advantage of them during execution, batch processing frameworks begin to look more like MPP databases (and can achieve comparable performance). At the same time, by having the extensibility of being able to run arbitrary code and read data in arbitrary formats, they retain their flexibility advantage.

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