Easy EdgeDB · Chapter 15

The vampire hunt begins

Expression OnError Messages

It’s good that Jonathan is back, but he is still in shock. He doesn’t know if the experience with Dracula was real or not, and thinks he might be crazy. But then Jonathan meets Van Helsing who tells him that it was all true. Now that he knows everything was true, Jonathan becomes strong and confident again.

Our heroes begin the search for Dracula. The others learn that the Carfax mansion across from Dr. Seward’s asylum is the one that Dracula bought. So that’s why Renfield was so strongly affected!

The heroes search the house when the sun is up and find boxes of earth in which Dracula sleeps. They destroy them all in Carfax, but there are still many left in London. If they don’t destroy the other boxes, Dracula will be able to rest in them during the day and terrorize London every night when the sun goes down.

Our heroes learned something about vampires in this chapter: vampires need to sleep in coffins (boxes for dead people) with holy earth during the day. That’s why Dracula brought 50 of them over by ship on the Demeter. This is important for the mechanics of our game so we should create a type for this. And if we think about it:

  • Each place in the world either has coffins or doesn’t have them,

  • A place that has coffins is a place that vampires can enter and terrorize the people,

  • If a place has coffins, we should know how many of them there are.

This sounds like a good case for an abstract type. Here it is:

Copy
abstract type HasCoffins {
  required coffins: int16 {
    default := 0;
  }
}

Most places will not have a special vampire coffin, so the default is 0. The coffins property is just an int16, and vampires can remain close to a place if the number is 1 or greater. In the mechanics of our game we would probably give vampires an activity radius of about 100 km from a place with a coffin. That’s because of the typical vampire schedule which is usually as follows:

  • Wake up refreshed in the coffin after the sun goes down, get ready to leave by 8 pm to find people to terrorize.

  • Feel a sense of freedom because the night has just begun, and start moving away from the safety of the coffins to find victims. A vampire might use a horse-driven carriage at 25 kph, which gives a pretty wide radius.

  • Around 1 or 2 am, the vampire start to feel nervous. The sun will be up in about 5 hours. Is there enough time to get home?

So the part between 8 pm and 1 am is when the vampire is free to move away, and at 25 kph we get an activity radius of about 100 km around a coffin. At that distance, even the bravest vampire will start running back towards home by 2 am.

If we were building a more complex game, vampire terrorism on humans would be worse in the winter, when the activity radius might increase to about 150km due to longer nights… but we won’t get that detailed here.

With our abstract type done, we will want to have a lot of types extending this. First we can have Place extend it, and that gives it to all the other location types such as City and OtherPlace:

Copy
abstract type Place extending HasCoffins {
  required name: str {
    delegated constraint exclusive;
  };
  modern_name: str;
  important_places: array<str>;
}

Ships are also big enough to have coffins (the Demeter had 50 of them, after all) so we’ll extend for Ship as well:

Copy
type Ship extending HasCoffins {
  name: str;
  multi sailors: Sailor;
  multi crew: Crewman;
}

If we want, we can now make a quick function to test whether a vampire can enter a place:

Copy
function can_enter(person_name: str, place: HasCoffins) -> optional str
  using (
    with vampire := assert_single((select Person filter .name = person_name)),
    has_coffins := place.coffins > 0,
      select vampire.name ++ ' can enter.' 
        if has_coffins else vampire.name ++ ' cannot enter.'
    );

The function returns an optional str because it may return an empty set. You’ll also notice that person_name in this function actually just takes a str that it uses to select a Person. So technically it could say something like ‘Jonathan Harker cannot enter’.

If we can’t trust the user of the function to always enter a Vampire or MinorVampire object, there are some options:

  • Overload the function to have two signatures, one for each type of Vampire:

Copy
function can_enter(vampire: Vampire, place: HasCoffins) -> optional str
function can_enter(vampire: MinorVampire, place: HasCoffins) -> optional str
  • Create an abstract type (like type AnyVampire) and extend it for Vampire and MinorVampire. Then can_enter can have this signature:

Copy
function can_enter(vampire: AnyVampire, place: HasCoffins) -> optional str

Let’s learn a bit more about the optional keyword. Without it, you need to trust the users that the input argument will be there, because a function won’t be called if the input is empty. We can illustrate this point with this simple function:

Copy
function try(place: City) -> str
  using (
    select 'Called!'
  );

If we call it with this:

Copy
select try((select City filter .name = 'London'));`

Then the output is Called! as we expected. The function requires a City as an argument, and then ignores it and returns ‘Called!’ instead.

