A Declarative Query System for Motes

Last updated 26 Sep. 2002


In this lesson, you will learn to use the TinyDB query processing system for extracting data from motes through a declarative query interface that is similar to the SQL interface of a relational database system. This lesson assumes you have a familiarity with the TinyOS toolset (have completed through lesson 7), but will not require you to write (or even look at!) any C code. The final section of the document shows you how to write a simple Java program to use TinyDB in your own software.

About TinyDB

TinyDB is a query processing system for extracting information from a network of motes. Unlike other solutions for data processing in TinyOS, TinyDB does not require you to write embedded C code for sensors. Instead, TinyDB provides a simple, SQL-like interface to specify the data you want to extract, along with additional parameters, like the rate at which data should be refreshed -- much as you would pose queries against a traditional database. Given a query specifying your data interests, TinyDB collects that data from motes in the environment, filters it, aggregates it together, and routes it out to a PC. TinyDB does this via power-efficient in-network processing algorithms.

To use TinyDB, you install its TinyOS components onto each mote in your sensor network. TinyDB provides a simple Java API for writing PC applications that query and extract data from the network; it also comes with a simple graphical query-builder and result display that uses the API.

The primary goal of TinyDB is to make your life as a programmer significantly easier, and allow data-driven applications to be developed and deployed much more quickly than what is currently possible. TinyDB frees you from the burden of writing low-level code for sensor devices, including the (very tricky) sensor network interfaces.

Installing TinyDB and Running A Simple Query

For this lesson, you will need three motes. Program all three with the TinyDBApp application, setting their id's to 0, 1, and 2. Turn on all three and connect the mote you programmed with id 0 to the PC serial port. (To program a mote with a specific id, run make mica install.nodeid, where nodeid is the id you wish to program into the mote.)

You will interact with these motes using the TinyDBMain class in tools/java/net/tinyos/tinydb. First, you need to build the java classes -- to do this, you need to insure that several packages are in your CLASSPATH. The packages you need are JLex.jar, cup.jar, and plot.jar; all three are available in tools/java/jars. We've included a small program to set your classpath for you, called "javapath" in the tools/java/ directory. To use it, you set the value of your CLASSPATH to the output of this command (it will prepend the new directories and jars to your current CLASSPATH.) To use it under bash (in Cygwin or Linux), type:

export CLASSPATH=`path/to/tinyos/tools/java/javapath`
Under sh or csh you would write "setenv CLASSPATH ..." instead of "export CLASSPATH=...".

Now, build the java classes by typing the following:

cd path/to/tinyos/tools/java/net/tinyos/tinydb

This may take several minutes and will output lots of text as the TinyDB query parser is compiled. Now, you're ready to start up the GUI! You need to run it from the tools/java directory; type:

cd ../../..
java net.tinyos.tinydb.TinyDBMain

The TinyDB GUI should appear:

To specify a query in this GUI, you move the fields you want to extract from the sensors from the list of available attributes on the left to the list of projected attributes on the right. Let's add the light attribute: first, click on "light" in the left column, then click the">>>" button. You display should now look like:

Notice that the text of the query below the attribute list updates as you modify the query. The SAMPLE PERIOD clause in the query specifies that a new light reading will be delivered once every 1024 milliseconds. You can change the sample period using the pop-up menu at the top of the window.

Now let's add the nodeid attribute: click on "nodeid" in the left column, and then click the">>>" button again. Your display should now look like:

Unlike light, nodeid does not specify a physical sensor reading, but instead is the id that was programmed into the mote using the make mica install.nodeid command. You'll learn later how to extend TinyDB with other attributes of your own creation. Now, we're ready to run a query. Click the "Send Query" button; a result window will appear:

As this window appears, the red LED on mote id 0 (the basestation) should blink a few times, and shortly thereafter the red LEDS on motes 1 and 2 should turn on. After a few seconds, the yellow LEDS on all three motes should blink about once a second -- this indicates the query is running properly. If the LEDs don't start blinking in a few seconds, try clicking "Resend Query" to reissue the query.

Results should now be streaming into the GUI, showing the light reading at motes 1 and 2. Try covering mote 2; you should see the line representing its value on the graph fall off:

That's it for this simple introduction to TinyDB. In the next section, we will discuss the more sophisticated features of TinyDB that make it useful in a broad range of data collection applications.

Neat, But What Else Is It Good For?

TinyDB includes a number of other features. See the "Where To Look For More Information" section for a link to the complete TinyDB reference manual. In this section, we'll briefly describe other features of the query language.

The WHERE clause : TinyDB queries can contain a WHERE clause that filters out particular readings that are not of interest. For example, a query that finds the light and temperature readings and id's of all motes whose light reading is above 400 would look like:

nodeid,light,temp FROM 
sensors WHERE
light >  400
To create such a query, use the "New Predicate" button to add a predicate, select "light" from the predicate attribute menu, select">" from the menu of comparative operators, and type 400 into the value field:

Note that you can use a WHERE clause over nodeid to send queries to only a subset of the network.

