Let’s first get some data in to retrieve results from:

CREATE (matrix:Movie {title:"The Matrix",released:1997})
CREATE (cloudAtlas:Movie {title:"Cloud Atlas",released:2012})
CREATE (forrestGump:Movie {title:"Forrest Gump",released:1994})
CREATE (keanu:Person {name:"Keanu Reeves", born:1964})
CREATE (robert:Person {name:"Robert Zemeckis", born:1951})
CREATE (tom:Person {name:"Tom Hanks", born:1956})
CREATE (tom)-[:ACTED_IN {roles:["Forrest"]}]->(forrestGump)
CREATE (tom)-[:ACTED_IN {roles:['Zachry']} ]->(cloudAtlas)
CREATE (robert)-[:DIRECTED]->(forrestGump)

This is the data we will start out with:

Nodes created: 6
Relationships created: 3
Properties set: 14
Labels added: 6

Filtering Results

So far we’ve matched patterns in the graph and always returned all results we found. Quite often there are conditions in play for what we want to see. Similar to in SQL those filter conditions are expressed in a WHERE clause. This clause allows to use any number of boolean expressions (predicates) combined with AND, OR, XOR and NOT. The simplest predicates are comparisons, especially equality.

MATCH (m:Movie)
WHERE m.title = "The Matrix"

For equality on one or more properties, a more compact syntax can be used as well:

MATCH (m:Movie {title: "The Matrix"})

Other options are numeric comparisons, matching regular expressions and checking the existence of values within a collection.

The WHERE clause below includes a regular expression match, a greater than comparison and a test to see if a value exists in a collection.

MATCH (p:Person)-[r:ACTED_IN]->(m:Movie)
WHERE =~ "K.+"
   OR m.released > 2000
   OR "Neo" IN r.roles
RETURN p,r,m

One aspect that might be a little surprising is that you can even use patterns as predicates. Where MATCH expands the number and shape of patterns matched, a pattern predicate restricts the current result set. It only allows the paths to pass that satisfy the additional patterns as well (or NOT).

MATCH (p:Person)-[:ACTED_IN]->(m)

Here we find actors, because they sport an ACTED_IN relationship but then skip those that ever DIRECTED any movie.

There are also more advanced ways of filtering like collection-predicates which we will look at later on.

Returning Results

So far we’ve returned only nodes, relationships, or paths directly via their identifiers. But the RETURN clause can actually return any number of expressions. But what are actually expressions in Cypher?

The simplest expressions are literal values like numbers, strings and arrays as [1,2,3], and maps like {name:"Tom Hanks", born:1964, movies:["Forrest Gump", …​], count:13}. You can access individual properties of any node, relationship, or map with a dot-syntax like Individual elements or slices of arrays can be retrieved with subscripts like names[0] or movies[1..-1]. Each function evaluation like length(array), toInt("12"), substring("2014-07-01",0,4), or coalesce(p.nickname,"n/a") is also an expression.

Predicates that you’d use in WHERE count as boolean expressions.

Of course simpler expressions can be composed and concatenated to form more complex expressions.

By default the expression itself will be used as label for the column, in many cases you want to alias that with a more understandable name using expression AS alias. You can later on refer to that column using its alias.

MATCH (p:Person)
RETURN p, AS name, upper(, coalesce(p.nickname,"n/a") AS nickname, {name:, label:head(labels(p))} AS person

If you’re interested in unique results you can use the DISTINCT keyword after RETURN to indicate that.

Aggregating Information

In many cases you want to aggregate or group the data that you encounter while traversing patterns in your graph. In Cypher aggregation happens in the RETURN clause while computing your final results. Many common aggregation functions are supported, e.g. count, sum, avg, min, and max, but there are several more.

Counting the number of people in your database could be achieved by this:

MATCH (:Person)
RETURN count(*) as people

Please note that NULL values are skipped during aggregation. For aggregating only unique values use DISTINCT, like in count(DISTINCT role).

Aggregation in Cypher just works. You specify which result columns you want to aggregate and Cypher will use all non-aggregated columns as grouping keys.

Aggregation affects which data is still visible in ordering or later query parts.

To find out how often an actor and director worked together, you’d run this statement:

MATCH (actor:Person)-[:ACTED_IN]->(movie:Movie)<-[:DIRECTED]-(director:Person)
RETURN actor,director,count(*) as collaborations

Frequently you want to sort and paginate after aggregating a count(x).

Ordering and Pagination

Ordering works like in other query languages, with an ORDER BY expression [ASC|DESC] clause. The expression can be any expression discussed before as long as it is computable from the returned information.

So for instance if you return you can still ORDER BY person.age as both are accessible from the person reference. You cannot order by things that you can’t infer from the information you return. This is especially important with aggregation and DISTINCT return values as both remove the visibility of data that is aggregated.

Pagination is a straightforward use of SKIP {offset} LIMIT {count}.

A common pattern is to aggregate for a count (score or frequency), order by it and only return the top-n entries.

For instance to find the most prolific actors you could do:

MATCH (a:Person)-[:ACTED_IN]->(m:Movie)
RETURN a,count(*) as appearances
ORDER BY appearances DESC

Collecting Aggregation

The most helpful aggregation function is collect, which, as the name says, collects all aggregated values into a real array or list. This comes very handy in many situations as you don’t loose the detail information while aggregating.

Collect is well suited for retrieving the typical parent-child structures, where one core entity (parent, root or head) is returned per row with all it’s dependent information in associated collections created with collect. This means there’s no need to repeat the parent information per each child-row or even running 1+n statements to retrieve the parent and its children individually.

To retrieve the cast of each movie in our database you could use this statement:

MATCH (m:Movie)<-[:ACTED_IN]-(a:Person)
RETURN m.title as movie, collect( as cast, count(*) as actors

The lists created by collect can either be used from the client consuming the Cypher results or directly within a statement with any of the collection functions or predicates.