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Version: v1.15.0

The Dataflow Model

In Zed, each operator takes its input from the output of its upstream operator beginning either with a data source or with an implied source.

All available operators are listed on the reference page.

Dataflow Sources

In addition to the data sources specified as files on the zq command line, a source may also be specified with the from operator.

When running on the command-line, from may refer to a file, an HTTP endpoint, or an S3 URI. When running in a Zed lake, from typically refers to a collection of data called a "data pool" and is referenced using the pool's name much as SQL references database tables by their name.

For more detail, see the reference page of the from operator, but as an example, you might use the get form of from to fetch data from an HTTP endpoint and process it with Zed, in this case, to extract the description and license of a GitHub repository:

zq -f text "get | yield description,"

When a Zed query is run on the command-line with zq, the from source is typically omitted and implied instead by the command-line file arguments. The input may be stdin via - as in

echo '"hello, world"' | zq  -

The examples throughout the language documentation use this "echo pattern" to standard input of zq - to illustrate language semantics. Note that in these examples, the input values are expressed as Zed values serialized in the ZSON text format and the zq query text expressed as the first argument of the zq command is expressed in the syntax of the Zed language described here.

Dataflow Operators

Each operator is identified by name and performs a specific operation on a stream of records.

Some operators, like summarize or sort, read all of their input before producing output, though summarize can produce incremental results when the group-by key is aligned with the order of the input.

For large queries that process all of their input, time may pass before seeing any output.

On the other hand, most operators produce incremental output by operating on values as they are produced. For example, a long running query that produces incremental output will stream results as they are produced, i.e., running zq to standard output will display results incrementally.

The search and where operators "find" values in their input and drop the ones that do not match what is being looked for.

The yield operator emits one or more output values for each input value based on arbitrary expressions, providing a convenient means to derive arbitrary output values as a function of each input value, much like the map concept in the MapReduce framework.

The fork operator copies its input to parallel legs of a query. The output of these parallel paths can be combined in a number of ways:

A path can also be split to multiple query legs using the switch operator, in which data is routed to only one corresponding leg (or dropped) based on the switch clauses.

Switch operators typically involve multiline Zed programs, which are easiest to edit in a file. For example, suppose this text is in a file called switch.zed:

switch this (
case 1 => yield {val:this,message:"one"}
case 2 => yield {val:this,message:"two"}
default => yield {val:this,message:"many"}
) | merge val

Then, running zq with -I switch.zed like so:

echo '1 2 3 4' | zq -z -I switch.zed -



Note that the output order of the switch legs is undefined (indeed they run in parallel on multiple threads). To establish a consistent sequence order, a merge operator may be applied at the output of the switch specifying a sort key upon which to order the upstream data. Often such order does not matter (e.g., when the output of the switch hits an aggregator), in which case it is typically more performant to omit the merge (though the Zed system will often delete such unnecessary operations automatically as part optimizing queries when they are compiled).

If no merge or join is indicated downstream of a fork or switch, then the implied combine operator is presumed. In this case, values are forwarded from the switch to the downstream operator in an undefined order.

The Special Value this

In Zed, there are no looping constructs and variables are limited to binding values between lateral scopes. Instead, the input sequence to an operator is produced continuously and any output values are derived from input values.

In contrast to SQL, where a query may refer to input tables by name, there are no explicit tables and a Zed operator instead refers to its input values using the special identifier this.

For example, sorting the following input

echo '"foo" "bar" "BAZ"' | zq -z sort -

produces this case-sensitive output:


But we can make the sort case-insensitive by applying a function to the input values with the expression lower(this), which converts each value to lower-case for use in in the sort without actually modifying the input value, e.g.,

echo '"foo" "bar" "BAZ"' | zq -z 'sort lower(this)' -



Implied Field References

A common use case for Zed is to process sequences of record-oriented data (e.g., arising from formats like JSON or Avro) in the form of events or structured logs. In this case, the input values to the operators are Zed records and the fields of a record are referenced with the dot operator.

For example, if the input above were a sequence of records instead of strings and perhaps contained a second field, e.g.,


Then we could refer to the field s using this.s and sort the records as above with sort this.s, which would give


This pattern is so common that field references to this may be shortened by simply referring to the field by name wherever a Zed expression is expected, e.g.,

sort s

is shorthand for sort this.s

Field Assignments

A typical operation in records involves adding or changing the fields of a record using the put operator or extracting a subset of fields using the cut operator. Also, when aggregating data using group-by keys, the group-by assignments create new named record fields.

In all of these cases, the Zed language uses the token := to denote field assignment. For example,

put x:=y+1


summarize salary:=sum(income) by address:=lower(address)

This style of "assignment" to a record value is distinguished from the = token which binds a locally scoped name to a value that can be referenced in later expressions.

Implied Operators

When Zed is run in an application like Zui, queries are often composed interactively in a "search bar" experience. The language design here attempts to support both this "lean forward" pattern of usage along with a "coding style" of query writing where the queries might be large and complex, e.g., to perform transformations in a data pipeline, where the Zed queries are stored under source-code control perhaps in GitHub or in Zui's query library.

To facilitate both a programming-like model as well as an ad hoc search experience, Zed has a canonical, long form that can be abbreviated using syntax that supports an agile, interactive query workflow. To this end, Zed allows certain operator names to be optionally omitted when they can be inferred from context. For example, the expression following the summarize operator

summarize count() by id

is unambiguously an aggregation and can be shortened to

count() by id

Likewise, a very common lean-forward use pattern is "searching" so by default, expressions are interpreted as keyword searches, e.g.,

search foo bar or x > 100

is abbreviated

foo bar or x > 100

Furthermore, if an operator-free expression is not valid syntax for a search expression but is a valid Zed expression, then the abbreviation is treated as having an implied yield operator, e.g.,


is shorthand for

yield {s:lower(s)}

When operator names are omitted, search has precedence over yield, so


is interpreted as a search for the string "foo" rather than a yield of the implied record field named foo.

Another common query pattern involves adding or mutating fields of records where the input is presumed to be a sequence of records. The put operator provides this mechanism and the put keyword is implied by the field assignment syntax :=.

For example, the operation

put y:=2*x+1

can be expressed simply as


When composing long-form queries that are shared via Zui or managed in GitHub, it is best practice to include all operator names in the Zed source text.

In summary, if no operator name is given, the implied operator is determined from the operator-less source text, in the order given, as follows:

  • If the text can be interpreted as a search expression, then the operator is search.
  • If the text can be interpreted as a boolean expression, then the operator is where.
  • If the text can be interpreted as one or more field assignments, then the operator is put.
  • If the text can be interpreted as an aggregation, then the operator is summarize.
  • If the text can be interpreted as an expression, then the operator is yield.
  • Otherwise, the text causes a compile-time error.

When in doubt, you can always check what the compiler is doing under the hood by running zq with the -C flag to print the parsed query in "canonical form", e.g.,

zq -C foo
zq -C 'is(<foo>)'
zq -C 'count()'
zq -C '{a:x+1,b:y-1}'
zq -C 'a:=x+1,b:=y-1'


search foo
where is(<foo>)
yield {a:x+1,b:y-1}
put a:=x+1,b:=y-1