Alf in Shell

This page provides an introduction to using Alf in Shell. Please refer to alf --help and alf help COMMAND for further details. Note that, Alf does not currently provide ways to perform updates using the shell interface. The following section describe the most typical use cases of the commandline tool:

  • Querying data from files (.json, .csv and the like)
  • Querying SQL databases around
  • Exporting data in various format
  • Piping with alf itself... and other processes
  • Keeping configuration in a .alfrc file
  • Executing and analyzing complex queries

Querying data files

Alf recognizes various data formats such as .csv, .json, .yaml and so on. It allows you to query such files and export data in those formats.

Suppose that you have the suppliers.csv file in the current folder. Visualizing the content of this file as a relation is as simple as:

$ alf show suppliers

Please note that the .csv extension must not be specified. In fact, Alf connects to the current folder as if it was a database, so that recognized files are seen as candidate relations. In other words, the example below works as soon as suppliers and shipments can be tracked to recognized files. Try it yourself using suppliers.csv and shipments.json:

$ alf show "join(suppliers, shipments)"

Querying databases

Querying databases is not different. The --db option allows you to specify which database to connect to. For instance, the invocations above are shortcuts for:

$ alf --db=. show suppliers

Therefore, querying a SQLite database sap.sqlite3 in the current folder:

alf --db=sap.sqlite3 show "restrict(suppliers, city: 'London')"

And a postgresql database:

alf --db=postgres://user:password@host/database show parts

Alf example database (the suppliers and parts examplar) can also be used when learning alf:

alf --examples show suppliers

Exporting data in various formats

By default, alf show outputs relations as a plain/text ascii table. You can of course specify other data output formats. For instance, exporting a query in .json can be done as follows:

alf --json show "restrict(suppliers, city: 'London')"

Other data formats are available through --csv and --yaml and --rash (ruby hashes, one per line).

Piping and data conversion

Alf also supports receiving data from its standard input through a special stdin operand. Suppose for example that you want to restrict some csv tuples outputted by a process, here a simple cat:

cat suppliers.csv | alf --stdin=csv show "restrict(stdin, city: 'London')"

That means that you can very easily use alf to convert from one data format to another one. Converting a .csv file to .json?

cat suppliers.csv | alf --stdin=csv --json show stdin

And some extra. Want to search over content served by a RESTful web service? What countries use euros, for instance?

curl | alf --stdin=json show "restrict(stdin, currency: 'EUR')"

Using an .alfrc file

When invoked from the command line, Alf looks after a .alfrc in the current folder and its ancestors and loads its default configuration from there if found. A typical .alfrc file looks as follows:

alfrc do |c|
  # Adapter to use, same as `--db=...`
  c.adapter = "postgres://user:password@host/database"

  # additional load paths, same as `-Ilib -Ispec`
  c.load_paths |= [ "lib", "spec" ]

  # additional libraries to require, same as `-rfoo -rbar`
  c.requires |= ["foo", "bar"]

See Alf::Shell::Alfrc for more information and available options.

Evaluating and analyzing complex queries

Passing queries between quotes may become cumbersome when they get complex. Hopefully, Alf recognizes files with an .alf extension and treat them in a special way. Suppose you have a complex query in a complex-query.alf file.

suppliers_by_city = group(suppliers, [:sid, :name, :status], :suppliers)
parts_by_city     = group(parts, [:city], :parts, allbut: true)
joined            = join(suppliers_by_city, parts_by_city)
restrict(joined, city: "London")

Then, passing this file to show simply executes the complex query:

$ alf --db=... show complex-query.alf

In addition, you can always verify how Alf optimize and execute your queries using the explain command:

$ alf --db=... explain complex-query.alf