Hasso-Plattner-InstitutSDG am HPI
Hasso-Plattner-InstitutDSG am HPI

Lan Jiang

"Discovering Metadata in Data Files"

It is estimated that data scientists spend up to 80% of the time exploring, cleaning, and transforming their data. A major reason for that expenditure is the lack of knowledge about the used data, which are often from different sources and have heterogeneous structures. As a means to describe various properties of data, metadata can help data scientists understand and prepare their data, saving time for innovative and valuable data analytics. However, metadata do not always exist: some data file formats are not capable of storing them; metadata were deleted for privacy concerns; legacy data may have been produced by systems that were not designed to store and handle meta- data. As data are being produced at an unprecedentedly fast pace and stored in diverse formats, manually creating metadata is not only impractical but also error-prone, demanding automatic approaches for metadata detection.

In this thesis, we are focused on detecting metadata in CSV files – a type of plain-text file that, similar to spreadsheets, may contain different types of content at arbitrary positions. We propose a taxonomy of metadata in CSV files and specifically address the discovery of three different metadata: line and cell type, aggregations, and primary keys and foreign keys.

Data are organized in an ad-hoc manner in CSV files, and do not follow a fixed structure, which is assumed by common data processing tools. Detecting the structure of such files is a prerequisite of extracting information from them, which can be addressed by detecting the semantic type, such as header, data, derived, or footnote, of each line or each cell. We propose the supervised- learning approach Strudel to detect the type of lines and cells. CSV files may also include aggregations. An aggregation represents the arithmetic relationship between a numeric cell and a set of other numeric cells. Our proposed AggreCol algorithm is capable of detecting aggregations of five arithmetic functions in CSV files. Note that stylistic features, such as font style and cell background color, do not exist in CSV files. Our proposed algorithms address the respective problems by using only content, contextual, and computational features.

Storing a relational table is also a common usage of CSV files. Primary keys and foreign keys are important metadata for relational databases, which are usually not present for database instances dumped as plain-text files. We propose the HoPF algorithm to holistically detect both constraints in relational databases. Our approach is capable of distinguishing true primary and foreign keys from a great amount of spurious unique column combinations and inclusion dependencies, which can be detected by state-of-the-art data profiling algorithms.