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Data Types

The Zed language includes most data types of a typical programming language as defined in the Zed data model.

The syntax of individual literal values generally follows the ZSON syntax with the exception that type decorators are not included in the language. Instead, a type cast may be used in any expression for explicit type conversion.

In particular, the syntax of primitive types follows the primitive-value definitions in ZSON as well as the various complex value definitions like records, arrays, sets, and so forth. However, complex values are not limited to constant values like ZSON and can be composed from literal expressions.

First-class Types

Like the Zed data model, the Zed language has first-class types: any Zed type may be used as a value.

The primitive types are listed in the data model specification and have the same syntax in the Zed language. Complex types also follow the ZSON syntax. Note that the type of a type value is simply type.

As in ZSON, when types are used as values, e.g., in a Zed expression, they must be referenced within angle brackets. That is, the integer type int64 is expressed as a type value using the syntax <int64>.

Complex types in the Zed language follow the ZSON syntax as well. Here are a few examples:

  • a simple record type - {x:int64,y:int64}
  • an array of integers - [int64]
  • a set of strings - |[string]|
  • a map of strings keys to integer values - {[string,int64]}
  • a union of string and integer - (string,int64)

Complex types may be composed, as in [({s:string},{x:int64})] which is an array of type union of two types of records.

The typeof function returns a value's type as a value, e.g., typeof(1) is <int64> and typeof(<int64>) is <type>.

First-class types are quite powerful because types can serve as group-by keys or be used in "data shaping" logic. A common workflow for data introspection is to first perform a search of exploratory data and then count the shapes of each type of data as follows:

search ... | count() by typeof(this)

For example,

echo '1 2 "foo" <string>' | zq -z 'count() by typeof(this) | sort this' -



When running such a query over complex, semi-structured data, the results can be quite illuminating and can inform the design of "data shaping" Zed queries to transform raw, messy data into clean data for downstream tooling.

Note the somewhat subtle difference between a record value with a field t of type type whose value is type string


and a record type used as a value


Named Types

As in any modern programming language, types can be named and the type names persist into the data model and thus into the serialized input and output.

Named types may be defined in three ways:

  • with a type statement,
  • with a definition inside of another type, or
  • by the input data itself.

Type names that are embedded in another type have the form


and create a binding between the indicated string name and the specified type. For example,

type socket = {addr:ip,port:port=uint16}

defines a named type socket that is a record with field addr of type ip and field port of type "port", where type "port" is a named type for type uint16 .

Named types may also be defined by the input data itself, as Zed data is comprehensively self describing. When named types are defined in the input data, there is no need to declare their type in a query. In this case, a Zed expression may refer to the type by the name that simply appears to the runtime as a side effect of operating upon the data. If the type name referred to in this way does not exist, then the type value reference results in error("missing"). For example,

echo '1(=foo) 2(=bar) 3(=foo)' | zq -z 'typeof(this)==<foo>' -

results in



echo '1(=foo)' | zq -z 'yield <foo>' -

results in



zq -z 'yield <foo>'



Each instance of a named type definition overrides any earlier definition. In this way, types are local in scope.

Each value that references a named type retains its local definition of the named type retaining the proper type binding while accommodating changes in a particular named type. For example,

echo '1(=foo) 2(=bar) "hello"(=foo) 3(=foo)' | zq -z 'count() by typeof(this) | sort this' -

results in


Here, the two versions of type "foo" are retained in the group-by results.

In general, it is bad practice to define multiple versions of a single named type, though the Zed system and Zed data model accommodate such dynamic bindings. Managing and enforcing the relationship between type names and their type definitions on a global basis (e.g., across many different data pools in a Zed lake) is outside the scope of the Zed data model and language. That said, Zed provides flexible building blocks so systems can define their own schema versioning and schema management policies on top of these Zed primitives.

Zed's super-structured data model is a superset of relational tables and the Zed language's type system can easily make this connection. As an example, consider this type definition for "employee":

type employee = {id:int64,first:string,last:string,job:string,salary:float64}

In SQL, you might find the top five salaries by last name with

SELECT last,salary
FROM employee
ORDER BY salary

In Zed, you would say

from anywhere | typeof(this)==<employee> | cut last,salary | sort salary | head 5

and since type comparisons are so useful and common, the is function can be used to perform the type match:

from anywhere | is(<employee>) | cut last,salary | sort salary | head 5

The power of Zed is that you can interpret data on the fly as belonging to a certain schema, in this case "employee", and those records can be intermixed with other relevant data. There is no need to create a table called "employee" and put the data into the table before that data can be queried as an "employee". And if the schema or type name for "employee" changes, queries still continue to work.

