Expression.Evaluate() In Power Query/M

A year ago I wrote a post on loading the M code for a Power Query query from a text file using the Expression.Evaluate() function, but I admit that at the time I didn’t understand how it worked properly. I’ve now had a chance to look at this function in more detail and thought it might be a good idea to post a few more examples of how it works to add to what’s in the Library spec.

The docs are clear about Expression.Evaluate does: it takes some text containing an M expression and evaluates that expression, returning the result. The important thing to remember here is that an M expression can be more than just a single line of code – a Power Query query is in fact a single expression, and that’s why I was able to execute one using Expression.Evaluate() in the blog post referenced above.

Here’s a simple example of Expression.Evaluate():

let
    Source = Expression.Evaluate("""Hello World""")
in
    Source

 

It returns, of course, the text “Hello World”:

image

Here’s another example of an expression that returns the number 10:

let
    Source = Expression.Evaluate("6+4")
in
    Source

 

image

Remember that I said that a Power Query query is itself a single M expression? The way Power Query implements multiple steps in each query is using a let expression, which is a single M expression that contains multiple sub-expressions. Therefore the following  example still shows a single expression (consisting of a let expression) being evaluated to return the value 12:

let
    Source = Expression.Evaluate("let a=3, b=4, c=a*b in c")
in
    Source

 

image

 

OK, so far not very interesting. What we really want to do is evaluate more complex M expressions.

Consider the following query, which uses the Text.Upper() function and returns the text ABC:

let
    Source = Text.Upper("abc")
in
    Source

 

If you run the following query you’ll get the error “The name ‘Text.Upper’ does not exist in the current context.”:

let
    Source = Expression.Evaluate("Text.Upper(""abc"")")
in
    Source

image

To get a full understanding of what’s going on here, I recommend you read section “3.3 Environments and Variables” of the language specification document, which is available here. The short explanation is that all M expressions are evaluated in an ‘environment’, where other variables and functions exist and can be referenced. The reason we’re getting an error in the query above is that it’s trying to execute the expression in an environment all of its own, where the global library functions aren’t available. We can fix this though quite easily by specifying the global environment (where the global library of functions that Text.Upper() is a part of are available) in the second parameter of Expression.Evaluate() using the #shared intrinsic variable, like so:

let
    Source = Expression.Evaluate("Text.Upper(""abc"")", #shared)
in
    Source

image

#shared returns a record containing all of the names of the variables in scope for the global environment and as such it can be used on its own in a query that returns all of the variables (including all of the functions in the global library and from all other queries in the current workbook) available:

let
    Source = #shared
in
    Source

 

Here’s what that query returns on the workbook that I’m using to write this post, which contains various queries apart from the one above:

image

Reza Rad has a blog post devoted to this which is worth checking out.

Using #shared will allow you to evaluated expressions that use global library functions but it’s not a magic wand that makes all errors go away. The following query declares a list and then attempts to use Expression.Evaluate() to get the second item in the list:

let
    MyList = {1,2,3,4,5},
    GetSecondNumber = Expression.Evaluate("MyList{1}", #shared)
in
    GetSecondNumber

image

Despite the use of #shared in the second parameter we still get the context error we saw before because the variable MyList is still not available. What you need to do here is to define a record in the second parameter of Expression.Evaluate() so that the environment that the expression evaluates in knows what the variable MyList refers to:

let
    MyList = {1,2,3,4,5},
    GetSecondNumber = Expression.Evaluate("MyList{1}", [MyList=MyList])
in
    GetSecondNumber

image

This slightly more complex example, which gets the nth item from a list, might make what’s going on here a little clearer:

let
    MyList_Outer = {1,2,3,4,5},
    NumberToGet_Outer = 3,
    GetNthNumber = Expression.Evaluate("MyList_Inner{NumberToGet_Inner}", 
       [MyList_Inner=MyList_Outer, NumberToGet_Inner=NumberToGet_Outer ])
in
    GetNthNumber

 

image

In this example you can see that the two variable names present in the text passed to the first parameter of Expression.Evaluate() are present in the record used in the second parameter, where they are paired up with the two variables from the main query whose values they use.

Finally, how can you pass your own variable names and use functions from the global library? You need to construct a single record containing all the names in #shared plus any others that you need, and you can do that using Record.Combine() to merge a manually created record with the one returned by #shared as shown here:

let
    MyList_Outer = {1,2,3,4,5},
    NumberToGet_Outer = 1,
    RecordOfVariables = 
     [MyList_Inner=MyList_Outer, NumberToGet_Inner=NumberToGet_Outer ],
    RecordOfVariablesAndGlobals = Record.Combine({RecordOfVariables, #shared}),
    GetNthNumber = Expression.Evaluate(
     "List.Reverse(MyList_Inner){NumberToGet_Inner}", 
     RecordOfVariablesAndGlobals )
in
    GetNthNumber

 

image

5 thoughts on “Expression.Evaluate() In Power Query/M

  1. What would really be useful is this: Tell Power Query to EVALUATE based on desired source syntax, whether it be Excel, PowerPivot (DAX) or SQL. It would work like automation, but only get the appropriate “formula” engine. Something like Expression.Evaluate(FormulaEvaluator.PowerPivotAddin(“MyDAXFormula”)).

    • Yes, and similarly it would be useful to have an Excel function that was able to call a DAX query or function, so you could land the output in a single cell in the worksheet.

  2. Chris, can you explain how to use Sections from chapter 11 language specs? I’ve tried everything – does not work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s