About this guide

This guide is a quick tutorial to help you get started with using Cascalog. It should take about 30 minutes to go through these examples. This guide covers:

  1. How to add Cascalog dependency to your project
  2. Word count example in both Java and Clojure
  3. Run a Cascalog query from Clojure nREPL
  4. Introduction to basic concepts
  5. Pointers for where to go next

What version of Cascalog does this guide cover?

This guide covers Cascalog 3.0.0.


  1. A Hadoop installation. You can setup a local single-node Hadoop on your computer.
  2. Leiningen or Maven.

Adding Cascalog dependency to your project

Clojure artifacts are released to Clojars repository.

With Leiningen

Add dependency to Cascalog.

[cascalog/cascalog-core "3.0.0"]

Add development dependency to Hadoop in your project.clj.

:profiles { :dev {:dependencies [[org.apache.hadoop/hadoop-core "1.2.1"]]}}

Bump up heap size for running Hadoop in local mode, also in your project.clj. Make sure that your heap size is set to at least 768 MB.

:jvm-opts ["-Xms768m" "-Xmx768m"]

With Maven

If you prefer to use Maven instead of Leiningen, add Clojars to your repositories.


Then add Cascalog dependency to your project.


Use Cascalog through Java or Clojure?

The native implementation of Cascalog is in Clojure. However, Cascalog provides a pure-Java interface called JCascalog that is perfectly interoperable with the Clojure version. Choose whichever interface that is comfortable for you to get started.

Word count example in Cascalog

Ready to begin? Bring up the Clojure prompt using Leiningen with lein repl in your project. Once you see user=>, type in the following to use the main Cascalog API.

(use 'cascalog.api)

The prompt should print nil and return control to you. For ease of demonstration, also load the built-in example namespace.

(use 'cascalog.playground)

Now that we have everything ready, let’s get some words to be counted. Conveniently, the cascalog.playground namespace contains a var sentence containing sentences. Take a look at it by typing:


Which prints out a series of vectors each of size 1.

Execution operator

Cascalog queries contain a source and a sink. The most basic of which as shown here is to read your data and directly write it back out.

(?- (stdout)

Running this will kick off a job in your local hadoop node and prints off the result.

?- is the query execution operator in Cascalog. It takes a sequence of <output tap, query> pairs, and executes all supplied queries in parallel. Here, we have defined the output tap on the first line as (stdout), which prints to the standard output. The second line contains the query. In this example though, there is no querying as we merely specified an in-memory generator as the source. A generator is a source of data. This particular query is similar to doing SELECT * FROM sentence in SQL.

Query operator

To actually perform a query, we introduce the query creation operation – <-.

(?- (stdout)
    (<- [?line]
        (sentence :> ?line)))

The result from this query is the same as the previous one. However, here we have an explicit query with output field between square brackets, [?line], generator sentence, input field, also named ?line. :> and it’s sibling :< are examples of Cascalog predicate operators which treat variables on one side as input to what’s on the other.

This query is similar to performing SELECT line FROM sentence with SQL.

As Cascalog is declarative, we tell it what we want and the logic solver figures out how to do it. In this example, we wanted output [?line]. Which happens to be the same as input ?line. The fact that the two fields have the same name is treated as though they are the same entity. Thus, given that we want [?line], and input ?line is fed by sentence, this query reads in data from our generator sentence and pipes it directly out.

Data Tuple

To understand how to write Cascalog queries, we need to understand Tuple. In Cascading and Cascalog, the basic data structure is a Tuple. Let’s digress briefly here to take a look at other variables in the cascalog.playground namespace.

=> (take 2 person)

person is a series of 1-Tuples each with one element. To use person as a data generator in a Cascalog query, you would do (person ?name) to assign the Tuple element to ?name.

Whereas age is a series of 2-Tuples.

=> (take 2 age)
[["alice" 28]
 ["bob" 33]]

To use age as a data generator in a query, you do (age ?name ?age) to assign the 2-Tuples to two vars. ?name and ?age can be thought of as a columns (spanning horizontally) whereas each entry can be thought of as rows (spanning vertically).


