Read and modify data

Read and modify data

The simplest usage of the language is to find data stored in the database. For that, you can use one of the following clauses:

  • MATCH which searches for patterns.
  • WHERE for filtering the matched data.
  • RETURN for defining what will be presented to the user in the result set.
  • UNION and UNION ALL for combining results from multiple queries.
  • UNWIND for unwinding a list of values as individual rows.


This clause is used to obtain data from Memgraph by matching it to a given pattern. For example, you can use the following query to find each node in the database:

MATCH (node) RETURN node;

Finding connected nodes can be achieved by using the query:

MATCH (node1)-[connection]-(node2) RETURN node1, connection, node2;

In addition to general pattern matching, you can narrow the search down by specifying node labels and properties. Similarly, relationship types and properties can also be specified. For example, finding each node labeled as Person and with property age being 42, is done with the following query:

MATCH (n:Person {age: 42}) RETURN n;

Each node and relationship gets a identifier generated during their initialization which is persisted through the durability mechanism.

Return it with the [`id()` function](/querying/functions). 

You can use the following query to find their friends:

MATCH (n:Person {age: 42})-[:FRIENDS_WITH]-(friend) RETURN friend;

There are cases when a user needs to find data that is connected by traversing a path of connections, but the user doesn't know how many connections need to be traversed. Cypher allows for designating patterns with variable path lengths. Matching such a path is achieved by using the * (asterisk) symbol inside the relationship element of a pattern. For example, traversing from node1 to node2 by following any number of connections in a single direction can be achieved with:

MATCH (node1)-[r*]->(node2) RETURN node1, r, node2;

If paths are very long, finding them could take a long time. To prevent that, a user can provide the minimum and maximum length of the path. For example, paths of length between two and four nodes can be obtained with a query like:

MATCH (node1)-[r*2..4]->(node2) RETURN node1, r, node2;

It is possible to name patterns in the query and return the resulting paths. This is especially useful when matching variable length paths:

MATCH path = ()-[r*2..4]->() RETURN path;

More details on how MATCH works can be found here.

The MATCH clause can be modified by prepending the OPTIONAL keyword. OPTIONAL MATCH clause behaves the same as a regular MATCH, but when it fails to find the pattern, missing parts of the pattern will be filled with null values. Examples can be found here.


You have already seen how to achieve simple filtering by using labels and properties in MATCH patterns. When more complex filtering is desired, you can use WHERE paired with MATCH or OPTIONAL MATCH. For example, finding each person older than 20 is done with this query:

MATCH (n:Person) WHERE n.age > 20 RETURN n;

Additional examples can be found here.

Regular expressions

Inside WHERE clause, you can use regular expressions for text filtering. To use a regular expression, you need to use the =~ operator.

For example, finding all Person nodes which have a name ending with son:

MATCH (n:Person) WHERE =~ ".*son$" RETURN n;

The regular expression syntax is based on the modified ECMAScript regular expression grammar. The ECMAScript grammar can be found here (opens in a new tab), while the modifications are described in this document (opens in a new tab).


The RETURN clause defines which data should be included in the resulting set. Basic usage was already shown in the examples for MATCH and WHERE clauses. Another feature of RETURN is renaming the results using the AS keyword.

For example:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN n AS people;

That query would display all nodes under the header named people instead of n.

When you want to get everything that was matched, you can use the * (asterisk) symbol.

This query:

MATCH (node1)-[connection]-(node2) RETURN *;

is equivalent to:

MATCH (node1)-[connection]-(node2) RETURN node1, connection, node2;

RETURN can be followed by the DISTINCT operator, which will remove duplicate results. For example, getting unique names of people can be achieved with:


Besides choosing what will be the result and how it will be named, the RETURN clause can also be used to:

  • limit results with LIMIT sub-clause;
  • skip results with SKIP sub-clause;
  • order results with ORDER BY sub-clause and
  • perform aggregations (such as count).

More details on RETURN can be found here.


These sub-clauses take a number of how many results to skip or limit. For example, to get the first three results you can use this query:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN n LIMIT 3;

If you want to get all the results after the first 3, you can use the following:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN n SKIP 3;

The SKIP and LIMIT can be combined. So for example, to get the 2nd result, you can do:



Since the patterns which are matched can come in any order, it is very useful to be able to enforce some ordering among the results. In such cases, you can use the ORDER BY sub-clause.

For example, the following query will get all :Person nodes and order them by their names:


By default, ordering will be ascending. To change the order to be descending, you should append DESC.

For example, you can use this query to order people by their name descending:


You can also order by multiple variables. The results will be sorted by the first variable listed. If the values are equal, the results are sorted by the second variable, and so on.

For example, ordering by first name descending and last name ascending:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN n ORDER BY DESC, n.lastName;

Note that ORDER BY sees only the variable names as carried over by RETURN. This means that the following will result in an error.

MATCH (old:Person) RETURN old AS new ORDER BY;

Instead, the new variable must be used:

MATCH (old:Person) RETURN old AS new ORDER BY;

The ORDER BY sub-clause may come in handy with SKIP and/or LIMIT sub-clauses. For example, to get the oldest person you can use the following:


You can also order result before returning them. The following query will order all the nodes according to name, and then return them in a list.

RETURN collect( AS names;


Cypher has functions for aggregating data. Memgraph currently supports the following aggregating functions.