So far so good, but the input is not optional so what happens if we type this instead?

Copy
select try((select City filter .name = 'Beijing'));

Now the output will be {} because we’ve never inserted any data for the city ‘Beijing’ in our database (nobody in Bram Stoker’s Dracula ever goes to Beijing). So what if we want the function to be called in any case? We can put the keyword optional in front of the parameter like this:

Copy
function try(place: optional City) -> str
  using (
    select 'Called!'
  );

In this case we are still ignoring the argument place (the City type) but making it optional lets the function select ‘Called!’ regardless of whether it finds an argument or not. Having a City type and not having a City type are both acceptable in this case, and the function gets called in either case.

The documentation explains it like this:

...the function is called normally when the corresponding argument is empty [...]
A notable example of a function that gets called on empty input is the coalescing operator.

Interesting! You’ll remember the coalescing operator ?? that we first saw in Chapter 11. And when we look at its signature, you can see the optional in there:

optional anytype ?? set of anytype -> set of anytype

So those are some ideas for how to set up your functions depending on how you think people might use them.

We’re coming up to an insert, so let’s migrate the schema. Here are all the schema changes from the discussion so for in this chapter:

Copy
abstract type HasCoffins {
  required coffins: int16 {
    default := 0;
  }
}

abstract type Place extending HasCoffins {
  required name: str {
    delegated constraint exclusive;
  };
  modern_name: str;
  important_places: array<str>;
}

type Ship extending HasCoffins {
  name: str;
  multi sailors: Sailor;
  multi crew: Crewman;
}

function can_enter(person_name: str, place: HasCoffins) -> optional str
  using (
    with vampire := assert_single((select Person filter .name = person_name)),
    has_coffins := place.coffins > 0,
      select vampire.name ++ ' can enter.' if has_coffins else vampire.name ++ ' cannot enter.'
    );

Now let’s give London some coffins. According to the book, our heroes destroyed 29 coffins at Carfax that night, which leaves 21 in London.

Copy
update City filter .name = 'London'
set {
  coffins := 21
};

Now we can finally call up our function and see if it works:

Copy
select can_enter('Count Dracula', (select City filter .name = 'London'));

We get {'Count Dracula can enter.'}.

Some other possible ideas for improvement later on for can_enter() are:

  • Move the property name from Place and Ship over to HasCoffins. Then the user could just enter a string. The function would then use it to select the type and then display its name, giving a result like “Count Dracula can enter London.”

  • Require a date in the function so that we can check if the vampire is dead or not first. For example, if we entered a date after Lucy died, it would just display something like the following:

vampire.name ++ ' is already dead on ' ++ <str>.date
++ ' and cannot enter ' ++ city.name`

Let’s look at some more constraints. We’ve seen exclusive and max_value already, but there are some others that we can use as well.

There is one called max_len_value that makes sure that a string doesn’t go over a certain length. That could be good for our PC type. NPCs won’t need this constraint because their names are already decided by us the creators of the game, but max_len_value() is good for PCs to make sure that players don’t choose names that are too long to display. This constraint doesn’t exist on the original Person type, so we’ll also need to add the overloaded keyword here. The PC type with the new constraint now looks like this:

Copy
type PC extending Person {
  required class: Class;
  required created_at: datetime {
    default := datetime_of_statement()
  }
  required number: PCNumber {
    default := sequence_next(introspect PCNumber);
  }
  overloaded required name: str {
    constraint max_len_value(30);
  }
}

And now PC objects like this one with names that are too long won’t be able to be inserted anymore:

Copy
insert PC {
 class := Class.Rogue,
 name := "Oh man, let me tell you about this PC and his name. It all began one day when.."
};

The error is pretty nice and tells us everything we need to know:

edgedb error: ConstraintViolationError: name must be no longer 
than 30 characters.
  Detail: `value of property 'name' of object type 'default`::`PC'` 
  must be no longer than 30 characters.

Another convenient constraint is called one_of, and is sort of like a quick enum. One place in our schema where we could use it is title: str; in our Person type. You’ll remember that we added that in case we wanted to generate names from various parts (first name, last name, title, degree…). This constraint could work to make sure that people don’t just make up their own titles:

Copy
title: str {
  constraint one_of('Mr.', 'Mrs.', 'Ms.', 'Lord');
}

For us it’s probably not worth it to add a one_of constraint though, as there are probably too many titles throughout the book (Count, the German Herr, Lady, Dr., Ph.D., etc.).

