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Finding leaf nodes of a graph using AQL


I want to traverse a graph with AQL and return all the leaf nodes.


Use a traversal with a custom visitor function. This is available since ArangoDB 2.4.2. A custom visitor function is user-defined function that is called for every node that is visited during the traversal. It can append values to the traversal result.

User-defined visitor functions are written in JavaScript. Once the function is written, it needs to be registered on the server to become usable from inside an AQL query.

Example data setup

For the following, we need the example graph and data from here. Please download the code from the link and store it in the filesystem using a filename of world-graph-setup.js. Then start the ArangoShell and run the code from the file:


The script will create the following two collections and load some data into them:

  • v: a collection with vertex documents
  • e: an edge collection containing the connections between vertices in v

The data in the example graph connects capitals to countries, countries to continents, and all continents to a single root node. The structure looks like this:

root <--[is in]-- continent <--[is in]-- country <--[is in]-- capital

In this graph, we’re only interested in the leaf nodes. While in this graph they would be easy to find using their type value of capital, we are interested in a more general solution. In general, a leaf node is a node that does not have any further edges connected.

We start our traversal at the root node, and from that vertex follow all incoming edges and vertices until we have visited all leaf nodes. The general traversal framework will take care of all this, all we need to do is to tweak its configuration and behavior. The default visitor will put every visited vertex into the result, and this is not what we want. Instead, we will only return leaf nodes.

Registering a custom visitor function

Here’s a visitor function to do this. Please execute the following code in the ArangoShell to register the function and make it available from with AQL:

var aqlfunctions = require("org/arangodb/aql/functions");

aqlfunctions.register("myfunctions::leafNodeVisitor", function (config, result, vertex, path, connected) {
  if (connected && connected.length === 0) {
    return + " (" + vertex.type + ")";

That code snippet should have stored the custom visitor under a name myfunctions::leafNodeVisitor.

Using the visitor from an AQL query

Now we only need to write an AQL query that invokes the custom visitor. The following query is an example for this. You can execute it from the AQL editor in the web interface:

LET params = { 
  order : "preorder-expander",
  visitor : "myfunctions::leafNodeVisitor", 
  visitorReturnsResults : true 
FOR result IN TRAVERSAL(v, e, "v/world", "inbound", params) 
  RETURN result


Please note the following things:

  • the AQL query will use two collections as in the example graph. They are named v and e. The vertices are connected via inbound edges. The traversal will start at the node with id v/world as specified. To use other collections, a different start vertex or outbound connections, please adjust the part of the query following TRAVERSAL(....

  • by default, custom visitor functions will be called before connecting edges are determined. Setting order to preorder-expander in the traversal configuration as above will lead to the visitor function being called after connecting edges have been determined. The connection info will then be passed into the visitor as a fifth parameter (named connected above)

  • the visitor function name (visitor attribute of the configuration) in the example is myfunctions::leafNodeVisitor. Adjust as required!

  • the visitorReturnsResults attribute was set to true. This means that the return value of the custom visitor function will be appended to the result of the TRAVERSAL function. In the custom visitor above, only leaf nodes will be returned. For every other node visited, the custom visitor will not return anything, so nothing will get append to the traversal result in that case.

Further uses

The above example is using the AQL function TRAVERSAL(), which requires a vertex and an edge collection to be specified. Custom visitors can also be used in the GRAPH_TRAVERSAL() AQL function, which does not require named collections but a named graph. To make the above query work on a graph WorldGraph and use GRAPH_TRAVERSAL() instead of TRAVERSAL(), change the query to:

LET params = { 
  order : "preorder-expander",
  visitor : "myfunctions::leafNodeVisitor", 
  visitorReturnsResults : true 
FOR result IN GRAPH_TRAVERSAL("WorldGraph", "v/world", "inbound", params) 
  RETURN result

Custom visitors can be also combined with custom filter functions to restrict results to only certain types of vertices, or to follow only specific edges/connections/paths in the graph.

Author: Jan Steemann

Tags: #graph #traversal #aql