  • avg, for calculating the average value.
  • sum, for calculating the sum of numeric values.
  • collect, for collecting multiple values into a single list or map. If given a single expression values are collected into a list. If given two expressions, values are collected into a map where the first expression denotes map keys (must be string values) and the second expression denotes map values.
  • count, for counting the resulting values.
  • max, for returning the maximum value.
  • min, for returning the minimum value.

Example, calculating the average age:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN avg(n.age) AS averageAge;

Collecting items into a list:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN collect( AS list_of_names;

Collecting items into a map:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN collect(, n.age) AS map_name_to_age;

Check the detailed signatures of aggregation functions.


Cypher supports combining results from multiple queries into a single result set. That result will contain rows that belong to queries in the union respecting the union type.

Using UNION will contain only distinct rows, while UNION ALL will keep all rows from all given queries.

Restrictions when using UNION or UNION ALL:

  • The number and the names of columns returned by queries must be the same for all of them.
  • There can be only one union type between single queries, i.e. a query can't contain both UNION and UNION ALL.

For example to get distinct names that are shared between persons and movies use the following query:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN AS name UNION MATCH (n:Movie) RETURN AS name;

To get all names that are shared between persons and movies (including duplicates) do the following:

MATCH (n:Person) RETURN AS name UNION ALL MATCH (n:Movie) RETURN AS name;


The UNWIND clause is used to unwind a list of values as individual rows.

To produce rows out of a single list, use the following query:

UNWIND [1,2,3] AS listElement RETURN listElement;

More examples can be found here.

Traversing relationships

Patterns are used to indicate specific graph traversals given directional relationships. How a graph is traversed for a query depends on what directions are defined for relationships and how the pattern is specified in the MATCH clause.

Patterns in a query

Here is an example of a pattern that utilizes the FRIENDS_WITH relationships from our graph:

MATCH (p1:Person)-[r:FRIENDS_WITH]->(p2:Person {name:'Alison'})
RETURN p1, r, p2;

The output is:


Because the FRIENDS_WITH relationship is directional, only these two nodes are returned.

Reversing traversals

When the relationship from the previous query is reversed, with the person named Alison being the anchor node, the returned results are:

MATCH (p1:Person)<-[r:FRIENDS_WITH]-(p2:Person {name:'Alison'})
RETURN p1, r, p2;

The output is:


Bidirectional traversals

We can also find out what Person nodes are connected with the FRIENDS_WITH relationship in either direction by removing the directional arrow from the pattern:

MATCH  (p1:Person)-[r:FRIENDS_WITH]-(p2:Person {name:'Alison'})
RETURN p1, r, p2;

The output is:


Traversing multiple relationships

Since we have a graph, we can traverse through nodes to obtain relationships further into the traversal.

For example, we can write a Cypher query to return all friends of friends of the person named Alison:

MATCH  (p1:Person {name:'Alison'})-[r1:FRIENDS_WITH]->
RETURN p1, r1, p2, r2, p3;

Keep in mind that the first relationship is directional while the second one isn't. The output is:


Modify data

SET clause

Use the SET clause to update labels on nodes and properties on nodes and relationships.

Click here for a more detailed explanation of what can be done with SET.

Cypher supports combining multiple reads and writes using the WITH clause. In addition to combining, the MERGE clause is provided which may create patterns if they do not exist.

Creating and updating properties

The SET clause can be used to create/update the value of a property on a node or relationship:

MATCH (c:City)
WHERE = 'London'
SET c.population = 8900000

The SET clause can be used to create/update the value of multiple properties on nodes or relationships by separating them with a comma:

MATCH (c:City)
WHERE = 'London'
SET c.population = 8900000, = 'United Kingdom'

Creating and updating node labels

The SET clause can be used to create/update the label on a node. If the node has a label, a new one will be added while the old one is left as is:

MATCH (c:City:Location)
SET c:City
RETURN labels(c);

Removing a property

The SET clause can be used to remove the value of a property on a node or relationship by setting it to NULL:

MATCH (c:City)
WHERE = 'London'

Copy all properties

If SET is used to copy the properties of one node/relationship to another, all the properties of the latter will be removed and replaced with the new ones:

CREATE (p1:Person {name: 'Harry'}), (p2:Person {name: 'Anna'})
SET p1 = p2
RETURN p1, p2;

Bulk update

You can use SET clause to do a bulk update. Here is an example of how to increment everyone's age by 1:

MATCH (n:Person) SET n.age = n.age + 1;

Delete data


This clause is used to delete nodes, relationships and paths from the database.

For example, removing all relationships of a single type:

MATCH ()-[relationship :type]-() DELETE relationship;

When testing the database, you often want to have a clean start by deleting every node and relationship in the database. It is reasonable that deleting each node should delete all relationships coming into or out of that node.

MATCH (node) DELETE node;

But, Cypher prevents accidental deletion of relationships. Therefore, the above query will report an error. Instead, you need to use the DETACH keyword, which will remove relationships from a node you are deleting. The following should work and delete everything in the database.


To delete a path, use the following syntax:

MATCH p = (:X)-->()-->()-->()


To delete all the data, along with all indices, constraints, triggers, and streams, in an efficient manner, you can use the following query:


More details are available at DROP GRAPH documentation.


The REMOVE clause is used to remove labels and properties from nodes and relationships:

MATCH (n:WrongLabel) REMOVE n:WrongLabel,;