I thought I would publish a post each month about what is happening with my database project, but it turns out it requires more time and energy to do so :smile: Thus I will try to summarise my experience of developing a relational database and how it went in 2020 in this post.

TL;DR or brief history of my journey

I realize that I want to work on databases and SQL engines somewhere around the end of 2018. I didn’t know what to do except that to come up with a list of existing technologies with SQL capabilities and send my CV to companies that support and develop them. Most of them are open-source projects. At the end of 2019, I decided to try to contribute a code to some of them. One of the projects was Hazelcast. I was invited to hiring interviews after a couple of months of contribution and joined the company on 3rd February of 2020. I have joined the Management Center team that develops a web-based product that manages Hazelcast clusters, reports metrics, and other functionality. Git history of database project says that the first commit was on 20th April 2020. I have learned a lot about the internals of SQL engines since that time. There were many obstacles and problems I had to analyze and solve. That helped me gain invaluable experience. At some point, I realized how much I love developing these complicated “engineering beasts” and how web-based applications don’t motivate me to work. At the end of October, I decided to talk about this with my manager. That resulted in me joining the Hazelcast core subteam that works on a distributed SQL engine starting from 1st January 2021. That doesn’t mean I will stop working on my database project - it is the opposite. Now I have more time to gain experience in developing SQL engines.

For the rest of this post, I describe how my perception of what the SQL engine is and how it works changes over the year.

SQL over B-Tree

To get somehow started working on the database, I decided that it will be just a sql parser and a BTreeMap. If the database receives an insert statement, it invokes BTreeMap#insert. If it receives an update statement, it invokes BTreeMap#get and then BTreeMap#insert. If it receives a delete statement, it invokes BTreeMap#remove. If it receives a select statement, it invokes BTreeMap#values. What could be easier than that, right?

After I typed in BTreeMap I realize that it had to be over some keys and values and couldn’t be generic of some K and V because I couldn’t know what tables users could create at runtime. So I decided to support only i32 keys and values. It didn’t take me much to write code to see my idea works. Something like:

let stmt = sqlparser::Parser::parse("insert into t values(1)");
let stmt = sqlparser::Parser::parse("select * from t");

Server and other parts

The next was … client. I knew that it would be hard to develop two applications: client and server, and even harder to develop a communication protocol between them, so I decided: “Ok, let database implements PostgreSQL wire protocol, and I could use psql for testing” Sounds easier than done… I spent a couple of days googling a simple example of server-side implementation of a PostgreSQL wire protocol. All databases that I knew implement protocol incorporated it so much in their query execution flow that I couldn’t understand what is what and why it all was needed. That is why I decided to build a rust crate for easier server-side implementations of the protocol. First, it lived as a cargo module, but after six months and a lot of contribution from Steven, I decided to give it a go and extract it into a separate pg_wire crate.


PostgreSQL wire protocol supports two modes of passing queries between client and server: Simple and Extended. In the Simple mode, a client sends a query as a string, and the server processes it. In the Extended mode, the client and server exchange messages. They do so to figure out what variable parameters the client uses, what their types are, and so on. The database should have a type system to support the Extended mode. And I have to tell you it is much interesting to watch how your database can handle not only insert into table_name values (1); but also insert into table_name values ('here a string');. After that BTreeMap was transformed from BTreeMap<i32, i32> into BTreeMap<Vec<u8>, Vec<u8>>. I used a | symbol to separate column values. Map values were split by | and transformed into plain Strings - thank God PostgreSQL wire protocol supports text and binary communication between client and server :smile:

What is a query execution pipeline?

If you are interested in the topic of databases you probably read from books, articles, or watched presentations from conferences then you probably know that before executing a query a database does parsing, analysis, optimizing, building a plan for the query, and only then executes it. As I moving along in my database development these phases emerged. In the beginning, it was parsing and executing phases. Then I wanted to do more interesting selects with where clause, I realized that the database has to build some sort of query plan: what columns to select from which table and how to filter data that is not needed. At that time the database had intertwined plan and execution phases to support the Extended mode of PostgreSQL protocol. To overcome that I started the development of a query analyzer. At some point, I realized that there is no much difference in sqlparaser::ast and plan structure that are passed and transformed from one into another. Developing that idea I realized that there are at least three different expression trees in the SQL query. The first one is each of the values in an insert statement. The second one is each assignment inside update queries and projection items in select queries. The difference between them very small to notice, insert’s values do not support column name in an expression but update’s assignments and select’s projection items do. The third one is the predicates in select’s where, having clauses and data definition’s check constraints. In the third variant, a predicate tree to be valid has to have the resulting bool type after an evaluation. These details seem insignificant but by realizing them I could see how much simpler query validation could be. Each type of query could have a separate validation code with some generality e.g. selects, deletes and updates have where clause. It triggered a massive refactoring and redesign. After a month of work, I merged the first PR that contains 8k lines of changes a week ago and the second one is coming.

To summaries my post somehow, I would like to wish everyone to find a domain where you want to build software in so much that if one day you realize that you have take a completely different approach (like throwing away everything and start over) you could no matter what accept it and continue your journey full of discovery and fun.

Happy New Year everyone!