Fenl FAQ

Choosing between when and if

Fenl provides two predication functions:

  • if(condition, value) returns the value if the condition is true, and returns null in all other cases. The function’s result follows the standard continuity rules. For example, the result will be continuous if value and condition are both continuous, otherwise the result will be discrete.

  • when(condition, value) returns the value of value every time condition produces the value true. The result of when is always discrete, and produces values at the set of times condition produces the value true.

These functions filter values in different ways: if filters by replacing values with null, whereas when filters values by limiting the set of times at which values are produced. Kaskada’s compute engine is tabular, so in some cases the performance of if will be better than that of when because if can be applied as a simple transformation while when requires building a new table. In other cases, when may be more performant if it allows subsequent operations to be computed over a table with significantly fewer rows.

A general guideline is to use if for replacing values, and when for filtering values.

For example, use if and else to clean values:

Event.duration | if($input > 0) | else(0)

Alternately, use when to filter rows returned by a query:

Event | when(Event.kind == "conversion")

Joining expressions with different entities

The values produced by all Fenl expressions are either constant or associated with an entity. For example, the expression 42 produces a constant integer value. By comparison the expression ProductReview.stars might produce integer values associated with each review’s entity, for example a particular product.

Aggregations (e.g. sum, min, first) are scoped to each value’s entity key. Simple functions that accept multiple arguments (ie add or eq) require that their non-constant arguments have compatible entity key types, and operate between values with the same entity key.

This scoping behavior makes it easy to write common operations, but often times it’s necessary to combine values with different entity keys. The lookup function support supports these use cases. The lookup function takes two arguments: the first argument key (the key expression) describes the entity key being looked up, and the second argument value (the foreign expression) describes the value to be looked up:

lookup(key, value)

The key expression identifies the "other" entity key, and should be expressed as an operation on "this" entity’s values. For example, if we want to lookup some information about the reviewer associated with each individual product review, the key expression might be something like ProductReview.reviewer_id.

The value, or foreign expression, describes the value to look up, and should be expressed as an operation on the "other" entity’s values. Continuing the prior example, if we wanted to know the average number of stars a reviewer gives products, the foreign expression might be something like ProductReviewByReviewer.stars | mean().

Using these two expressions it’s possible to describe some facts about each product review:

  product_id:     ProductReview.product_id,
  reviewer:       ProductReview.reviewer_id,
  reviewer_avg:   lookup(ProductReview.reviewer_id, ProductReviewByReviewer.stars | mean()),
  reviewer_count: lookup(ProductReview.reviewer_id, ProductReviewByReviewer | count()),

A lookup expression produces the value of the foreign expression at every time the key expression produces a non-null value.