Accessing the Neptune Graph with openCypher - Amazon Neptune
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Accessing the Neptune Graph with openCypher

Neptune supports building graph applications using openCypher, currently one of the most popular query languages for developers working with graph databases. Developers, business analysts, and data scientists like openCypher’s SQL-inspired syntax because it provides a familiar structure to compose queries for graph applications.

openCypher is a declarative query language for property graphs that was originally developed by Neo4j, then open-sourced in 2015, and contributed to the openCypher project under an Apache 2 open-source license. Its syntax is documented in the Cypher Query Language Reference, Version 9.

Starting with engine release, openCypher is available for production use in Neptune.

Gremlin vs. openCypher: similarities and differences

Gremlin and openCypher are both property-graph query languages, and they are complementary in many ways.

Gremlin was designed to appeal to programmers and fit seamlessly into code. As a result, Gremlin is imperative by design, whereas openCypher's declarative syntax may feel more familiar for people with SQL or SPARQL experience. Gremlin might seem more natural to a data scientist using Python in a Jupyter notebook, whereas openCypher might seem more intuitive to a business user with some SQL background.

The nice thing is that you don't have to choose between Gremlin and openCypher in Neptune. Queries in either language can operate on the same graph regardless of which of the two language was used to enter that data. You may find it more convenient to use Gremlin for some things and openCypher for others, depending on what you're doing.

Gremlin uses an imperative syntax that lets you control how you move through your graph in a series of steps, each of which takes in a stream of data, performs some action on it (using a filter, map, and so forth), and then outputs the results to the next step. A Gremlin query commonly takes the form, g.V(), followed by additional steps.

In openCypher, you use a declarative syntax, inspired by SQL, that specifies a pattern of nodes and relationships to find in your graph using a motif syntax (like ()-[]->()). An openCypher query often starts with a MATCH clause, followed by other clauses such as WHERE, WITH, and RETURN.

Getting started using openCypher

You can query property-graph data in Neptune using openCypher regardless of how it was loaded, but you can't use openCypher to query data loaded as RDF.

The Neptune bulk loader accepts property-graph data in a CSV format for Gremlin, and in a CSV format for openCypher. Also, of course, you can add property data to your graph using Gremlin and/or openCypher queries.

Data processed by openCypher takes the form of an unordered series of key/value maps. The main way to refine, manipulate, and augment these maps is to use clauses that perform tasks such as pattern matching, insertion, update, and deletion on the key/value pairs.

There are several clauses in openCypher for finding data patterns in the graph, of which MATCH is the most common. MATCH lets you specify the pattern of nodes, relationships, and filters that you want to look for in your graph. For example:

  • Get all nodes

    MATCH (n) RETURN n
  • Find connected nodes

    MATCH (n)-[r]->(d) RETURN n, r, d
  • Find a path

    MATCH p=(n)-[r]->(d) RETURN p
  • Get all nodes with a label

    MATCH (n:airport) RETURN n

Note that the first query above returns every single node in your graph, and the next two return every node that has a relationship— this is not generally recommended! In almost all cases, you want to narrow down the data being returned, which you can do by specifying node or relationship labels and properties, as in the fourth example.

You can find a handy cheat-sheet for openCypher syntax in the Neptune github sample repository.