UserGuideChapter6

From OPeNDAP Documentation

1 Data and Data Models

Basic to the operation of OPeNDAP is the translation of data from one format to another. An OPeNDAP server must read data on some disk and translate it into an intermediate format for transmission to the client. It is to the question of these formats to which we shall turn first.

1.1 Data models

Any data set is made up of data and a \new{data model}. The data model defines the size and arrangement of data values, and may be thought of as an abstract representation of the relationship between one data value and another. Though it may seem paradoxical, it is precisely this relationship that defines the meaning of some number. Without the context provided by a data model, a number does not represent anything. For example, within some data set, it may be apparent that a number represents the value of temperature at some point in space and time. Without its neighboring temperature measurements, and without the latitude, longitude, depth, and time, the same number means nothing.

As the model only defines an abstract set of relationships, two data sets containing different data may share the same data model. For example, the data produced by two different measurements with the same instrument will use the same data model, though the values of the data are different. Sometimes two models may be equivalent. For example, an XBT measures a time series of temperature, but is usually stored as a series of temperature and depth measurements. The temperature vs. time model of the original data is equivalent to the temperature vs. depth model of the stored data.

In a computational sense, a data model may be considered to be the data type or collection of data types used to represent that data. A temperature measurement might occur as half an entry in a sequence of temperature and depth pairs. However the data model also includes the scalar latitude, longitude and date that identify the time and place where the temperature measurements were taken. Thus the data set might be represented in a C-like syntax like this (File:Fig,data,XBT-DDS):

\begin{figure}[htbp]

Dataset {

Float64 lat;

Float64 lon;

Int32 minutes;

Int32 day;

Int32 year;

Sequence {

Float64 depth;

Float64 temperature;

} cast;
} xbt-station;

\caption{Example Data Description of XBT Station}

\end{figure}

In the above example, a data set is described that contains all the data from a single XBT. The data set is called xbt-station, and contains floating-point representations of the latitude and longitude of the station, and three integers that specify when the XBT was released. The xbt-station contains a single sequence (called cast) of measurements, which are here represented as values for depth and temperature\footnote{In the remainder of this document, the phrase "sequence data}, or just {\em sequence", will mean an ordered set of elements each of which contains one or more sub-elements where all of the sub-elements of an element are somehow related to each other.}.

A different data model representing the same data might look like this (File:Fig,data,XBT-DDS-struct):

\begin{figure}[htbp]

Dataset {

Structure {

Float64 lat;

Float64 lon;

} location;

Structure {

Int32 minutes;

Int32 day;

Int32 year;

} time;

Sequence {

Float64 depth;

Float64 temperature;

} cast;
} xbt-station;

\caption{Example Data Description of XBT Station Using Structures}

\end{figure}

In this example, several of the data have been grouped, implying a relation between them. The nature of the relationship is not defined, but it is clear that lat and lon are both components of location, and that each measurement in the cast sequence is made up of depth and temperature values.


In these two examples, meaning was added to the data set only by providing a more refined context for the data values. No other data was added, but still the second example can be said to contain more information than the first one.

These two examples are refinements of the same basic arrangement of data. However, there is nothing that says that a completely different data model can't be just as useful or just as accurate. For example, the depth and temperature data, instead of being represented by a sequence of pairs, as in File:Fig,data,XBT-DDS and File:Fig,data,XBT-DDS-struct, could be represented by a pair of sequences or arrays, as in File:Fig,data,XBT-DDS-array

\begin{figure}[htbp]

Dataset {

Structure {

Float64 lat;

Float64 lon;

} location;

Structure {

Int32 minutes;

Int32 day;

Int32 year;

} time;

Float64 depth[500];

Float64 temperature[500];
} xbt-station;

\caption{Example Data Description of XBT Station Using Arrays}

\end{figure}

The relationship between the depth and temperature variables is no longer clear, but, depending on what sort of processing is intended, this may not be that important a loss.

The choice of a computational data model to contain some data set depends in many cases on the whims and preferences of the user, as well as on the data analysis software to be used. Several different data models may be equally useful for a given task. Of course, some data models will contain more information about the data than others, but this information can also be carried in a scientist's head.

