CJ Date's relation variables as a JavaScript class, with helpers
Last updated 4 years ago by othiym23 .
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$ cnpm install relvar 
SYNC missed versions from official npm registry.


This package allows you to define and create relvars.

A relvar (short for relation variable) is defined by CJ Date as the following:

Very loosely, a table (variable); more precisely, a variable whose type is some relation type. Let relation variable R be of declared type T; then R has the same heading (and therefore the same attributes and degree) as type T does. Let the value of R at some given time be r; then R has the same body and cardinality at that time as r does.

A relation type is analogous to a SQL table definition:

Let H be a heading; then (and only then) RELATION H denotes a relation type—in fact, the sole relation type—with the same degree and attributes as H.

Finally, a heading is a set of attributes that define the tuples stored in the relvar:

A set of attributes, in which (by definition) each attribute is a pair of the form <A,T>, where A is an attribute name and T is the name of the type of attribute A; especially, the set of attributes for a given relation or given relvar. Every subset of a heading is itself a heading. Within any given heading, (a) distinct attributes are allowed to have the same type name but not the same attribute name; (b) the number of attributes is the degree (of the heading in question).

(all quotes taken from The New Relational Database Dictionary)

To put it all together, a relvar comprises a heading that defines the number, name, and types of the elements of a set of tuples that can be used as an operand in the operations of the relational algebra and calculus. When it's reified into an on-disk value, it becomes a relation value. Basically, a relvar is analogous to a query result or a database view in a SQL RDBMS, and a relation value is (more or less) a table on disk.

This package exports a constructor for relvars as well as a set of utility functions for validating and serializing commonly-used types for tuple attributes. It doesn't include a relational algebra / calculus, a storage engine, or a query language. Having all of these things available would be super cool, though.

defining relvars

import Relvar from 'relvar';
import { isFixnum, serializeFixnum } from 'relvar';

import isColor from './predicates/is-color.js';

function isPNO (str) {
  if (!/[^[Pp]\d+]/.test(str)) {
    throw new TypeError(str + ' is not a valid part number');
  return true;

const isWeight = isFixnum(1);
const serializeWeight = serializeFixnum(1);

const parts = new Relvar([
  { name: 'PNO', type: isPNO },
  { name: 'PNAME', type: String },
  { name: 'COLOR', type: isColor, default: 'Green' },
  { name: 'WEIGHT', type: isWeight, serialize: serializeWeight },
  { name: 'CITY', type: String }

// works:
parts.add(new Map([
  ['PNO', 'P1'],
  // attributes can be out of order relative to heading
  ['color', 'Red'],
  ['PName', 'Nut'],
  ['WEIGHT', 12.0], // value objects don't have to be strings
  ['city', 'London']

// also works:
parts.add(new Map([
  ['PNO', 'P2'],
  ['PNAME', 'Bolt'],
  // color is defaulted
  ['WEIGHT', '17.0'],
  ['CITY', 'Paris']

// doesn't work:
try {
  parts.add(new Map([
    // missing PNO
    ['PNAME', 'Screw'],
    ['COLOR', 'Blue'],
    ['WEIGHT', '17.0'],
    ['CITY', 'Oslo']
} catch (e) {
  console.warn("that wasn't a good idea:", e.message)

// also doesn't work:
try {
  parts.add(new Map([
    ['PNO', 'S4'], // values must be valid
    ['PNAME', 'Screw'],
    ['COLOR', 'Red'],
    ['WEIGHT', null], // values can't be null or undefined
    ['CITY', 'London']
} catch (e) {
  console.warn('still not a good idea:', e.message)

let totalWeight = 0;
// uses iteration protocol
for (let tuple of parts) totalWeight += tuple.get('WEIGHT')

console.log('Total weight of parts is:', totalWeight)
assert(totalWeight === 29)

Some things to note in this example:

  • Attribute names aren't case sensitive, either in the heading definition or when fetching values from a tuple.
  • Both the heading and entry tuples are unordered sets; on the down side, this means that every value must be explicitly named, but on the up side, there's no need to remember what order attributes need to go in.
  • The heading is passed to the relvar constructor as an iterable list of option objects. More on their structure below.
  • Unlike SQL schemas, values are not nullable in relvars.
  • The body is also an iterable set of tuples (implemented as Maps).
  • It is safe to use the values of each tuple key as their intended type because they're validated on addition.
  • Validators and serializers must be self-contained, serializable functions. This is because the heading should be itself serializable into an RDBMS's data dictionary.


Stored on the produced relvar as relvar.heading.


Any valid JavaScript string. As a convenience, case is ignored both on definition and access; all strings are UTF-8 and will be case-folded according to the rules of the locale of the current JS environment (TODO: allow the locale to be defined on the relvar).


A function that, given a string, returns whether the string can be interpreted as a valid member of the type's domain. Returns true or false, or throws a TypeError with a more descriptive validation failure message. NOTE: all errors except TypeErrors will be rethrown.

Type-validation functions must be simple functions with no variables included from an enclosing lexical scope. Type validators may be serialized into a data dictionary. Note that object wrappers for JavaScript's built-in value objects (Strings, Numbers, etc) can be used directly.


An object containing a pair of { read, write } functions to serialize and deserialize an object. read and write must both be simple functions, as with type functions above (and for the same reason).

write is called indirectly when toJSON() is called on a tuple entry. read is called whenever a value is added (relvars always assume that attribute values start as strings).

read and write are invoked with the value to be de/serialized and the type function so that they can ensure they're being given valid values.


The default value for an attribute. This value will be matched against the attribute's type function.

design notes

testing with Babel

I've always placed a high value on backwards compatibility.

  • At New Relic, we stipulated that as tooling vendors we had little control over what versions of Node.js our customers were running into production. For a while, at least one large potential customer had important services running under Node 0.6.
  • At npm, it's more important to the project that users be running a current npm than a recent version of Node, so for the sake of ops teams running legacy Node, we supported all the way back to 0.8 until very recently.

At the same time, I really like using new JavaScript features, and I'd really like to use those features in my tests. I use tap to write tests, because @isaacs is thoughtful about developer UX, and he and @bcoe have put considerable work into choosing a useful set of features, including coverage, and semi-automatic reporting of coverage information.

A feature that tap doesn't include is support for working with transpilers. There are some complicated setups that will make this work, but I decided to try something new. Instead of having a potentially-transpiled set of ES code under test/, I'm putting the ES 2015 version of the tests in src/tap. That way, they'll be transpiled with the rest of the source, and can then be run with tap lib/tap/*.js and no further ceremony.

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