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Style Guide

These guidelines are consistently applied when we build data transformation flows, and serve a few purposes:

  • Consistency across transformation flows
  • Clarity on how to think about and work with data
  • Readability of code and logical flow
  • Capability extensions from the flowfunctions library

SQL Style

When you spend time writing SQL which writes other SQL (sometimes executed by other SQL), it's natural to think quite carefully about how to write SQL. As such we have some simple guidelines which support code readability, clarity and maintainability. Of course rules are made to be broken so these are not always set in stone, however they hold in the vast majority of use-cases.

If in doubt, decide how to structure your code based on how easily it can be understood when reading from top to bottom without any context. This is especially pertinent in e.g. CASE statements where different approaches are more/less readable depending on the situation.

This supports modular, sequential operations, which are easier to understand, debug and extend. Clear, consistent naming of CTEs (a.k.a. flow steps) also negates the need for comments in your code, for which there is no standardised approach in SQL.

Good code can be read from top to bottom, whereas nested queries need to be read from the inside out, whilst also keeping track of nesting depth and potentially impactful clauses to the top and the bottom of the inner clause. Sometimes these are unavoidable (e.g. in succinct variable declaration where ordering is required) but try to use sparingly, if at all.

This is a style point, however for consistent readability we use CAPITAL LETTERS for all keywords and lower_case for all other names. This helps make a clear distinction between different parts of a query and makes it quicker to understand the query at a glance.

By left-justifying the keywords where possible, it becomes quicker to scan down and understand the purpose of a query without necessiating time consuming scanning across the screen.

There is no consistly defined or enforced indentation system in SQL, so avoid this to avoid confusion.

Although it is possible to use e.g. GROUP BY 1, 2, 3to group based on ordinal position, this should be avoided as it negatively impacts readability: the reader will need to then scan up the page to identify the precise grouping columns in the query. It is also less robust than grouping by specific columns as re-ordering the columns might produce inconsistent and erroneous results.

Column Naming Convention

Columns are always in Camel Case (i.e. lower case, separated by underscores e.g. video_views or media_id). If the column type is an array, they suffix _array is added to the column name.

When a column is aggregated, in order to preserve the relationship in the flow profile the new name should be descriptive, but include the source name as a substring (e.g. sum_video_views or total_video_views). This is so the columns can be related across flow stages using simple string comparisons.

Similar to aggregate columns, to maintain the relationship when profiling across the entire flow the derived column name should contain the source column name (e.g. media_id_deleted_flag or valid_video_views_flag).

Other Naming Conventions

A Transformation Flow is the end-to-end flow between inbound data and transformed outbound data. It is a set of inbound tables, followed by some intermediate transformation logic and a set of outbound tables. The important definitions here are:

  • Flow Dataset: A dataset containing individual stages (connected tables and views)
  • Flow Stage: A single table or view in a transformation flow
  • Flow Step: A common table expression within a SQL transformation flow stage

A transformation flow name is the shortest description of the flow, which will be used as the base for all related datasets. It might be as short as a single word (e.g. shopify) or multiple words sepearated by underscores (e.g. google_analytics).

Suffixes are used to group datasets within transformation flows, added to the transformation flow name. This means that the flow datasets will appear adjacent to each other in the user interface or in any ordered list. The following suffixes are recommended at a minimum:

  • _admin: for administrative tables, views and custom functions (e.g. inbound data monitoring, GCS bucket inventory or table refresh automation)
  • _inbound or no suffix: for inbound tables only
  • _transform or _flow: core transformation views, intermediate tables where required and outbound views/tables

These datasets might also be required when undertaking ad-hoc data quality checks or performing staged transformation flow development:

  • _qa: ad-hoc data quality checks and QA development.
  • _staging: a parallel transformation flow replica for development without impacting an existing live transformation flow

Flow stage names consist of two distinct and important parts, separated by a single underscore:

  • Flow Stage Index (flow_stage_index): a three-to four digit numerical identifier1 (e.g. 201)
  • Flow Stage Title (flow_stage_title): a descriptive title of the outcome of the flow stage (e.g. deduplicate_sessions)

The flow_stage_index and flow_stage_title are then combined into the flow_stage_name (e.g. 201_deduplicate_sessions). This means that each flow stage name is descriptive enough to be human readable, and also is sequenced logically when reading the stages alphabetically.

The only precise rules for definition of the indices and titles are:

  • The flow_stage_index and flow_stage_title should be separated by a single underscore (_) as the flow_stage_index will be parsed from the name
  • Flow Stages can only reference other Flow Stages with lower indices (e.g. 201 can reference 107 but not 305)
  • Flow Stage titles should begin with an active verb where possible, and should be a concise description of the objective/outcome (e.g. aggregate_to_sessions, deduplicate_users)

Note that if a flow stage is an exact replica of an upstream flow stage, then the flow_stage_title needs to be identical, with an incremented flow_stage_index. For example if you want to include a match table from Google Sheets but do not want downstream data consumers to require federated access to the source sheet:

  • 010_match_table_usergroups
  • 011_match_table_usergroups

The identical flow_stage_title means that these will be parsed as related when mapping dependencies, and the sequence of the index means that 011 will be after (and therefore dependent on) 010 in all dependency representations.

Flow steps are the common table expressions which combine into individual flow stages. This style is very important as it supports building the transformation flow stages in a clear, extensibe, testable and parseable manner. This code structure is:

inbound_data AS (
FROM project.dataset.table

do_something AS (
FROM inbound_data

FROM do_something

These should be named using the following conventions:

  • Begin with an active verb followed by a more detailed description of the stage objective/outcome (e.g. unnest_hits_array, flag_duplicate_rows, join_user_groupings_to_user_data). Conciseness is not so much of an issue here as long names will not be truncated in the user interface.
  • Make clear, specific and unambiguous references to specific actions and/or columns.
  • Do not give a flow step the same name as an existing column or anything else which might make the code confusing and/or ambiguous.

  1. This approach is loosely based on the Johnny.Decimal file organisation system, and is intended to be simple and flexible without being overly prescriptive.