Note that with a carefully chosen set of data type constructors, such as those we've used in the preceding examples, a user can implement an infinite number of data models. The examples above use the OPeNDAP Dataset Descriptor Structure (DDS) format, which will become important in later discussions of the details of the OPeNDAP Data Access Protocol. The precise details of the DDS syntax are described in ( data,dds).

1.1.1 Data Models and APIs

A data access Application Program Interface (API) is a library of functions designed to be used by a computer program to read, write, and sample data. Any given data access API can be said to define implicitly some data model. That is, the functions that make up the API accept and return data using a certain collection of computational data types: multi-dimensional arrays might be required for some data, scalars for others, lists for others. This collection of data types, and their use constitute the data model represented by that API. (Or data models---there is no reason an API cannot accommodate several different models.)

Among others, OPeNDAP currently supports two very different data access APIs: netCDF and JGOFS\@. The netCDF API is designed for access to gridded data, but has some limited capacity to access sequence data. The JGOFS API provides access to relational or sequence data. Both APIs support access in several programming languages (at least C and Fortran) and both provide extensive support for limiting the amount of data retrieved. For example a program accessing a gridded dataset using netCDF can extract a subsampled portion or \new{hyperslab} of that data. Likewise, the JGOFS API provides a powerful set of operators which can be used to specify which sequence elements to extract (for example, a user could request only those values corresponding to data captured between 12:01am and 11:59am) as well as masking certain parameters from the returned elements so that only those parameters needed by the program are returned.


1.1.2 Translating Data Models

The problem of data model translation is central to the implementation of OPeNDAP. With an effective data translator, an OPeNDAP program originally designed to read netCDF data can have some access to data sets that use an incompatible data model, such as JGOFS.

In general, it is not possible to define an algorithm that will translate data from any model to any other, without losing information defined by the position of data values or the relations between them. Some of these incompatibilities are obvious; a data model designed for time series data may not be able to accommodate multi-dimensional arrays. Others are more subtle. For example, a sequence looks very similar to a collection of lists in many respects. However, a sequence is an ordered collection of data types, whereas a list implies no order. However, there are many useful translations that can be done, and there are many others that are still useful despite their inherent information loss.

For example, consider a relational structure like the one in File:Fig,data,XBT-DDS-ex. This is similar to the examples in ( data,model), rearranged to accommodate an entire cruise worth of temperature-depth measurements. This is the sort of data type that the JGOFS API is designed to use.

\begin{figure}[htbp]

Dataset {

Sequence {

Int32 id;

Float64 latitude;

Float64 longitude;

Sequence {

Float64 depth;

Float64 temperature;

} xbt_drop;

} station;
} cruise;

\caption{Example Data Description of XBT Cruise}

\end{figure}

Note that each entry in the cruise sequence is composed of a tuple of data values (one of which is itself a sequence). Were we to arrange these data values as a table, they might look like this:

id   lat   lon   depth  temp
1   10.8   60.8    0     70

10     46

20     34
2   11.2   61.0    0     71

10     45

20     34
3   11.6   61.2    0     69

10     47

20     34

This can be made into an array, although that introduces redundancy.

id   lat   lon   depth  temp
1   10.8   60.8    0     70
1   10.8   60.8   10     46
1   10.8   60.8   20     34
2   11.2   61.0    0     71
2   11.2   61.0   10     45
2   11.2   61.0   20     34
3   11.6   61.2    0     69
3   11.6   61.2   10     47
3   11.6   61.2   20     34

The data is now in a form that may be read by an API such as netCDF. But consider the analysis stage. Suppose a user wants to see graphs of station data. It is not obvious simply from the arrangement of the array where a station stops and the next one begins. Analyzing data in this format is not a function likely to be accommodated by a program that uses the netCDF API. \tbd{This section will be finished when the form of the translation specification is determined.}

1.2 Data Access Protocol

The OPeNDAP Data Access Protocol (DAP) defines how an OPeNDAP client and an OPeNDAP server communicate with one another to pass data from the server to the client. The job of the functions in the OPeNDAP client library is to translate data from the DAP into the form expected by the data access API for which the OPeNDAP library is substituting. The job of an OPeNDAP server is to translate data stored on a disk in whatever format they happen to be stored in to the DAP for transmission to the client.

The DAP consists of four components:


  1. An "intermediate data representation" for data sets. This is

used to transport data from the remote source to the client. The data types that make up this representation may be thought of as the OPeNDAP data model.