Aggregation Predicates : TinyDB also allows you to compute aggregates over readings being reported by several nodes in a query. For example, to compute the average temperature reading of all the sensors where the light is above 400, you would issue the query:

AVG(temp) FROM
sensors WHERE
light >  400

To specify this query, select "AVG" in the aggregation operator menu before moving temp into the projected attributes list:

TinyDB computes this query via an efficient in-network approach, where sensors aggregate their own readings with readings from their neighbors and forward those aggregate values towards the basestation.

You've now seen how to pose a simple query with filtration and aggregation predicates. In the next section, you'll learn how to write a small, standalone program to run TinyDB queries.

A Simple Java Program to Use TinyDB

In this section, you will learn how to write a simple standalone Java program to run a query in TinyDB. This program runs the query SELECT light FROM sensors. First, we'll look at the whole program and then we'll see how the individual pieces work (this application is available in tools/java/net/tinyos/tinydb/DemoApp.java):
    package net.tinyos.tinydb;
    import net.tinyos.tinydb.parser.*;
    import java.util.Vector;
    import java.io.*;
    public class DemoApp implements ResultListener{
        public DemoApp() { 
            try {
                TinyDBMain.initMain(); //parse the query 
                q = SensorQueryer.translateQuery("SELECT light", (byte)1); 
                //inject the query, registering ourselves as a listener for result 
                System.out.println("Sending query."); 
                TinyDBMain.injectQuery( q, this); 
            } catch (IOException e) { 
                System.out.println("Network error."); 
            } catch (ParseException e) { 
                System.out.println("Invalid Query.");
        /* ResultListener method called whenever a result arrives */
        public void addResult(QueryResult qr) {
            Vector v = qr.resultVector(); //print the result
            for (int i = 0;  i <  v.size(); i++) {
                System.out.print("\t" + v.elementAt(i) + "\t|");

        public static void main(String argv[]) {
            new DemoApp();
        TinyDBQuery q;

To try out this program, set up your motes as above (making sure you close any open TinyDB windows) and type java.net.tinyos.tinydb.DemoApp from the tools/java/ directory. You should see output like:

Listening for client connections on port 9000
SerialPortIO: initializing
Successfully opened COM1
client connected from localhost.localdomain (
Sending query.
	1	|	835	|
	2	|	833	|
	3	|	833	|
	4	|	833	|
	5	|	833	|
	6	|	833	|
	7	|	833	|
Now, let's look at the program in more detail. First, notice that the DemoApp class implements the ResultListener interface. The addResult(...) method is the only member of this interface, and it will be called whenever a result arrives for any query which DemoApp has registered. We'll see how registration works in a moment.

The first lines of the DemoApp() constructor initialize TinyDB, parse the query, and inject the query into the network:

    //parse the query
    q = SensorQueryer.translateQuery("SELECT light", (byte)1);
    //inject the query, registering ourselves as a listener for result
    System.out.println("Sending query.");
    TinyDBMain.injectQuery( q, this);

The call to TinyDB.initMain() reads the TinyDB configuration file and sets up network communication. By default, it opens its own connection to the serial port, although it can be configured to share that connection via a SerialForwarder (see the TinyDB documentation on the configuration file.)

Next, the SensorQueryer.translateQuery(..) call converts the specified SQL query into a TinyDBQuery object; the second parameter ((byte)1) specifies that the query id for this query should be 1; this id can be used to cancel or modify the query after it has been injected.

Finally, the TinyDBMain.injectQuery(..) actually sends the query into the network and starts it running. The second parameter, this, specifies that the DemoApp object should be registered as a listener for results from this query.

That's it! The query is now running. Whenever a result arrives for this query, the addResult method will be called to print out each field of each result that arrives.

By now, you've learned how to use the TinyDB GUI and write simple applications that interact with TinyDB motes. In the next section, you'll learn how to extend TinyDB with new attributes that can be queried via the TinyDB query interface.

Adding an Attribute

TinyDB comes with a builtin command for adding constant attributes.  To add a constant attribute, click the "Add Attribute" button in the Mote Commands window.  A dialog box will pop up asking you to fill in the attribute name, type and a constant value.  Simply fill them in and click the "OK" button.  The green LED on the motes should toggle once if they receive the "Add Attribute" command.  The new attribute should be ready for use.  You can now run queries over that attribute.

To add an attribute for a specific mote, you can uncheck the "Broadcast" check box in the Mote Commands window, then fill in a Target Id.  If a constant attribute of the same name has already been registered, the old constant value of the attribute will be overwritten with the new value.

Adding non-constant attributes will involve some NesC programming using the TinySchema API.  The easiest way to get started is to copy and modify some builtin attributes implemented in tos/lib/Attributes.

Where To Look For More Information

There are a number of TinyDB related resources available to users of the system: TinyDB Website