When I didn’t know Lisp at all, I skimmed at CLSQL’s and Mito’s documentation and I didn’t find a mention of “lazy”, “querysets” (a Django term!) nor a mention of any means to compose queries. I had no idea how I would replace querysets, F and Q objects and the many functions for DB queries that were being added into newer Django versions. I concluded that the Lisp ecosystem was lagging behind.

Table of Contents

Then I began to understand. And today I got the chance to rewrite a Django query involving querysets and Q objects, using regular Lisp. All you have to know is back-quote and comma.

We implement a simple search into a DB. The user enters one or more words and we search against the title and the authors fields. We want to match all words, but each can be either in the title, either in the authors field.

Considering we have two products:

1 - The Lisp Condition System - phoe
2 - Implementing a blockchain in Lisp - F. Drummer

then searching for “lisp cond” must return one result. DWIM.

In Python, we must use Q objects to “OR” the terms with | (you can’t use | without Q):

products = firstquery()
for word in words:
    products = products.objects.filter(Q(title__icontains=word) |

The promise of filter is to be lazy, so when we chain them the ORM constructs one single SQL query.

So what does this query yield as SQL? Funnily, I didn’t find a built-in way to get the generated SQL and I had to use a third-party library. Mmh, I could use special logging. The fact is, we are far from SQL here (and, with the experience, it is NOT a good thing).

It looks like this (searching “hommes femmes” in our test DB):

       (("product"."title" LIKE %hommes% ESCAPE '\'
         OR "author"."name" LIKE %hommes% ESCAPE '\')
         ("product"."title" LIKE %femmes% ESCAPE '\'
         OR T5."name" LIKE %femmes% ESCAPE '\'))
       ORDER BY "product"."created" DESC
       LIMIT 3

Does that look complicated? Does that need alien “Q objects”?! It’s just a AND around two OR:

   title like keyword 1 OR author like keyword 1
   title like keyword 2 OR author like keyword 2

Mito is the high-level library, and we compose queries with SXQL. I already had a little query that worked with one keyword:

(defun find-product (&key query (order :asc))
  (mito:select-dao 'product
    (when query
      (sxql:where (:or (:like :title (str:concat "%" query "%"))
                       (:like :authors (str:concat "%" query "%")))))
    (sxql:order-by `(,order :created-at))))

If :query is given, we filter the search. If not, the when is not executed and we return all products.

So what we need to do is iterate over the keywords, produce as many OR and wrap them with a AND. We want something like that (we can try in the REPL):

 (:OR (:LIKE :TITLE "%word1%")
      (:LIKE :AUTHORS "%word1%"))
 (:OR (:LIKE :TITLE "%word2%")
      (:LIKE :AUTHORS "%word2%")))


The solution

 `(:and   ;; <-- backquote
   ,@(loop for word in (str:words query)  ;; <-- comma-splice
        :collect `(:or (:like :title ,(str:concat "%" word "%"))  ;; <-- backquote, comma
                       (:like :authors ,(str:concat "%" word "%"))))))

(using (ql:quickload "str"))

Pay attention to ,@ (comma-splice). Without it, we get a bad level of nesting and two parenthesis before the :OR. We would get a list of clauses, instead of each clause individually. You can try in the REPL.

Note: if you are uneasy with back-quote and comma, see: https://lispcookbook.github.io/cl-cookbook/macros.html

Last words

Django’s filter is similar to using a When, which we were already using on the Lisp side without knowing it was anything special. “Q objects” are easy to replace. So, Python and Django might be easy to getting started with (or it is your feeling, because you must learn the special syntax and its limitations, I bet you had some “WTF?!” moments), but comes a time when your application grows that you pay the price of being far from SQL (not counting the maintenance cost).

With Mito and SXQL, it’s all regular Lisp, we are closer to the metal, the only limitation being to know the language, and a bit of SQL.

So we have a great example of why some Common Lisp libraries have a surprisingly low number of commits. You know, that little voice in your head that wonders if a library is finished or active. The author might not need to develop feature X, thanks to Lisp’s expressiveness. Likewise, many questions don’t need to be asked or upvoted on Stack-Overflow. Though I should have asked years ago.

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