  1. A format for the "ancillary data" needed to translate

a data set into the intermediate representation, and to translate the intermediate representation into the target data model. The ancillary data in turn consists of two pieces:


    • A description of the shape and size of the various data types

stored in some given data set. This is called the \new{Data Description Structure} (DDS).

    • Capsule descriptions of some of the properties of the data

stored in some given data set. This is the \new{Data Attribute Structure} (DAS).

  1. A "procedure" for retrieving data and ancillary data from

remote platforms.

  1. An "API" consisting of OPeNDAP classes and data access

calls designed to implement the protocol,

The intermediate data representation and the ancillary data formats are introduced in ( data,types) and ( data,ancillary), below. The steps of the procedure are outlined in ( opd-server,arch), and the OPeNDAP core software is described in the The OPeNDAP Programmer's Guide .

1.3 Data representation

There are many popular data storage formats, and many more than that in use. These formats are optimized (it they are optimized at all) for data storage, and are not generally suitable for data transmission. In order to transmit data over the Internet, OPeNDAP must translate the data model used by a particular storage format into the data model used for transmission.

If the data model for transmission is defined to be general enough to encompass the abstractions of several data models for storage, than this intermediate representation--the transmission format--can be used to translate between one data model and another.

The OPeNDAP data model consists of a fairly elementary set of base types, combined with an advanced set of constructs and operators that allows it to define data types of arbitrary complexity. This way, the OPeNDAP data access protocol can be used to transmit data from virtually any data storage format.

The elements of the OPeNDAP data access protocol are:


  • {\bf Base Types} These are the simple data types, like integers, floating point numbers, strings, and character data.
  • {\bf Constructor Types} These are the more complex data types that can be constructed from the simple base types. Examples are structures, sequences, arrays, and grids.
  • {\bf Operators} Access to data can be operationally defined with operators defined on the various data types.
  • {\bf External Data Representation} In order to transmit the data across the Internet, there needs to be a machine-independent definition of what the various data types look like. For example, the client and server need to agree on the most significant digit of a particular byte in the message

These elements are defined in greater detail in the sections that follow.

1.3.1 Base Types

The OPeNDAP data model uses the concepts of variables and operators. Each data set is defined by a set of one or more variables, and each variable is defined by a set of attributes. A variable's attributes ---such as units, name and type---must not be confused with the data value (or values) that may be represented by that variable. A variable called time may contain an integer number of minutes, but it does not contain a particular number of minutes until a context, such as a specific event recorded in a data set, is provided. Each variable may further be the object of an operator that defines a subset of the available data set. This is detailed in ( data,operators). Variables in the OPeNDAP DAP have two forms. They are either base types or type constructors. Base type variables are similar to predefined variables in procedural programming languages like C or Fortran (such as int or integer*4). While these certainly have an internal structure, it is not possible to access parts of that structure using the DAP\@. Base type variables in the DAP have two predefined attributes (or characteristics): name, and type.\tbd{Should also have "units."} They are defined as follows:



Name 
A unique identifier that can be used to reference the part of

the dataset associated with this variable.


Type 
The data type contained by the variable. This can be one

of Byte, Int32, UInt32, Float64,

String, and URL\@. Where:


Byte 
is a single byte of data. This is the same as

unsigned char in ANSI C\@.


Int32 
is a 32 bit two's complement integer---it

is synonymous with long in ANSI C when that type is implemented as 32 bits.


UInt32 
is a 32 bit unsigned integer.


Float64 
is the IEEE 64 bit floating point data type.


String 
is a sequence of bytes terminated by a null

character.

Url 
is a string containing an OPeNDAP URL. Please refer to

( opd-client,url) for more information about these strings. A special * operator is defined for a URL. If the variable my-url is defined as a URL data type, then my-url indicates the string spelling out the URL, and *my-url indicates the data specified by the URL.

The declaration in a DDS of a variable of any of the base types is simply the type of the variable, followed by its name, and a semicolon. For example, to declare a month variable to be a 32-bit integer, one would type:

Int32 month;


1.3.2 Constructor Types

Constructor types, such as arrays, structures, and lists, describe the grouping of one or more variables within a dataset. These classes are used to describe different types of relations between the variables that comprise the dataset. For example, an array might indicate that the variables grouped are all measurements of the same quantity with some spatial relation to one another, whereas a structure might indicate a grouping of measurements of disparate quantities that happened at the same place and time.

