Data is normally stored in sparse form. That is, if no value exists for a given combination of dimension values, no row exists in the fact table. However, you may want to view the data in dense form, with rows for all combination of dimension values displayed even when no fact data exist for them. For example, if a product did not sell during a particular time period, you may still want to see the product for that time period with zero sales value next to it. Moreover, time series calculations can be performed most easily when data is dense along the time dimension. This is because dense data will fill a consistent number of rows for each period, which in turn makes it simple to use the analytic windowing functions with physical offsets. Data densification is the process of converting spare data into dense form.
To overcome the problem of sparsity, you can use a partitioned outer join to fill the gaps in a time series or any other dimension. Such a join extends the conventional outer join syntax by applying the outer join to each logical partition defined in a query. Oracle logically partitions the rows in your query based on the expression you specify in the PARTITION BY clause. The result of a partitioned outer join is a UNION of the outer joins of each of the partitions in the logically partitioned table with the table on the other side of the join.
Note that you can use this type of join to fill the gaps in any dimension, not just the time dimension. Most of the examples here focus on the time dimension because it is the dimension most frequently used as a basis for comparisons.
Partition Join Syntax
The syntax for partitioned outer join extends the ANSI SQL JOIN clause with the phrase PARTITION BY followed by an expression list. The expressions in the list specify the group to which the outer join is applied. The following are the two forms of syntax normally used for partitioned outer join:
Note that FULL OUTER JOIN is not supported with a partitioned outer join.
Sample of Sparse Data
A typical situation with a sparse dimension is shown in the following example, which computes the weekly sales and year-to-date sales for the product Bounce for weeks 20-30 in 2000 and 2001:
In this example, we would expect 22 rows of data (11 weeks each from 2 years) if the data were dense. However we get only 18 rows because weeks 25 and 26 are missing in 2000, and weeks 26 and 28 in 2001.
Filling Gaps in Data
We can take the sparse data of the preceding query and do a partitioned outer join with a dense set of time data. In the following query, we alias our original query as v and we select data from the times table, which we alias as t. Here we retrieve 22 rows because there are no gaps in the series. The four added rows each have 0 as their Sales value set to 0 by using the NVL function.
Note that in this query, a WHERE condition was placed for weeks between 20 and 30 in the inline view for the time dimension. This was introduced to keep the result set small.
Filling Gaps in Two Dimensions
N-dimensional data is typically displayed as a dense 2-dimensional cross tab of (n -2) page dimensions. This requires that all dimension values for the two dimensions appearing in the cross tab be filled in. The following is another example where the partitioned outer join capability can be used for filling the gaps on two dimensions:
In this query, the WITH sub-query factoring clause v1, summarizes sales data at the product, country, and year level. This result is sparse but users may want to see all the country, year combinations for each product. To achieve this, we take each partition of v1 based on product values and outer join it on the country dimension first. This will give us all values of country for each product. We then take that result and partition it on product and country values and then outer join it on time dimension. This will give us all time values for each product and country combination.
CREATE TABLE invent_table (
Filling Gaps in an Inventory Table
An inventory table typically tracks quantity of units available for various products. This table is sparse: it only stores a row for a product when there is an event. For a sales table, the event is a sale, and for the inventory table, the event is a change in quantity available for a product. For example, consider the following inventory table:
The inventory table now has the following rows:
For reporting purposes, users may want to see this inventory data differently. For example, they may want to see all values of time for each product. This can be accomplished using partitioned outer join. In addition, for the newly inserted rows of missing time periods, users may want to see the values for quantity of units column to be carried over from the most recent existing time period. The latter can
be accomplished using analytic window function LAST_VALUE value. Here is the query and the desired output:
Theinner query computes a partitioned outer join on time within each product. The inner query densifies the data on the time dimension (meaning the time dimension will now have a row for each day of the week). However, the measure column quantity will have nulls for the newly added rows (see the output in the column quantity in the following results.
The outer query uses the analytic function LAST_VALUE. Applying this function partitions the data by product and orders the data on the time dimension column (time_id). For each row, the function finds the last non-null value in the window due to the option IGNORE NULLS, which you can use with both LAST_VALUE and FIRST_VALUE. We see the desired output in the column repeated_quantity in the following output:
Computing Data Values to Fill Gaps
Examples in previous section illustrate how to use partitioned outer join to fill gaps in one or more dimensions. However, the result sets produced by partitioned outer join have null values for columns that are not included in the PARTITION BY list. Typically, these are measure columns. Users can make use of analytic SQL functions to replace those null values with a non-null value.
For example, the following query computes monthly totals for products 64MB Memory card and DVD-R Discs (product IDs 122 and 136) for the year 2000. It uses partitioned outer join to densify data for all months. For the missing months, it then uses the analytic SQL function AVG to compute the sales and units to be the average of the months when the product was sold.
If working in SQL*Plus, the following two commands will wrap the column headings for greater readability of results:
col computed_units heading 'Computed|_units'
col computed_sales heading 'Computed|_sales'
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