The Subset() Function
According to the Analysis Services
Books Online, the Subset() function "returns
«Count» tuples from «Set» as a set, starting at position «Start».
Once we recover from the seemingly redundant explanation that is, in fact, a
pretty clear representation of the operation of the Subset() function, we
can see that Subset() works a little like the substring
functionality that appears in various programming environments, query languages
and other places. We are focusing on tuples and their positions relative to
each other, as opposed to characters, but the similarities in concept are
perhaps easy to recognize.
As we shall see, the order of the
set elements remains intact within the operation of the function. We control
the "range" of the function by providing a count, similar to
the way we control the "reach" we obtain in other MDX functions  and
similar to the way we use the numeric expression in the Head() and
Tail() functions that we explored in our previous two articles. The
difference is that we do not begin our "starting point" from either
the left/beginning or right/ending "side" of the set, as do the Head()
and Tail() functions, respectively (and a bit like LTRIM and RTRIM,
we might note, in the stringbased analogy we cited earlier). We can tell Subset()
with which exact position to begin its work, and the number of elements to
capture, by providing the associated «Start» and «Count» specifications.
We will examine the syntax for the Subset()
function, then look at its behavior based upon different «Start» and «Count»
input we might provide. Next, we will undertake practice examples constructed
to support hypothetical business needs that illustrate uses for the function. This
will allow us to activate what we explore in the Discussion and Syntax
sections, by getting some handson exposure in creating expressions that
leverage the function.
Discussion
To restate our initial explanation of its operation, the Subset()
function iterates through the elements of the specified set and constructs
a set by adding the members in the directed range to the new set. The Subset()
function starts at a point, or an index («Start» in the syntax
model we show in the Syntax section below) that we designate
within a set. The function acts to return a range of m tuples
from a specified set. We specify m via the «Count» input we provide.
The function "counts over" this number of members, "lassoing"
them into selection for the new set it creates.
In a manner dissimilar to what we saw for the Head() and
Tail() functions in the two immediately previous articles, Subset()
manages the absence of a specified numeric expression for «Count» by
"defaulting" to include all elements from the «Start» position
to the end of the set. (Recall that the Head() and Tail()
functions handled the absence of a specified numeric expression by substituting
"1" as the range of elements "over" from the beginning and
end of the specified set, respectively.)
Let's look at some syntax illustrations to further clarify
the operation of Subset().
Syntax
Syntactically, the set upon
which we seek to perform the Subset operation is specified within the
parentheses to the right of Subset, just as we saw with the Head()
and Tail() functions in our previous articles. The syntax is shown in
the following string.
Subset(<< Set >>, << Start >> [,<< Count >>])
We follow «Set», the set
specification with a comma, which is followed by «Start», the starting
position for the operation. «Start» is, in turn, followed by «Count»,
the count of members in the selection range. As we have mentioned, the omission
of the count value means that the function simply selects all tuples
from «Start», which is "position zero," to the end of the set.
In specifying «Count», "0" represents the first member in the
set, "1" the second, and so forth.
Within a scenario where the
specified «Count» is greater than the number of tuples in the set
we specify, the complete set, beginning from the «Start»
position, is returned. Moreover, the input of a number less than 1 as
the «Count» results in an empty set (indicated, for example, by a
message in the MDX Sample Application that, because "the cellset ...
contains no positions," it is unable to display a results dataset.
The following example
expression illustrates the use of the Subset() function, within a
context similar to that of an expression we used in discussing the syntax of
the Head() and Tail() functions in the immediately preceding two articles.
This will illustrate the similarities in the construction of the functions,
while exposing the differences in the datasets that they return.
Let's say, again, that a group
of corporatelevel information consumers within the FoodMart
organization wish to see the total Profits by U.S. WarehouseCountry
for the last three Quarters of 1998. While we could easily
accomplish this with the Tail() function, whose specialty is, after all,
returning the "last of" anything, we can accomplish the same results
with the Subset() function.
The basic Subset()
function, which would specify the "last three Quarters" (the "children"
of year 1998) portion of the required result dataset, would be constructed
as follows:
Subset([1998].Children, 1, 3)
This expression would be equivalent to the expression from
our last article, Tail([1998].Children, 3), and would return an
identical result dataset. Assuming that we placed the Subset() function
above within the column axis definition of a query, and the WarehouseCountry
information defined the row axis, our returned dataset would resemble that shown
in Table 1.

Q2

Q3

Q4

Canada

4,949.88

4,196.32

3,645.54

Mexico

19,625.45

16,477.01

14,509.69

USA

26,093.90

24,912.75

29,348.79

Table 1: Results Dataset, with Subset() Defining Columns
Just as we saw with the Tail() function in our
previous session, Subset() has the effect of compactly expressing that
we wish to display the Quarters as shown. The "starting point"
is Q2 (position "1", as Q1 would be position "0"
to the zerobased «Start» value), from which we derive the set (the Quarters
of 1998), in their natural order, for three elements "distance."
The primary difference in the two functions, as we can
readily see, is that the Subset() function can be used a bit more
flexibly. It allows us to specify "starting point" in a given set,
together with a "range" of selection, as opposed to the same
selection capability, with fixed starting point at the beginning or end of the
set, that we obtain using the Head() and Tail() functions,
respectively.
As was the case with the Tail() and Head() functions,
Subset() can be particularly useful in working with the Time
dimension. Moreover, the same efficiencies we saw with the other subset
functions can be obtained when Subset() is used in conjunction with "family"
functions, as with the .Children function above. More compact, reusable
coding is often the result.
NOTE: For information surrounding the .Children
function, see MDX
Member Functions: The "Family" Functions.
We will practice the use of the Subset() function in
the section that follows.