Once you bind your data Tuple to vars, you can operate on them individually (via defn, defmapop, etc), as a group either horizontally (via operators) or vertically (via aggregator), as well as transposing horizontal to vertical (e.g. defmapcatop), and vice versa (e.g. defbufferop). We will discuss the different types of operations in Cascalog later.

Let’s continue with the word count example and process the sentence by tokenising our lines into words and thus spanning each 1-Tuple sentence vertically into multiple 1-Tuple words.

(?- (stdout)
    (<- [?word]
        (sentence :> ?line)
        (tokenise :< ?line :> ?word)))

tokenise is a custom operator as defined below. It takes input ?line and return its result to ?word. Notice the use of the input predicate :< here.

defmapcatop takes each Tuple and returns multiple Tuples. It is just a regular Clojure function that returns a sequence.

(require '[cascalog.logic.def :as def])

(def/defmapcatfn tokenise [line]
  "reads in a line of string and splits it by a regular expression"
  (clojure.string/split line #"[\[\]\\\(\),.)\s]+"))

If you run tokenise as a regular function, you will get an exception.

user=> (tokenise sentence)

ClassCastException clojure.lang.PersistentVector cannot be cast to java.lang.CharSequence  clojure.string/split (string.clj:222)

This is because tokenise is not a regular Clojure function but a Cascalog operator. Before we see tokenise in action, let’s take a look at its expected input and output tuples to get a sense of what it does first. Consider the first Tuple of sentence.

[["Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation"]]

This is a 1-Tuple with one element in each row, and one row only. Passing it into tokenise would return a 1-Tuple also with one element in each row, but with 16 rows, each containing a word.


To use tokenise, we need to put it a Cascalog query and use it as an operator.


Now that all the words in sentence has been tokenised, we can group and count them. First we require the Cascalog operator namespace.

(require '[cascalog.logic.ops :as c])

And use the built-in count operator as such. If you have followed through with this tutorial and executed the sample code, you should get a word count of the sentence data. Otherwise, copy and paste the code chunk in the next section into your REPL and return here to continue.

(?- (stdout)
    (<- [?word ?count]
        (sentence :> ?line)
        (tokenise :< ?line :> ?word)
        (c/count :> ?count)))

Recall that we write Cascalog queries by telling it (1) what we want, (2) what’s the input, and (3) the contraints, then the logic solver would figure out what to do. This word count query above is a good example.

In this query, we want each ?word and the number of occurrences of it, i.e. output [?word ?count]. The input data is a 1-Tuple sentence and we assign single element to ?line. We tokenise each line ?line to get our words, ?word.

By now, we have ?word var satisfied. Then the query just needs to solve for ?count. In the last statement, we apply the output of c/count operator to ?count. This is where Cascalog differs.

To perform a count in SQL, we would do,

SELECT    word, COUNT(*)
FROM      words
GROUP BY  word

But in Cascalog, the GROUP BY is implicit because ?word output is already satisfied in the query constraint, the c/count would count all rows grouped by ?word.


It is often the case that you would want to define and execute your queries at the same time, so there’s a query execute and definition function ?<- that combines ?- and <- together.

Furthermore, both input and output predicates, :< and :>, are optional if the expression is not ambiguous. For example, sentence generator only outputs to ?line, so we don’t need to use :> here as it is evident. Whereas tokenise has both input and output. So we only need to specify the output predicate :> as the input ?line is obvious since it is not an output.

(?<- (stdout)
     [?word ?count]
     (sentence ?line)
     (tokenise ?line :> ?word)
     (c/count ?count))

Word count example in JCascalog

JCascalog overview

JCascalog is a pure-Java interface to Cascalog that comes bundled with Cascalog as of version 1.8.7. All the functionality available in Cascalog is available via the JCascalog interface. Moreso, Cascalog and JCascalog are perfectly interoperable: JCascalog subqueries, operations, and predicate macros can be used in regular Cascalog code and vice-versa.


Work In Progress. Refer to JCascalog basics on Wiki for now.

What next?

There are a lot more features to Cascalog to make your life munging big data easier, continue with the rest of our guides to learn how.

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