morpheous morpheous - 4 months ago 20x
Bash Question

Data munging and data import scripting

I need to write some scripts to carry out some tasks on my server (running Ubuntu server 8.04 TLS). The tasks are to be run periodically, so I will be running the scripts as cron jobs.

I have divided the tasks into "group A" and "group B" - because (in my mind at least), they are a bit different.

Task Group A

  1. import data from a file and possibly reformat it - by reformatting, I mean doing things like santizing the data, possibly normalizing it and or running calculations on 'columns' of the data

  2. Import the munged data into a database. For now, I am mostly using mySQL for the vast majority of imports - although some files will be imported into a sqlLite database.

Note: The files will be mostly text files, although some of the files are in a binary format (my own proprietary format, written by a C++ application I developed).

Task Group B

  1. Extract data from the database

  2. Perform calculations on the data and either insert or update tables in the database.

My coding experience is is primarily as a C/C++ developer, although I have been using PHP as well for the last 2 years or so (+ a few other languages which are not relevant for the purpose of this question). I am from a Windows background, so I am still finding my feet in the Linux environment.

My question is this - I need to write scripts to perform the tasks I described above. Although I suppose I could write a few C++ applications to be used in the shell scripts, I think it may be better to write them in a scripting language, but this may be a flawed assumption. My thinking is that it would be easier to modify things in a script - no need to rebuild etc for changes to functionality. Additionally, C++ data munging in C++ tends to involve more lines of code than "natural" scripting languages such as Perl, Python etc.

Assuming that the majority of people on here agree that scripting is the way to go, herein lies my dilemma. Which scripting language do I use to perform the tasks above (giving my background)?

My gut instinct tells me that Perl (shudder) would be the most obvious choice for performing all of the above tasks. BUT (and that is a big BUT). The mere mention of Perl makes my toes curl, as I had a very, very bad experience with it a while back (bought the Perl Camel book + 'data munging with Perl' many years ago, but could still not 'grok' it just felt too alien. The syntax seems quite unnatural to me - despite how many times I have tried to learn it - so if possible, I would really like to give it a miss. PHP (which I already know), also am not sure is a good candidate for scripting on the CLI (I have not seen many examples on how to do this etc - so I may be wrong).

The last thing I must mention is that IF I have to learn a new language in order to do this, I cannot afford (time constraint) to spend more than a day, in learning the key commands/features required in order to do this (I can always learn the details of the language later, once I have actually deployed the scripts).

So, which scripting language would you recommend (PHP, Python, Perl, [insert your favorite here]) - and most importantly WHY? Or, should I just stick to writing little C++ applications that I call in a shell script?

Lastly, if you have suggested a scripting language, can you please show with a FEW lines (Perl mongers - I'm looking in your direction [nothing too cryptic!]) how I can use the language you suggested to do what I am trying to do i.e.

  • load a CSV file into some kind of data structure where you can access data columns easily for data manipulation

  • dump the columnar data into a mySQL table

  • load data from mySQL table into a data structure that allows columns/rows to be accessed in the scripting language

Hopefully, the snippets will allow me to quickly spot the languages that will pose the steepest learning curve for me - as well as those that simple, elegant and efficient (hopefully those two criteria [elegance and shallow learning curve] are not orthogonal - though I suspect they might be).


import data from a file and possibly reformat it

Python excels at this. Be sure to read up on the csv module so you don't waste time inventing it yourself.

For binary data, you may have to use the struct module. [If you wrote the C++ program that produces the binary data, consider rewriting that program to stop using binary data. Your life will be simpler in the long run. Disk storage is cheaper than your time; highly compressed binary formats are more cost than value.]

Import the munged data into a database. Extract data from the database Perform calculations on the data and either insert or update tables in the database.

Use the mysqldb module for MySQL. SQLite is built-in to Python.

Often, you'll want to use Object-Relational mapping rather than write your own SQL. Look at sqlobject and sqlalchemy for this.

Also, before doing too much of this, buy a good book on data warehousing. Your two "task groups" sound like you're starting down the data warehousing road. It's easy to get this all fouled up through poor database design. Learn what a "Star Schema" is before you do anything else.