Presto and the AWS managed alternative Amazon Athena have some powerful aggregation functions that can make writing SQL much easier. A common problem is getting the most recent status of a transaction log. The max_by function (and its partner min_by) makes this a breeze.

Suppose you have a table tracking user login activity over time like this:

country user_id time status
AU 1 2020-01-01 08:00 logged-in
CN 2 2020-01-01 09:00 logged-in
AU 1 2020-01-01 12:00 logged-out
AU 1 2020-01-01 13:00 logged-in
CN 2 2020-01-01 14:00 logged-out

You need to find out which users are currently logged in and out, which requires you to find their most recent status. In standard SQL you can do this with a window function by adding a row_number to find the most recent time:

SELECT user_id, status
FROM (
    SELECT 
      user_id,
      status,
      row_number() OVER (PARTITION BY user_id ORDER BY time DESC) AS rn
    FROM user_activity
)
WHERE rn = 1

With Presto's max_by function you can do this in a single query:

SELECT user_id, max_by(status, time) AS status
FROM user_activity
GROUP BY user_id

There is one downside to this approach: if you also try to select another column like max_by(country, time) there's a chance if there are two rows with the same time we will get the most recent status and country from different rows which could have consistency problems.

An extension is you may want to also get their previous status. In standard SQL you could use a window function:

SELECT user_id, status, last_status
FROM (
    SELECT
      user_id,
      status,
      lag(status) OVER (PARTITION BY user_id ORDER BY time DESC) AS last_status,
      row_number() OVER (PARTITION BY user_id ORDER BY time DESC) AS rn
FROM user_activity
)
WHERE rn = 1

In Presto you can pass an additional arugment to max_by on how many values to return in an array.

SELECT user_id, max_by(status, time, 2) AS last_2_statuses_array
FROM user_activity
GROUP BY user_id

One more trick Presto has is count_if which removes case statements from aggregation. For example if we wanted the number of logged in and logged out users by country in a pivoted view for standard SQL we could write

SELECT 
  country,
  count(CASE WHEN status = 'logged-in' THEN 1 end) AS logged_in_users,
  count(CASE WHEN status = 'logged-out' THEN 1 end) AS logged_out_users
FROM (
    SELECT 
      user_id,
      country,
      status,
      row_number() OVER (PARTITION BY user_id ORDER BY time DESC) AS rn
    FROM user_activity
)
WHERE rn = 1
GROUP BY country
ORDER BY count(CASE WHEN status = 'logged-in' THEN 1 end) DESC

But in Presto with count_if it could be:

SELECT country,
       count_if(status = 'logged-in') AS logged_in_users,
       count_if(status = 'logged-out') AS logged_out_users
FROM (
    SELECT 
      user_id,
      max_by(country, time) AS country,
      max_by(status, time) AS status
    FROM user_activity
    GROUP BY user_id
)
GROUP BY 1
ORDER BY 2 DESC

When you're writing a lot of complex queries even small simplifications add up. It would be great to see these kinds of functions in other databases some day.