There are six classes of type constructor variables defined by the OPeNDAP DAP: lists, arrays, structures, sequences, functions, and grids. The types are defined as:


List
The list type constructor is used to hold

lists of 0 or more items of one type. Lists are specified using the keyword list before the variable's class, for example, list int32 or list grid. Access to the elements of a list is possible using one of the three operators shown in \tableref{data,tab,class-ops}:



  • "list".length Returns the integer length of the "list".
  • "list".nth(n) Returns the nth member of the "list".
  • "list".member (value) Returns \lit{true if the "value" is a member of the "list".


NOTE: The syntax of these operators differs between their use in a C++ program and a constraint expression. The length of some list, given by list.length() in a program, would be length(list) in a constraint expression. Similarly, in a constraint expression, the position of a value in a list is given by nth(list, value), and the presence of a value is indicated by member(list, value). See ( opd-client,constraint) for more information about constraint expressions.


A list declaration to create a list of integers would look like the following:

List Int32 months;
Array 
An array is a one dimensional indexed data

structure as defined by ANSI C\@. Multidimensional arrays are defined as arrays of arrays. An array may be subsampled using subscripts or ranges of subscripts enclosed in brackets (()). For example, temp[3][4] would indicate the value in the fourth row and fifth column of the temp array.\footnote{As in C, OPeNDAP array indices start at zero.} A chunk of an array may be specified with subscript ranges; the array temp[2:10][3:4] indicates an array of nine rows and two columns whose values have been lifted intact from the larger temp array.

A hyperslab may be selected from an array with a \new{stride} value. The array represented by temp[2:2:10][3:4] would have only five rows; the middle value in the first subscript range indicates that the output array values are to be selected from alternate input array rows. The array temp[2:3:10][3:4] would select from every third row, and so on. \tableref{data,tab,class-ops} shows the syntax for array accesses including hyperslabs.


To declare a <math>5x6</math> array of floating point numbers, the declaration would look like the following:

Float64 data[5][6];

In addition to its magnitude, every dimension of an array may also have a name. The previous declaration could be written:

Float64 data[height = 5][width = 6];
Structure 
A Structure is a class that may contain
several variables of different classes. However, though it implies

that its member variables are related somehow, it conveys no relational information about them. The structure type can also be used to group a set of unrelated variables together into a single dataset. The "dataset" class name is a synonym for {\tt structure.

A Structure declaration containing some data and the month in which the data was taken might look like this:

   Structure {
      Int32 month;
      Float64 data[5][6];
   } measurement;

Use the <math>.</math> operator to refer to members of a \class{Structure}. For example, measurement.month would identify the integer member of the \class{Structure} defined in the above declaration.

Sequence 
A \class{Sequence} is an ordered set of

variables each of which may have several values. The variables may be of different classes. Each element of a \class{Sequence} consists of a value for each member variable. Thus a \class{Sequence} can be represented as:

s_{0 0} . s_{0 n}
vdots ddots vdots
s_{i 0} cdots s_{i n}


Every instance of sequence <math>S</math> has the same number, order, and class of member variables. A \class{Sequence} implies that each of the variables is related to each other in some logical way. For example, a sequence containing position and temperature measurements might imply that the temperature measurements were taken at the corresponding position. A sequence is different from a structure because its constituent variables have several instances while a structure's variables have only one instance (or value). Because a sequence has several values for each of its variables it has an implied \new{state}, in addition to those values. The state corresponds to a single element in the sequence.


A \class{Sequence} declaration is similar to a \class{Structure}'s. For example, the following would define a \class{Sequence} that would contain many members like the \class{Structure} defined above:

   Sequence {
      Int32 month;
      Float64 data[5][6];
   } measurement;

Note that, unlike an \class{Array}, a \class{Sequence} has no index. This means that a \class{Sequence}'s values are not simultaneously accessible. Like a \class{Structure}, the variable measurement.month has a single value. The distinction is that this variable's value changes depending on the state of the Sequence.


Grid 
is an association of

an <math>N</math> dimensional array with <math>N</math> named vectors (one-dimensional arrays), each of which has the same number of elements as the corresponding dimension of the array. Each data value in the grid is associated with the data values in the vectors associated with its dimensions.

