A New Language for Unstructured Data. Just Call Him UnQL.

There’s a whole lot of data floating around this world, and an increasing portion of it is unstructured (for a review of unstructured vs. structured data and content, see here).  The matter of managing this data is another story, borne of opportunity and promise for startups and large corporations alike.  Some look at big data analysis, while others dig a little deeper to help manage at a coding level.  In this realm, SQL has been a powerful tool for working with structured data, but what if it could be applied to unstructured data as well?

Couchbase, a NoSQL database company, is looking to be a leader in this space, developing a new language that delivers a solution for more easily dealing with unstructured data.  In partnership with SQLite, maker of the widely used SQL database engine, Couchbase unveils UnQL (pronounced “uncle”), which stands for Unstructured Query Language.  The SQL-like syntax offers the familiarity of this language to application developers, extending features to enable the selection and manipulation of complex document structures.

It’s not necessarily adding structure to unstructured data, rather it allows users to query data within documents themselves, instead of having to predefine each type of data and specific information contained within a document.  UnQL essentially does all the heavy lifting for you, working with the data in its natural state, removing a series of manual steps on the developer end.  It’s a step in a new direction, representing two influential aspects of database languages striving to create new standards.


The brainchild of CouchDB creator Damien Katz and SQLite creator Richard Hipp, UnQL delivers the familiarity of SQL to a NoSQL environment.  It’s in response to a demanding market that needs more efficient ways to work through data, delivering an interactive environment for improved queries.  Wiederhold certainly recognizes the potential behind a more unified language, noting the cross-industry implications of UnQL.  As more companies find themselves dealing with more customer data (think banking, retail), there’s an uptick in new projects seeking a better way to manage data and run queries.

“Last year I would characterize as a year with a lot of interest.  This year we’re starting to see large companies and small startups do at least their first one or two projects in NoSQL to get higher performance and scalability,” notes Wiederhold.  “The big problem with relational databases is as you scale, you have more data, and with a greater number of users trying to access that data, they don’t scale well.  They need a solution with no performance degradation, and a solution that scales seamlessly.”

Wiederhold noticed that many companies who’s entire business  revolves around the Internet were the first to incorporate SQL standards into their new projects, and now you’re starting to see larger corporations like Home Depot and John Deere looking to what a lot of the internet companies are doing.  It’s encouraging for Couchbase and SQLite, as they’re the enterprise-level clients that are starting to commit their first projects to UnQL, and their success is causing interest in this space.

That’s a good sign for Couchbase and SQLite moving forward, as they look to become true frontrunners in this space. Couchbase has a particularly vested interest in the project, exploring new technology since merging with Memebase earlier this year. Developing new languages is hard enough, let alone developing new standards across an entire industry.  Developer adoption will be key for these companies moving forward, as today’s data deluge begs for solutions that work seamlessly and can scale.