09 February 2010

Reports - Ways of Looking at Data – Part IV: Hierarchies

    There is a special type of entities that when related to each other, the relations put together form a hierarchy. It’s the case of assemblies and the components they are made of, a component could be at its turn an assembly formed from smaller components, resulting thus a structure known as Bill of Materials (BoM). Take for example a laptop made of parts like the keyboard, modem, hard disk, CD-ROM, microprocessor, volatile memory, graphic card, display, to name just a few of the main components, each of these parts are at their turn are made of smaller components that at their turn could be made from smaller components, and so on. Another popular example is the one of employees in an organization, following the line of command from CEO to the lowest person as importance, a person could be chief for more employees and have only one chief, resulting thus another hierarchical structure.

    Most of the hierarchies I met were having maximum 7 levels, where a level represents a parent-child relation, typically there is no need for higher hierarchies. In a RDBMS such relations are represented with self-referencing tables or self-referencing structures in case more than one table is used to represent the relation. The problem with such structures is that in order to get the whole hierarchy a join must be created for each relation, though as the number of levels could vary, such queries can become quite complex. Therefore RDBMS came with their own solutions in order to work with hierarchies

    There are several types of problems specific to hierarchies: 1. Building the hierarchy behind of an item in the structure
2. Identifying the top-most parent of an item in the structure
3. Identifying the top-most parent of an item in the structure and building the hierarchy behind it – a combination of the previous mentioned problems

Building the hierarchy

    SQL Server 2005 introduced the common table expressions (CTE), a powerful feature that allows building whole hierarchies in a simplistic manner. From a structural point of view a CTE has two elements – the anchor member defining the starting point of the query, respectively the recursive member that builds upon the anchor member. The starting point of the query in this case is the entity or entities for which the structure is built, and here there are 2 situations – we are looking for all topmost entities or for the entities matching a certain criteria, typically looking for one or more Product Numbers. The difference between the two scopes could lead to different approaches – whether to include the Product information in the CTE or to use the CTE only to built the hierarchical structure, and add only in the end the production information. Before things would become fuzzier let’s start with an example, here are the two approaches for defining the anchor member, the first query identifying the top-most assemblies, while the second searches for the components in the BOM that matches a criteria (e.g. the Product’s name starts with BK-R93R).
    So we have the starting point, how about the recursive member? Without using a CTE, normally we would have to join either of the two queries again with the BillofMaterials table in order to retrieve the components for the Products already retrieved, then the final result must be joined again with the BillofMaterials, and repeat this step over and over again until a predefined number of iterations are met, or until no components are retrieved anymore. Actually that’s what a CTE does too, and in order to make things simpler, a CTE has a name that it’s reused in the CTE in order to handle the recursive part, and outside of the CTE in order to use the final result. Supposing that CTE’s name is BOM here is the recursive member:
    The anchor and recursive member are merged in the CTE with the help of a UNION therefore the number of attributes must be the same and their data type must be compatible. Here is the final query:
    The TotalQty attribute has been introduced in order to show the cumulated quantity for each component, for example if the Assembly has the PerAssemblyQty 2 and the Component has the PerAssemblyQty 10 then the actual total quantity needed is 2*10.
    The Path attribute has been introduced in order to sort the hierarchy lexically based on the sequence formed from the ComponentID, it could have been used instead the Product Number.

Identifying the top-most parent

    The CTE can be used also for identifying the top-most parent of a given Product or set of Items, the second anchor query member could be used for this, while the recursive member would involve the reverse join between BOM and BillOfMaterials. Here is the final query:
    Given the fact that the final CTE output includes the output from each iteration when only the data from the last iteration are needed, this might not be the best solution. I would expect that the simulation of recursivity with the help of a temporary table would scale better in this case.

    Another interesting fact to note is that in this case more assemblies are found to match the criteria of top-most item, meaning that the BOMs are not partitioned – two BOMs could have common elements.

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