As an example, consider an array of temperature values that is six columns wide by five rows long. Suppose that this array represents measurements of temperature at five different depths in six different locations. The problem is the indication of the precise location of each temperature measurement, relative to one another.\footnote{The absolute location and orientation of the entire array is specified by another set of scalar values; we are here considering the relationship between data type members.}


If the six locations are evenly spaced, and the five depths are also evenly spaced, then the data set can be completely described using the array and two scalar values indicating the distance between adjacent vertices of the array. However, if the spacing of the measurements is not regular, as in File:Data,fig,grid then an array will be inadequate. To adequately describe the positions of each of the points in the grid, the precise location of each volume and row must be described.

\figureplace{An Irregular Grid of Data.}{htbp} {data,fig,grid}{grid.ps}{grid.gif}{}

The secondary vectors in the \class{Grid} data type provide a solution to this problem. Each member of these vectors defines a value for all the data values in the corresponding rank of the array. The value can represent location or time or some other quantity, and can even be a constructor data type. The following declaration would define a data type that could accommodate a structure like this:


Grid {

Float64 data[distance = 6][depth = 5];

Float64 distance[6];

Float64 depth[5];

} measurement;

In the above example, an vector called depth would contain five values corresponding to the depths of each row of the array, while another vector called distance might contain the scalar distance between the location of the corresponding column, and some reference point. The distance array could also contain six (latitude, longitude) pairs indicating the absolute location of each column of the grid.


Grid {

Float64 data[distance = 6][depth = 5];

Float64 depth[5];

Array Structure {

Float64 latitude;

Float64 longitude;

} distance[6];

} measurement;

1.3.3 Operators

Access to variables can be modified using operators. Each type of variable has its own set of selection and projection operators which can be used to modify the result of accessing a variable of that type. \tableref{data,tab,class-ops} lists the types and the operators applicable to them. In the table, operators have the meaning defined by ANSI C except as follows: the array hyperslab operators are as defined by netCDF\citel{netcdf}, the string operators are as defined by AWK\citel{kern:upe}, and the list operators are as defined by Common Lisp\citel{steele:clisp}.


Class Operators
Simple Types
Byte,Int32},UInt32},Float64 < > = != <= >=
String = != ~=
URL * *
Compound Types
Array [start:stop] [start:stride:stop]
List length(list), nth(list,n), member(list,elem)
Structure *
Sequence *
Grid [start:stop] [start:stride:stop] .


Two of the operators deserve special note. Individual fields of type constructors may be accessed using the dot (.) operator or the virtual file system syntax. If a structure s has two fields time and temperature, then those fields may be accessed using s.time and s.temperature or as s/time and s/temperature. Also, a special dereferencing * operator is defined for a URL. This is roughly analogous to the pointer-dereference operator of ANSI C. That is, if the variable my-url is defined as a URL data type, then my-url indicates the string spelling out the URL, and *my-url indicates the actual data indicated by the URL.

More information about variables and operators can be found in the discussion of constraint expressions in ( opd-client,constraint).

1.3.4 External Data Representation

Each of the base-type and type constructor variables has an external representation defined by the OPeNDAP data access protocol. This representation is used when an object of the given type is transferred from one computer to another. Defining a single external representation simplifies the translation of variables from one computer to another when those computers use different internal representations for those variable types.

\begin{table}[htbp] \caption{The XDR data types corresponding to OPeNDAP base-type variables}

\begin{center} \begin{tabular}{|l|l|} \hline \tblhd{Base Type} & \tblhd{XDR Type}

\hline

\class{Byte} & xdr byte

 \hline

\class{Int32} & xdr long

 \hline

\class{UInt32} & xdr unsigned long

 \hline

\class{Float64} & xdr double

 \hline

\class{String} & xdr string

 \hline

\class{URL} & xdr string

 \hline

\end{tabular} \end{center} \end{table}

Constraint expressions do not affect how a base-type variable is transmitted from a client to a server; they determine if a variable is to be transmitted. For constructor type variables, however, constraint expressions may be used to exclude portions of the variable. For example, if a constraint expression is used to select the first three of six fields in a structure, the last three fields of that structure are not transmitted by the server.

The data access protocol uses Sun Microsystems' XDR protocol\citel{xdr} for the external representation of all of the base type variables. \tableref{data,tab,base-xdr} shows the XDR types used to represent the various base type variables.

