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UberSocialNet - applying the Lambda Architecture


Recently, Nathan Marz introduced the Lambda Architecture for realising large-scale data processing applications. In this article, we will walk step-by-step through how to build an application based on this architecture: The UberSocialNet (USN), a little helper tool that allows us to keep track of where we know people from.

The USN lets us record if we happen to know someone from either the digital world, that is, social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, etc. or the real life. The goal is that USN can serve more than one billion users while providing low-latency access to the annotations we keep about where and how we know people.


The Raw Input Data

The raw data resides in the data/ directory and has the following shape in the base (CSV) format:

2012-03-12T22:54:13-07:00,Michael,ADD,I,Ora Hatfield,Some witty stuff here 
2012-11-23T01:53:42-08:00,Michael,REMOVE,I,Marvin Garrison,Whatever note ...

with the following schema:

  • timestamp is an ISO 8601 formatted datetime stamp that states when the action was performed (range: January 2012 till May 2013)
  • originator is the name of the person who added or removed a person to or from one of his or her networks
  • action MUST be either ADD or REMOVE, self-explanatory.
  • network is a single character, MUST be one out of {I, T, L, F, G}, indicating the respective network where the action has been performed, with:
  • I … in-real-life
  • T … Twitter
  • L … LinkedIn
  • F … Facebook
  • G … Google+
  • target is the name of the person added or removed to or from the network
  • context is a free-text comment, providing a hint why the person has been added or where one has met the person in the first place

All fields are always present, that is, there are no optional fields. The test data has been generated using in five runs totaling some 500 rows of raw data.

Back to ToC

Generation of the Layers

First, I'm going to show you the three commands you have to run to generate the two layers (batch and serving) of the USN app and then we will have a closer look behind the scenes of each of the commands.

To build the datastore for USN, run the following commands:

1. To pre-process the raw data, in the data dir:

$ pwd
$ ./ < usn-raw-data.csv > usn-base-data.csv

2. To build the batch layer, with the Hive Thrift service running, in the batch-layer dir:

$ pwd
$ ./ INIT
USN batch layer created.
$ ./ CHECK
The USN batch layer seems OK.

3. To build the serving layer, with both the Hive and HBase Thrift service running, in the main USN dir:

$ pwd
$ python localhost INIT
2013-06-07T06:02:53 Initialized USN tables in serving layer.

As you now have an idea what to do, we will have a closer look at each of the steps and see what is going on exactly in the next subsections.

Batch Layer

Make sure you have Hive 0.10.0 installed or access to a setup (cluster, cloud) where it is running.

The raw data is first pre-processed and loaded into Hive like so:

hive> CREATE TABLE usn_base (
 actiontime STRING,
 originator STRING,
 action STRING,
 network STRING,
 target STRING,
 context STRING

INTO TABLE usn_base;

hive> CREATE TABLE usn_friends AS
      SELECT originator AS username, network, target AS friend, context AS note
      FROM usn_base
      WHERE action = 'ADD'
      ORDER BY username, network, username;

So to pre-process the raw data, change into the data directory and execute the following:

$ pwd
$ ./ < usn-raw-data.csv > usn-base-data.csv

Then, to build the batch layer from scratch, perform the following steps.

Make sure Hive service is running from the USN batch layer directory:

$ pwd
$ hive --service hiveserver
Starting Hive Thrift Server

And finally, from within the batch-layer directory:

$ pwd
$ ./ INIT
USN batch layer created.
$ ./ CHECK
The USN batch layer seems OK.

Now the batch layer is generated and available in HDFS. Next we will build the serving layer in HBase.

Serving Layer

Make sure you have HBase 0.94.x installed or access to a setup (cluster, cloud) where it is running.

Preparation First you need to launch HBase and the HBase Thrift server.

Go to the HBase home directory ($HBASE_HOME) and do the following:

$ echo $HBASE_HOME
$ cd /Users/mhausenblas2/bin/hbase-0.94.4
$ ./bin/ 

starting master, logging to /Users/...

$ ./bin/hbase thrift start -p 9191
13/05/31 09:39:09 INFO util.VersionInfo: HBase 0.94.4

Also, make sure that the Hive service is running. In case you've shut it down after the batch layer generation, restart it. So, from the USN batch layer directory do:

$ pwd
$ hive --service hiveserver
Starting Hive Thrift Server

Init First you need to initialize the USN table.

Change to the parent directory of the batch layer directory and execute the following:

$ pwd
$ python localhost INIT
2013-06-07T06:02:53 Initialized USN tables in serving layer.

You can use the HBase shell to verify if the serving layer has been initialized correctly:

$ ./bin/hbase shell
hbase(main):001:0> describe 'usn_friends'
DESCRIPTION                                                                                          ENABLED
 {NAME => 'usn_friends', FAMILIES => [{NAME => 'a', DATA_BLOCK_ENCODING => 'NONE', BLOOMFILTER => 'N true
  '-1', KEEP_DELETED_CELLS => 'false', BLOCKSIZE => '65536', IN_MEMORY => 'false', ENCODE_ON_DISK =>
  'true', BLOCKCACHE => 'false'}]}
1 row(s) in 0.2450 seconds

hbase(main):002:0> count 'usn_friends'
499 row(s) in 0.0540 seconds

A sample query might now look as follows:

hbase(main):001:0> scan 'usn_friends', { COLUMNS => ['a'], FILTER => "ValueFilter(=,'substring:L')", STARTROW => 'Ted_2013-01'}
ROW                                      COLUMN+CELL
 Ted_2013-01-17                          column=a:comment, timestamp=1370630348723, value=urna et arcu imperdiet ullamcorper. Duis at lacus. Quisque purus
 Ted_2013-03-25                          column=a:network, timestamp=1370630348769, value=L
8 row(s) in 0.0460 seconds

The above query translates into: give me all acquaintances of Ted in the LinkedIn network, starting from January 2013 on.