First-class Errors

As with types, errors in Zed are first-class: any value can be transformed into an error by wrapping it in the Zed error type.

In general, expressions and functions that result in errors simply return a value of type error as a result. This encourages a powerful flow-style of error handling where errors simply propagate from one operation to the next and land in the output alongside non-error values to provide a very helpful context and rich information for tracking down the source of errors. There is no need to check for error conditions everywhere or look through auxiliary logs to find out what happened.

For example, input values can be transformed to errors as follows:

echo '0 "foo"' | zq -z 'error(this)' -



More practically, errors from the runtime show up as error values. For example,

echo 0 | zq -z '1/this' -


error("divide by zero")

And since errors are first-class and just values, they have a type. In particular, they are a complex type where the error value's type is the complex type error containing the type of the value. For example,

echo 0 | zq -z 'typeof(1/this)' -



First-class errors are particularly useful for creating structured errors. When a Zed query encounters a problematic condition, instead of silently dropping the problematic error and logging an error obscurely into some hard-to-find system log as so many ETL pipelines do, the Zed logic can preferably wrap the offending value as an error and propagate it to its output.

For example, suppose a bad value shows up:

{kind:"bad", stuff:{foo:1,bar:2}}

A Zed shaper could catch the bad value (e.g., as a default case in a switch topology) and propagate it as an error using the Zed expression:

yield error({message:"unrecognized input",input:this})

then such errors could be detected and searched for downstream with the is_error function. For example,


on the wrapped error from above produces

error({message:"unrecognized input",input:{kind:"bad", stuff:{foo:1,bar:2}}})

There is no need to create special tables in a complex warehouse-style ETL to land such errors as they can simply land next to the output values themselves.

And when transformations cascade one into the next as different stages of an ETL pipeline, errors can be wrapped one by one forming a "stack trace" or lineage of where the error started and what stages it traversed before landing at the final output stage.

Errors will unfortunately and inevitably occur even in production, but having a first-class data type to manage them all while allowing them to peacefully coexist with valid production data is a novel and useful approach that Zed enables.

Missing and Quiet

Zed's heterogeneous data model allows for queries that operate over different types of data whose structure and type may not be known ahead of time, e.g., different types of records with different field names and varying structure. Thus, a reference to a field, e.g., this.x may be valid for some values that include a field called x but not valid for those that do not.

What is the value of x when the field x does not exist?

A similar question faced SQL when it was adapted in various different forms to operate on semi-structured data like JSON or XML. SQL already had the NULL value so perhaps a reference to a missing value could simply be NULL.

But JSON also has null, so a reference to x in the JSON value


and a reference to x in the JSON value


would have the same value of NULL. Furthermore, an expression like x==NULL could not differentiate between these two cases.

To solve this problem, the MISSING value was proposed to represent the value that results from accessing a field that is not present. Thus, x==NULL and x==MISSING could disambiguate the two cases above.

Zed, instead, recognizes that the SQL value MISSING is a paradox: I'm here but I'm not.

In reality, a MISSING value is not a value. It's an error condition that resulted from trying to reference something that didn't exist.

So why should we pretend that this is a bona fide value? SQL adopted this approach because it lacks first-class errors.

But Zed has first-class errors so a reference to something that does not exist is an error of type error(string) whose value is error("missing"). For example,

echo "{x:1} {y:2}" | zq -z 'yield x' -



Sometimes you want missing errors to show up and sometimes you don't. The quiet function transforms missing errors into "quiet errors". A quiet error is the value error("quiet") and is ignored by most operators, in particular yield. For example,

echo "{x:1} {y:2}" | zq -z "yield quiet(x)" -



And what if you want a default value instead of a missing error? The coalesce function returns the first value that is not null, error("missing"), or error("quiet"). For example,

echo "{x:1} {y:2}" | zq -z "yield coalesce(x, 0)" -