In order to transmit constructor type variables, the data access protocol defines how the various base type variables, which comprise the constructor type variables, are transmitted. Any constructor type variable may be subject to a constraint expression which changes the amount of data transmitted for the variable (see ( opd-client,constraint) for more information about constraint expressions.). For each of the six constructor types these definitions are:


[\class{Array}] An \class{Array} is sent using the

xdr_array function. This means that an \class{Array} of 100

Int32s is sent as a single block of 100 xdr longs, not

100 separate "xdr long"s.


[\class{List}] A \class{List} is sent as if it were an

\class{Array}.


[\class{Structure}] A \class{Structure} is sent by encoding each

field in the order those fields are declared in the DDS and

transmitting the resulting block of bytes.


[\class{Sequence}] A \class{Sequence} is transmitted by encoding

each item in the sequence as if it were a \class{Structure}, and sending each such structure after the other, in the order of their

occurrence in the sequence. The entire sequence is sent, subject to

the constraint expression. In other words, if no constraint

expression is supplied then the entire sequence is sent. However, if

a constraint expression is given all the records in the sequence

that satisfy the expression are sent\footnote{The client process can

limit the information received by either using a constraint

expression or prematurely closing the I/O stream. In the latter

case the server will exit without sending the entire sequence.}.


% [Function] A Function is encoded as if it were a Sequence (one



[\class{Grid}] A \class{Grid} is encoded as if it were a

\class{Structure} (one component after the other, in the order of

their declaration).

The external data representation used by an OPeNDAP server and client may be compressed, depending on the configuration of the respective machines. The compression is done using the gzip program. Only the data transmission itself will be affected by this; the transmission of the ancillary data is not compressed.


1.4 Ancillary data

In order to use some data set, a user must have some information at his or her disposal that is not strictly included in the data set itself. This information, called \new{ancillary data} \footnote{We

have learned to shy away from this term since we have found that

`metadata' to one person is `data' to another; the categorization

often limits the usefulness of the underlying information.}), describes the shape and size of the data types that make up the data set, and provides information about many of the data set's attributes, as well. OPeNDAP uses two different structures, to supply this ancillary information about an OPeNDAP data set. The Dataset Descriptor Structure (DDS) describes the data set's structure and the relationships between its variables, and the Dataset Attribute Structure (DAS) provides information about the variables themselves. Both structures are described in the following sections.

1.4.1 Dataset Descriptor Structure

In order to translate data from one data model into another, OPeNDAP must have some knowledge about the types of the variables, and their semantics, that comprise a given data set. It must also know something about the relations of those variables---even those relations which are only implicit in the dataset's own API\@. This knowledge about the dataset's structure is contained in a text description of the dataset called the \new{Dataset Description Structure}.


The DDS does not describe how the information in the dataset is physically stored, nor does it describe how the data set API is used to access that data. Those pieces of information are contained in the API itself and in the OPeNDAP server, respectively. The server uses the DDS to describe the structure of a particular dataset to a translator---the DDS contains knowledge about the dataset variables and the interrelations of those variables. In addition, the DDS can be used to satisfy some of the DODS-supported API data set description calls. For example, netCDF has a function which returns the names of all the variables in a netCDF data file. The DDS can be used to get that information.

The DDS is a textual description of the variables and their classes that make up some data set. The DDS syntax is based on the variable declaration and definition syntax of C and C++. A variable that is a member of one of the base type classes is declared by writing the class name followed by the variable name. The type constructor classes are declared using C's brace notation. A grammar for the syntax is given in \tableref{data,tab,DDS}. Each of the keywords for the type constructor and base type classes have already been described in ( data,types). The Dataset keyword has the same syntactic function as \class{Structure} but is used for the specific job of enclosing the entire data set even when it does not technically need an enclosing element.

\begin{table}[htbp] \caption{Dataset Descriptor Structure Syntax}

\small \begin{center} \begin{tabular}{|l|l|} \hline

data set Dataset {declaration} name ;
"declaration" List declaration
"base-type var;"
Structure {"declarations"} var ;
Sequence {"declarations"} var ;
Grid | ARRAY : declaration MAPS : declaration } var ;
"base-type" Byte
Int32
UInt32
Float64
String
Url
"var" "name"
"name array-decl"
"array-decl" [integer]
[name = integer ]
"name" User-chosen name of data set, variable, or array dimension.


