MDX Essentials : MDX Operators: The Basics

Author Bill Pearson continues his MDX Essentials Series with a discussion of three basic operators: Braces, Comma, and Colon. After a brief review of each, we examine the syntax involved in putting it into action, and the practical use of the operator in helping us to achieve our query objectives.

About the Series …

This is the third article of the series, MDX Essentials. The primary focus of this series is an introduction to the MDX language. The series is designed to provide hands-on application of the fundamentals of the Multidimensional Expressions (MDX) language, with each tutorial progressively adding features designed to meet specific real-world needs.

For more information about the series in general, as well as the software and systems requirements needed for getting the most out of the lessons included, please see the first article, MDX at First Glance: Introduction to MDX Essentials.

What We Accomplished in our Last Article

In the second article of the series, we introduced the MDX data model, together with its most basic components, tuples, axes, and sets. We focused on the composition and common uses of tuples, axes and sets, and provided hands-on exposure to these building blocks. After discussing each of the three components, we emphasized rules of syntax that related to each, providing a foundation to build upon throughout the rest of the series. Finally, we worked practice exercises to demonstrate tangible results, and to reinforce our discussions with examples.

In this lesson, MDX Operators: The Basics, we will introduce additional ways to construct tuples and sets, taking up first the most basic of the components involved. The operators we explore in this lesson will include curled braces{}“, commas,” and colons:“. With each of the operators, we will illustrate the uses and options that are available to us in constructing basic MDX queries.

Introduction to Basic Operators

In this article, we will introduce basic components involved in the building of tuples and sets. We will focus on the composition of these important building blocks, and provide hands-on exposure to their use in simple expressions that we will run to view their output. Rules of syntax will be emphasized, the aggregate body of which will provide a basis for more complex query building as we progress through the series.

This lesson will include:

  • A brief discussion of curled braces{}“, commas,” and colons:“;
  • A examination of the MDX query results we obtain in examples that use the operators under consideration.

Let’s begin by discussing the most common of the MDX operators, and some of the ways that we can call upon them in the development of expressions that we can use in standalone fashion, or that we might use in more sophisticated expressions or queries, to achieve our ends.

Basic Operators: Curled Braces, Commas and Colons

We previewed the use of curled braces and commas in our last session, within our overview of sets, and in other passages of the lesson. Curled (or “curly,” depending upon whom you ask) braces must be used in some situations, and simply can be used in others. We will touch on these, as well as upon the use of curled braces to set apart set expressions consistently, to make learning MDX easier. As we stated in our last section, MDX is similar to other programming languages in its uses of various operators; one of those uses is to identify sets. Among these operators are the colon and comma (used as separators between members within sets), which, along with curled braces, will form the subjects of this lesson.

William Pearson
William Pearson
Bill has been working with computers since before becoming a "big eight" CPA, after which he carried his growing information systems knowledge into management accounting, internal auditing, and various capacities of controllership. Bill entered the world of databases and financial systems when he became a consultant for CODA-Financials, a U.K. - based software company that hired only CPA's as application consultants to implement and maintain its integrated financial database - one of the most conceptually powerful, even in his current assessment, to have emerged. At CODA Bill deployed financial databases and business intelligence systems for many global clients. Working with SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase and Informix, and focusing on MSSQL Server, Bill created Island Technologies Inc. in 1997, and has developed a large and diverse customer base over the years since. Bill's background as a CPA, Internal Auditor and Management Accountant enable him to provide value to clients as a liaison between Accounting / Finance and Information Services. Moreover, as a Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) - a Certified Public Accountant recognized for his or her unique ability to provide business insight by leveraging knowledge of information relationships and supporting technologies - Bill offers his clients the CPA's perspective and ability to understand the complicated business implications and risks associated with technology. From this perspective, he helps them to effectively manage information while ensuring the data's reliability, security, accessibility and relevance. Bill has implemented enterprise business intelligence systems over the years for many Fortune 500 companies, focusing his practice (since the advent of MSSQL Server 2000) upon the integrated Microsoft business intelligence solution. He leverages his years of experience with other enterprise OLAP and reporting applications (Cognos, Business Objects, Crystal, and others) in regular conversions of these once-dominant applications to the Microsoft BI stack. Bill believes it is easier to teach technical skills to people with non-technical training than vice-versa, and he constantly seeks ways to graft new technology into the Accounting and Finance arenas. Bill was awarded Microsoft SQL Server MVP in 2009. Hobbies include advanced literature studies and occasional lectures, with recent concentration upon the works of William Faulkner, Henry James, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Honoré de Balzac, and Charles Dickens. Other long-time interests have included the exploration of generative music sourced from database architecture.

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