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Juan Soto

"Representations and Optimizations for Embedded Parallel Dataflow Languages" paper accepted for publication in ACM TODS

'''Representations and Optimizations for Embedded Parallel Dataflow Languages''', Alexander Alexandrov, Georgi Karstev, and Volker Markl . 2018. ACM Transactions on Database Systems (TODS) 9.4.

Parallel dataflow engines such as Apache Hadoop, Apache Spark, and Apache Flink are an established alternative to relational databases for modern data analysis applications. A characteristic of these systems is a scalable programming model based on distributed collections and parallel transformations expressed by means of second order functions such as map and reduce. Notable examples are Flink’s DataSet and Spark’s RDD programming abstractions. These programming models are realized as EDSLs – domain specific languages embedded in a general-purpose host language such as Java, Scala, or Python. This approach has several advantages over traditional external DSLs such as SQL or XQuery. First, syntactic constructs from the host language (e.g. anonymous functions syntax, value definitions, and _fluent syntax via method chaining) can be reused in the EDSL. This eases the learning curve for developers already familiar with the host language. Second, it allows for seamless integration of library methods written in the host language via the function parameters passed to the parallel dataflow operators. This reduces the effort for developing analytics dataflows that go beyond pure SQL and require domain-specific logic.

At the same time, however, state-of-the-art parallel dataflow EDSLs exhibit a number of shortcomings. First, one of the main advantages of an external DSL such as SQL – the high-level, declarative Select-From-Where syntax – is either lost completely or mimicked in a non-standard way. Second, execution aspects such as caching, join order, and partial aggregation have to be decided by the programmer. Optimizing them automatically is very difficult due to the limited program context available in the intermediate representation of the DSL. In this paper, we argue that the limitations listed above are a side effect of the adopted type-based embedding approach. As a solution, we propose an alternative EDSL design based on quotations. We present a DSL embedded in Scala and discuss its compiler pipeline, intermediate representation, and some of the enabled optimizations. We promote the algebraic type of bags in union representation as a model for distributed collections, and its associated structural recursion scheme and monad as a model for parallel collection processing. At the source code level, Scala’s comprehension syntax over a bag monad can be used to encode Select-From-Where expressions in a standard way. At the intermediate representation level, maintaining comprehensions as a first-class citizen can be used to simplify the design and implementation of holistic dataflow optimizations that accommodate for nesting and control-flow. The proposed DSL design therefore reconciles the benefits of embedded parallel dataflow DSLs with the declarativity and optimization potential of external DSLs like SQL.