Different data access APIs will store the information in the DDS in different places. Some APIs are self-documenting in the sense that the data files themselves will contain all the information about the structure of their data types. Other APIs need secondary files containing what is called ancillary data, describing the data structure. For some APIs, such as netCDF, gathering the ancillary information from the data archive may be a time-consuming process. The OPeNDAP server for these APIs may cache ancillary data files to save time. An example DDS entry is shown in File:Data,fig,dds. (See ( data,model) for an explanation of the information implied by the data model, and for several other DDS examples).

\begin{figure}[htbp] \W

Dataset {

Int32 catalog_number;

Sequence {

String experimenter;

Int32 time;

Structure {

Float64 latitude;

Float64 longitude;

} location;

Sequence {

Float64 depth;

Float64 salinity;

Float64 oxygen;

Float64 temperature;

} cast;

} station;
} data;


\caption{Example Dataset Descriptor Entry.} \T \end{figure}

When creating a DDS to be kept in an ancillary file, you can use the \# character as a comment indicator. All characters after the \# on a line are ignored.

1.4.2 Dataset Attribute Structure

The \new{Dataset Attribute Structure} (DAS) is used to store attributes for variables in the dataset. An attribute is any piece of information about a variable that the creator wants to bind with that variable excluding the type and shape, which are part of the DDS. Attributes can be as simple as error measurements or as elaborate as text describing how the data was collected or processed\footnote{To define attributes for the entire dataset, create

an entry for a variable with the same name as the dataset.}. In principle, attributes are not processed by software, other than to be displayed. However, many systems rely on attributes to store extra information that is necessary to perform certain manipulations of data. In effect, attributes are used to store information that is used `by convention' rather than `by design'. OPeNDAP can effectively support these conventions by passing the attributes from data set to user program via the DAS\@. Of course, OPeNDAP cannot enforce conventions in datasets where they were not followed in the first place.

Similarly to the DDS, the actual location of the DAS storage will vary from one API to another. Data files created with some APIs will contain within themselves attribute information that can be contained in the DAS. For these APIs, the DAS will be constructed dynamically by the OPeNDAP server from data within the files.

Other data access APIs must have attribute information specified in an ancillary data file. APIs that contain attribute information can have that information enriched by the addition of these ancillary attribute files. These files are typically stored in the same directory as the data files, and given the same name as the data files, appended with .das.

The syntax for attributes in a DAS is given in \tableref{data,tab,DAS}. Every attribute of a variable is a triple: attribute name, type and value. Note that the attributes specified using the DAS are different from the information contained in the DDS\@. Each attribute is completely distinct from the name, type, and value of its associated variable. The name of an attribute is an identifier, following the normal rules for an identifier in a programming language with the addition that the `/' character may be used. The type of an attribute may be one of: \class{Byte}, \class{Int32}, \class{UInt32}, \class{Float64}, \class{String} or \class{Url}. An attribute may be scalar or vector. In the latter case the values of the vector are separated by commas (,) in the textual representation of the DAS\@.


{Dataset Attribute Structure Syntax}


DAS Attributes (var-attr-list)
var-attr-list var-attr
var-attr-list var-attr
(empty list)
var-attr variable (attr-list)
container (var-attr-list)
global-attr
alias
global-attr Global variable (attr-list)
attr-list attr-triple;
attr-list attr-triple
(empty list)
attr-triple attr-type attribute attr-val-vec
attr-val-vec attr-val
attr-val-vec attr-val
attr-val numeric value
variable
string
attr-type Byte
Int32
UInt32
Float64
String
Url
alias Alias alias-name variable;
variable user-chosen variable name
attribute user-chosen attribute name
container user-chosen container name
alias-name user-chosen alias name

When creating a DAS to be kept in an ancillary file, you can use the \# character as a comment indicator. All characters after the \# on a line are ignored.

1.4.2.1 Containers

An attribute can contain another attribute, or set of attributes. This is roughly comparable to the way compound variables can contain other variables in the DDS. The container defines a new lexical scope for the attributes it contains\footnote{Containers, aliases, and

global attributes were introduced into OPeNDAP at version 2.16. In

early OPeNDAP releases, the DAS was not a hierarchical

structure; it was similar to a flat-file database. Although using

the new structure is strongly recommended for new code, old code

will still work with the old DAS. See The OPeNDAP Programmer's Guideref for a description

of the changes made to the \class{AttrTable} class.}.

