When GraphQL was published as part of Facebooks React efforts, it made a big buzz as an straightforward means to declare what kind of projection of your domain data you need for a certain UI component. Using a JSON-like syntax you define which properties of your entity and related entities you want to be part of the data structure you get back from the server.

Here is an example from a StackOverflow query using the model from our previous blog posts on that topic.

load json from url as data
  question {
    author {
    tags {
    answers {
      author {

Cypher itself with its rich support for literal maps and collections and the very powerful collect aggregation function, already allows for returning complex JSON documents.

MATCH (u:User)-[:ASKED]->(q:Question)-[:TAGGED]->(t:Tag),

RETURN { title: q.title, author: u.name, tags: collect(t.name),
       answers: collect({text: a.text, author: u2.name})} as question

This results in a document like this, which is similar to the original StackOverflow query API result.

  "title": "neo4j cypher query to delete a middle node and connect all its parent node to child node",
  "author": "Soumya George",
  "tags": [
  "answers": [
      "text": "Some text",
      "author": "InverseFalcon"

Some things are not as convenient as we saw in GraphQL, we thought it would be very helpful to add more syntactic sugar to the language.

Luckily my friend Andrés found some spare time to add two really neat features to Cypher in Neo4j 3.1 which we want to look into today.

Map Projections

Map Projections are very close to what you expect from a GraphQL query, you take an map or entity (node or relationship) and apply a map-like property-selector to it.

The result of that projection is a (optionally nested) map of results.

Here is the example above rewritten using a map-projection.

MATCH (u:User)-[:ASKED]->(q:Question)-[:TAGGED]->(t:Tag),

RETURN q{ .title, author : u.name, tags: collect(t.name),
       answers: collect( a {.text, author: u2.name})} as question

But there are some more things possible.

Within a map projection you can also add literal values or aggregations to the data that you extract from the entity.

entity { .property1, .property2, .*,  literal: value,  values: collect(numbers), variable}

Here is a full list of possible selectors:

syntax description example


property lookup

p{.name} → {name : "John"}


all properties

p{.*} → {name:"John", age:42}


variable name as key, variable value as value

p{count} → {count: 1}

key : value

literal entry

p{awesome:true} → {awesome:true}

To demonstrate those options we could rewrite the statement to:

MATCH (u:User)-[:ASKED]->(q:Question)-[:TAGGED]->(t:Tag),

WITH q, u, collect(t.name) as tags, collect( a {.text, author: u2.name}) as answers
RETURN q{ .title, author : u{.*}, tags,  answers } as question

To pull in information from related entities, the other new feature, Pattern Comprehensions come into play.

Pattern Comprehensions

You’ve all (hopefully) used the list comprehensions in Cypher, they borrow from Haskells syntax and look like this:

[value IN list WHERE predicate(value) | expression(value)]

As a concrete example, this returns the squares of the first 5 even numbers:

RETURN [x IN range(1,10) WHERE x % 2 = 0 | x * x] -> [4, 16, 36, 64, 100]

Now, you can use any kind of collection here, also collection of maps or nodes or even paths.

If you use a graph pattern as an expression, it actually yields a collection of paths.

That’s cool, because now you can use a list comprehension to do pattern matching and extract a related node without actually using MATCH and changing your cardinality.

So instead of:

MATCH (u:User)-[:POSTED]->(q:Question)
WHERE q.title CONTAINS "Neo4j"
RETURN u.name, collect(q.title) as questions

you could write:

MATCH (u:User)
RETURN u.name, [path IN (u)-[:ASKED]->(:Question)
                  WHERE (last(nodes(path))).title CONTAINS "Neo4j"
                      | (last(nodes(path))).title] as questions
Btw. this statement always returns a result, potentially an empty collection, so it’s the same as if you were OPTIONAL MATCH in the previous statement.

Wow, that’s ugly. Why? Because you can’t introduce new variables, like q in such a pattern expression. Only clauses could introduce new variables.

Until now!

With Pattern Comprehensions you actually can introduce local variables in such a pattern and use them in the WHERE filter or expression at the end.

MATCH (u:User)
RETURN u.name,
       [(u)-[:ASKED]->(q:Question) WHERE q.title CONTAINS "Neo4j" | q.title] as questions

Now let’s take a stab at our "GraphQL" query again, and see how we can rewrite it just starting from the Question node and moving all projections of attributes and patterns into the RETURN clause.

MATCH (q:Question)

RETURN q{.title,
         author : [(q)<-[:ASKED]-(u) | u.name][0],
         tags   : [(q)<-[:TAGGED]-(t) | t.name],
         answers: [(q)<-[:ANSWERS]-(a)<-[:PROVIDED]-(u2) | a{ .text, author: u2.name } ] }
  • As pattern comprehensions always return a collection we have to turn them into a single value as needed, e.g. with […​][0] or head([…​])

  • To combine attributes of two entites into one map you have to spell out the 2nd entities attributes.
    It would be nice to get support for combining maps in the future, then we could use
    answers: [(q)<-[:ANSWERS]-(a)<-[:PROVIDED]-(u2) | a{ .text } + u2{ .name} ]

If you want to test these cool new features, please grab the recently released Neo4j 3.1.0-M07 Milestone and give it a try.

We’d love to get your feedback on these and other new features like the brand-new [cypher-shell].

With a lot of thanks to Andrés for this and everyone in engineering for a really cool database,

Cheers, Michael