Another place you could imagine using a one_of is in the months, because the book only goes from May to October of the same year. If we had an object type generating a date then you could have this sort of constraint inside it:

Copy
month: int64 {
  constraint one_of(5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10);
}

But that will depend on how the game works.

Now let’s learn about perhaps the most interesting constraint in EdgeDB: an expression that we create ourselves!

One particularly flexible constraint is called expression on, which lets us add any expression we want. After expression on you add the expression (in brackets) that must return true to create an object. In other words: “Create this object as long as (insert expression here)”.

Let’s say we need a type Lord for some reason later on, and all Lord types must have the word ‘Lord’ in their name. We can constrain the type to make sure that this is always the case. For this, we will use a function called std::contains() that looks like this:

Copy
std::contains(haystack: str, needle: str) -> bool

This function returns {true} if the haystack (a string) contains the needle (usually a shorter string).

We can write the constraint with expression on and contains() like this:

Copy
type Lord extending Person {
  constraint expression on (
    contains(__subject__.name, 'Lord')
  );
}

__subject__ there refers to the object itself.

Let’s do a migration here because a Lord type could be useful later.

Now when we try to insert a Lord without it, it won’t work:

Copy
insert Lord {
  name := 'Billy'
  # Other stuff..
};

But if the name is ‘Lord Billy’ (or ‘Lord William’, or ‘Lord’ anything), it will work.

While we’re at it, let’s practice doing a select and insert at the same time so we see the output of our insert right away. We’ll change Billy to Lord Billy and say that Lord Billy (considering his great wealth) has visited every place in our database.

Copy
select (
  insert Lord {
    name := 'Lord Billy',
    places_visited := (select Place),
  }
) {
  name,
  places_visited: {
    name
  }
};

Now that .name contains the substring Lord, it works like a charm:

{
  default::Lord {
    name: 'Lord Billy',
    places_visited: {
      default::Country {name: 'Hungary'},
      default::Country {name: 'Romania'},
      default::Country {name: 'France'},
      default::Country {name: 'Slovakia'},
      default::Castle {name: 'Castle Dracula'},
      default::City {name: 'Whitby'},
      default::City {name: 'Munich'},
      default::City {name: 'Buda-Pesth'},
      default::City {name: 'Bistritz'},
      default::City {name: 'Exeter'},
      default::City {name: 'London'},
    },
  },
}

Since expression on is so flexible, you can use it in almost any way you can imagine. But that flexibility also means that there is no built-in way to let the user know how any expression on is supposed to work when a constraint is violated. After all, it’s anyone’s guess how a user might choose to use expression on. And that means that the automatically generated error message we have right now is not helping the user at all. Here’s the message we got when we tried to insert a Lord named Billy:

edgedb error: ConstraintViolationError: invalid Lord
  Detail: invalid value of object type 'default::Lord'

So there’s no way to tell that the problem is that name needs 'Lord' inside it. Fortunately, all constraints allow you to set your own error message just by opening up a block with {} and specifying an errmessage, like this: errmessage := "All lords need 'Lord' in their name."

Let’s do that with our Lord type now:

Copy
type Lord extending Person {
  constraint expression on (contains(__subject__.name, 'Lord')) {
    errmessage := "All lords need \'Lord\' in their name";
  }
}

If you do a migration now and try to insert a Lord that is just called Billy, the error now tells us what to do:

`edgedb error: ConstraintViolationError: All lords need 'Lord' in their name
  Detail: All lords need 'Lord' in their name`

Much better!

Practice Time
  1. How would you create a type called Horse with a required name: str that can only be ‘Horse’?

    Show answer
  2. How would you let the user know that it needs to be called ‘Horse’?

    Show answer
  3. How would you make sure that name for type NPC is always between 5 and 30 characters in length?

    Try it first with expression on.

    Show answer
  4. How would you make a function called display_coffins that pulls up all the HasCoffins objects with more than 0 coffins?

    Show answer
  5. How would you give the Place type a backlink to every Person type that visited it?

    Show answer

Up next: Could Renfield be of help?

We use ChatGPT with additional context from our documentation to answer your questions. Not all answers will be accurate. Please join our Discord if you need more help.