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How to Define Entities and Relationships in the PicoLisp Database

Now we know how we can save objects to a persistent data base file, let's see what other tools we have to make life easier for us. For this purpose, we can use the PicoLisp Entity-Relation Framework.

Some basic vocabulary

First of all, let's get clear on the basic vocabulary. What is an entity, and what is a relation?

In its most basic meaning, an entity is an object that exists (physically or logically). That's the only requirement. A relationship captures how entities are related to one another.

Usually all objects in a PicoLisp database are of a direct or indirect subclass of +Entity, and relationships are subclasses of the abstract class +relation. The relation of an entity to other data can be described using the rel function. Entity-Relation is sometimes abbreviated as "E/R".

An example

Let's say we want to describe a family model in our database. A family consits of persons. So let's define a class +Person that inherits directly from +Entity (like normally all database objects do).

We create a PicoLisp file called family-dbmodel.l and define our +Person class.

(class +Person +Entity)
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What kind of relations does a person have? First of all, a person has a name. In our model, the name should be required ( +Need), and a name needs to be a string (+String). Also, we want to be able to search our database for that name as full-text (+Idx), and also find it if we mistyped due to phonetic similarities (+Sn for soundex algorithm).

(rel name (+Need +Sn +Idx +String))
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What else? A person probably has a birthday and possibly also a day of death (+Date), probably also a job (+String), and maybe some additional info that we didn't think of yet (+String). It would be nice if we could find our person by searching and filtering our database for jobs or birthday/death date (+Ref for non-unique indexes).

(rel job (+Ref +String))             
(rel birthday (+Ref +Date))                
(rel deathday (+Ref +Date))                 
(rel info (+String))                    
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Also, we should define some subclasses to distinguish between men (+Man) and women (+Woman). Let's not consider any other gender constellations here because it would make it too complicated (like in real life). Men and women are inheriting the above defined relationships from +Person:

(class +Man +Person)
(class +Woman +Person)
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Now we come to the interesting part: The family relationship. In PicoLisp, we can define three main types of object-to-object relations:

  • +Link: an uni-directional link to some other entity,
  • +Joint: a bi-directional link to some other entity,
  • +Hook: a reference to an entity holding object-local index trees.

Any person can have a partner (we keep it simple - only one). This is clearly a bidirectional relationship, because the the entity's partner's partner is the entity itself. Every person can have a partner relationship.

(rel partner (+Joint) partner (+Person))
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Next, the parents-kids-relationship. Any person has exactly one father. That person needs to be a +Man. On the father side, the entity appears at kid.

(rel father (+Joint) kids (+Man))
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Analogously for the mother:

(rel mother (+Joint) kids (+Woman))
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What is the advantage of using +Joint relationship classes? For example, it can be useful if the relationship gets deleted from one side of the entity. Let's say, a person is getting a new partner. Then automatically, the partner property of the other entity gets cleared (he/she is single). On the other hand, if the new partner of that entity already had a partner, then their relationship is cut off too. This is all maintained automatically.

Now there is one last thing we need to define: We said that a person has a father, who on the other side has a property kids. A person can only have exactly one father, but an undefined number of kids. So let's define those as +List:

(class +Man +Person)
(rel kids (+List +Joint) father (+Person)) 

(class +Woman +Person)
(rel kids (+List +Joint) mother (+Person)) 
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This is all we need to define our data model. In the next post, we will see how we can use it.

Obviously we didn't cover all relationships in this little example. You can find an overview over the most important relation classes in the PicoLisp documentation in the chapter "Entities/Relations".


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