Consider the following example:

\begin{figure}[h] \begin{vcode}{cb} Attributes {

Bill {

String LastName "Evans";

Byte Age 53;

String DaughterName "Matilda";

Matilda {

String LastName "Fink";

Byte Age 26;

}

} }

\caption{An Example of Attribute Containers}


\end{figure}

\noindent Here, the attribute Bill.LastName would be associated with the string "Evans", and Bill.Age with the number 53. However, the attribute Bill.Matilda.LastName would be associated with the string "Fink" and Bill.Matilda.Age with the number 26.

Using container attributes as above, you can construct a DAS that exactly mirrors the construction of a DDS that uses compound data types, like \class{Structure} and \class{Sequence}. Note that though the Bill attribute is a container, it has attributes of its own, as well. This exactly corresponds to the situation where, for example, a \class{Sequence} would have attributes belonging to it, as well as attributes for each of its member variables. Suppose the sequence represented a single time series of measurements, where several different data types are measured at each time. The sequence attributes might be the time and location of the measurements, and the individual variables might have attributes describing the method or accuracy of that measurement.

1.4.2.2 Aliases

Building on the previous example, it might be true that it would be convenient to refer to Matilda without prefixing every reference with Bill. In this case, we can define an \new{alias} attribute

as follows:

\begin{figure}[h] \begin{vcode}{cb} Attributes {

Bill {

String LastName "Evans";

Byte Age 53;

String DaughterName "Matilda";

Matilda {

String LastName "Fink";

Byte Age 26;

}

}

Alias Matilda Bill.Matilda; }

\caption{An Example of Attribute Alias}


\end{figure}

\noindent By defining an equivalence between the alias Matilda and the original attribute Bill.Matilda, the string Matilda.Age can be used with or without the prefix Bill. In either case, the attribute value will be 26.

1.4.2.3 Global Attributes

A \new{global attribute} is not bound to a particular identifier in a dataset; these attributes are stored in one or more containers with the name Global or ending with _Global. Global attributes are used to describe attributes of an entire dataset. For example, a global attribute might contain the name of the satellite or ship from which the data was collected. Here's an example:

\begin{figure}[h] \begin{vcode}{cb} Attributes {

Bill {

String LastName "Evans";

Byte Age 53;

String DaughterName "Matilda";

Matilda {

String LastName "Fink";

Byte Age 26;

}

}

Alias Matilda Bill.Matilda;

Global {

String Name "FamilyData";

String DateCompiled "11/17/98";

} }

\caption{An Example of Global Attributes}


\end{figure}

Global attributes can be used to define a certain view of a dataset. For example, consider the following DAS:

\begin{figure}[h] \begin{vcode}{cb} Attributes {

CTD {

String Ship "Oceanus";

Temp {

String Name "Temperature";

}

Salt {

String Name "Salinity";

}

}

Global {

String Names "OPeNDAP";

}

FNO_Global {

String Names "FNO";

CTD {

Temp {

String FNOName "TEMPERATURE";

}

Salinity {

String FNOName "SALINITY";

}

}

Alias T CTD.Temp;

Alias S CTD.Salt;

} }

\caption{An Example of Global Attributes In Use}


\end{figure}

Here, a dataset contains temperature and salinity measurements. To aid processing of this dataset by some OPeNDAP client, long names are supplied for the Temp and Salt variables. However, a different client (FNO) spells variable names differently. Since it is seldom practical to come up with general-purpose translation tables\footnote{"Temperature" can be spelled "T", "Temp",

"TEMPERATURE", "TEMP", and so on. Worse, "T" is also commonly

used for "Time."}, the dataset administrator has chosen to include these synonyms under the FNO_Global attributes, as a convenience to those users.

Similar conveniences can be provided using the Alias feature. In the example in File:Fig,das,global-use, the temperature variable can be referred to as FNO_Global.T if desired. That is, a global alias can provide a client with a known attribute name to query for some property, even if that attribute name is not an integral part of the dataset.

Using global attributes, a dataset or catalog administrator can create a layer of aliases and attributes to make OPeNDAP datasets conform to several different dataset naming standards. This becomes significant when trying to compile an OPeNDAP dataset database. Bold text