You can have a look at some more queries used in the demo user interface on the respective Wiki page.

Oh. And when you're done, don't forget to shut down HBase (again, from HBase home):

$ ./bin/

The Hive service can simply be stopped by hitting CTRL+C.

You're now done with generating the necessary layers for the USN app and can start using it. I'll show you how in the next section.

Back to ToC



The following components and tools are assumed to be available:

  • Hive 0.10.x
  • Hiver for Python interaction
  • HBase 0.94.x
  • HappyBase for Python interaction

Then, the pre-processing steps as explained above (batch and serving layer generation) must be done.

CLI Front-end

After you've prepared and init the batch and serving layers as described above you can launch the user interface, a simple CLI for now. Make sure that HBase and the HBase Thrift service (details, see above) are running, then, in the main USN directory do the following:

$ ./
This is USN v0.0

u ... user listings, n ... network listings, l ... lookup, s ... search, h ... help, q ... quit
Your selection: s
The name of the person you want to search?
Name >Kevin
User 'Ellen' has 'Kevin Bowman' from Google+ in his network.
*** Found 1 matches in total

u ... user listings, n ... network listings, l ... lookup, s ... search, h ... help, q ... quit
Your selection: l
List acquintances of which user?
One of: Ellen, John, Karen, Michael, Steve, Ted >Ellen
From when?
In the form YYYY-MM-DD, such as 2013-01-01 or only 2012 >2012-05-01
(OPTIONAL) Until when?
In the form YYYY-MM-DD, such as 2013-01-01 or only 2012 >2012-08-01
(OPTIONAL) From which network?
One of: I - in-real-life, T - Twitter, L - LinkedIn, F - Facebook, G - Google+ >
Nicole Tyson from Twitter
Vielka Barr from Google+
Latifah Horton from Google+
Dorothy Roy from real life
Myles Greer from LinkedIn
Cecilia Vance from real life
*** Found 6 matches in total

The three main operations the USN front-end provides are:

  • u ... user listing: lists all acquaintances of a user
  • n ... network listing: lists acquaintances of a user in a network
  • l ... lookup listing: lists acquaintances of a user in a network and allows to restrict the time range (from/to) of the acquaintanceship
  • s ... search: provides search for an acquaintance over all users (with partial match)


All artifacts in this repository, including data and code are donated into the Public Domain. The author would like to thank MapR Technologies for sponsoring the work on the USN app.

Back to ToC

Notes and Background

In the following some notes and background information that is not necessary to toy around with USN but might be of interest for the one or the other.


The demo app USN is intentionally kept very simple. Though fully functional, the USN app has a number of serious limitations. You're welcome to fork it and extend it. Please let me know if you do so.

  • Big Data? The most obvious point is not the app itself but the data size. Only laughable 500 rows? This isn't Big Data I hear you say. Rightly so. Now, no one stops you generating 500 million rows or more and try it out. Certain processes such as pre-processing and the generating the layers will take longer however there are no architectural changes necessary, and this was the whole point of the USN app.
  • Dynamic batch layer. Currently, the batch layer is a sort of one-shot, while it should really run in a loop and append new data. This requires partitioning of the ingested data and some checks. Pail, for example, allows you to do the ingestion and partitioning in a very elegant way.
  • Automated import. It would be cool to automate the import of data from the different networks. For example, Google Takeout allows to export all data, including G+ Circles. Similar functionality is available from Twitter and Facebook.
  • More views. There is only one view in the serving layer. The USN app might benefit from different views to enable different queries most efficiently.

HBase Schema

The HBase table usn_friends, used in the serving layer to drive the USN app has the following schema:

USN's HBase schema

Some notes regarding the key and schema design:

  • There is only one CF named a; keep CF names short, think of footprint.
  • This CF holds all the data: the target person, from where known, comment.
  • The row keys encode the user name and the date of the activity, that is when a target has been added to the user's network. This allows to query by user and by date range; actually this design allows several date ranges, from years over months down to days.

Wire-level Architecture

USN's architecture

Some notes regarding architecture:

  • Build-time vs. Run-time. In one phase, the dataspace is built, then the application can use the data in the front-end (CLI user interface).
  • Pre-processing. In the pre-processing phase a script cleans the CSV data and prepares it for ingestion into HDFS.
  • Batch Layer. A script uses Hive to ETL the CSV data into HDFS.
  • Serving Layer. A script uses the data from HDFS and loads it into HBase. Further, this layer provides query capabilities to drive the front-end.
  • CLI user interface. The front-end interacts with the end-user, providing listing, lookup and search operations.


UberSocialNet—applying the Lambda Architecture



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