OData filter syntax in Azure Web PubSub service

Azure Web PubSub's filter parameter defines inclusion or exclusion criteria for sending messages to connections. This parameter is used in the Send to all, Send to group, and Send to user operations.

This article provides the following resources:

  • A description of the OData syntax of the filter parameter with examples.
  • A description of the complete Extended Backus-Naur Form grammar.
  • A browsable syntax diagram to interactively explore the syntax grammar rules.


A filter in the OData language is boolean expression, which in turn can be one of several types of expression, as shown by the following EBNF (Extended Backus-Naur Form) description:

/* Identifiers */
string_identifier ::= 'connectionId' | 'userId' 
collection_identifier ::= 'groups'

/* Rules for $filter */

boolean_expression ::= logical_expression
                     | comparison_expression
                     | in_expression
                     | boolean_literal
                     | boolean_function_call
                     | '(' boolean_expression ')'

An interactive syntax diagram is available at, OData syntax diagram for Azure Web PubSub service.

For the complete EBNF, see formal grammar section .


Using the filter syntax, you can control sending messages to connections matching the identifier criteria. Azure Web PubSub supports below identifiers:

Identifier Description Note Examples
userId The userId of the connection. Case insensitive. It can be used in string operations. userId eq 'user1'
connectionId The connectionId of the connection. Case insensitive. It can be used in string operations. connectionId ne '123'
groups The collection of groups the connection is currently in. Case insensitive. It can be used in collection operations. 'group1' in groups

Identifiers refer to the property value of a connection. Azure Web PubSub supports three identifiers matching the property name of the connection model. and supports identifiers userId and connectionId in string operations, supports identifier groups in collection operations. For example, to filter out connections with userId user1, we specify the filter as userId eq 'user1'. Read through the below sections for more samples using the filter.

Boolean expressions

The expression for a filter is a boolean expression. Azure Web PubSub sends messages to connections with filter expressions evaluated to true.

The types of boolean expressions include:

  • Logical expressions that combine other boolean expressions using the operators and, or, and not.
  • Comparison expressions, which compare fields or range variables to constant values using the operators eq, ne, gt, lt, ge, and le.
  • The boolean literals true and false. These constants can be useful sometimes when programmatically generating filters, but otherwise don't tend to be used in practice.
  • Boolean expressions in parentheses. Using parentheses helps to explicitly determine the order of operations in a filter. For more information on the default precedence of the OData operators, see operator precedence section.

Supported operations

The filter syntax supports the following operations:

Operator Description Example
Logical Operators
and Logical and length(userId) le 10 and length(userId) gt 3
or Logical or length(userId) gt 10 or length(userId) le 3
not Logical negation not endswith(userId, 'milk')
Comparison Operators
eq Equal userId eq 'user1',
userId eq null
ne Not equal userId ne 'user1',
userId ne null
gt Greater than length(userId) gt 10
ge Greater than or equal length(userId) ge 10
lt Less than length(userId) lt 3
le Less than or equal 'group1' in groups,
user in ('user1','user2')
In Operator
in The right operand MUST be either a comma-separated list of primitive values, enclosed in parentheses, or a single expression that resolves to a collection. userId ne 'user1'
Grouping Operator
() Controls the evaluation order of an expression userId eq 'user1' or (not (startswith(userId,'user2'))
String Functions
string tolower(string p) Get the lower case for the string value tolower(userId) eq 'user1' can match connections for user USER1
string toupper(string p) Get the upper case for the string value toupper(userId) eq 'USER1' can match connections for user user1
string trim(string p) Trim the string value trim(userId) eq 'user1' can match connections for user user1
string substring(string p, int startIndex),
string substring(string p, int startIndex, int length)
Substring of the string substring(userId,5,2) eq 'ab' can match connections for user user-ab-de
bool endswith(string p0, string p1) Check if p0 ends with p1 endswith(userId,'de') can match connections for user user-ab-de
bool startswith(string p0, string p1) Check if p0 starts with p1 startswith(userId,'user') can match connections for user user-ab-de
int indexof(string p0, string p1) Get the index of p1 in p0. Returns -1 if p0 doesn't contain p1. indexof(userId,'-ab-') ge 0 can match connections for user user-ab-de
int length(string p) Get the length of the input string length(userId) gt 1 can match connections for user user-ab-de
Collection Functions
int length(collection p) Get the length of the collection length(groups) gt 1 can match connections in two groups

Operator precedence

If you write a filter expression with no parentheses around its subexpressions, Azure Web PubSub service will evaluate it according to a set of operator precedence rules. These rules are based on which operators are used to combine subexpressions. The following table lists groups of operators in order from highest to lowest precedence:

Group Operator(s)
Logical operators not
Comparison operators eq, ne, gt, lt, ge, le
Logical operators and
Logical operators or

An operator that is higher in the above table will "bind more tightly" to its operands than other operators. For example, and is of higher precedence than or, and comparison operators are of higher precedence than either of them, so the following two expressions are equivalent:

length(userId) gt 0 and length(userId) lt 3 or length(userId) gt 7 and length(userId) lt 10
((length(userId) gt 0) and (length(userId) lt 3)) or ((length(userId) gt 7) and (length(userId) lt 10))

The not operator has the highest precedence of all, even higher than the comparison operators. If you write a filter like this:

not length(userId) gt 5

You'll get this error message:

Invalid syntax for 'not length(userId)': Type 'null', expect 'bool'. (Parameter 'filter')

This error happens because the operator is associated with just the length(userId) expression, which is of type null when userId is null, and not with the entire comparison expression. The fix is to put the operand of not in parentheses:

not (length(userId) gt 5)

Filter size limitations

There are limits to the size and complexity of filter expressions that you can send to Azure Web PubSub service. The limits are based roughly on the number of clauses in your filter expression. A good guideline is that if you have over 100 clauses, you are at risk of exceeding the limit. To avoid exceeding the limit, design your application so that it doesn't generate filters of unbounded size.


  1. Send to multiple groups
filter='group1' in groups or 'group2' in groups or 'group3' in groups
  1. Send to multiple users in some specific group
filter=userId in ('user1', 'user2', 'user3') and 'group1' in groups
  1. Send to some user but not some specific connectionId
filter=userId eq 'user1' and connectionId ne '123'
  1. Send to some user not in some specific group
filter=userId eq 'user1' and (not ('group1' in groups))
  1. Escape ' when userId contains '
filter=userId eq 'user''1'

Formal grammar

We can describe the subset of the OData language supported by Azure Web PubSub service using an EBNF (Extended Backus-Naur Form) grammar. Rules are listed "top-down", starting with the most complex expressions, then breaking them down into more primitive expressions. The top is the grammar rule for $filter that corresponds to specific parameter filter of the Azure Web PubSub service Send* REST APIs:

/* Top-level rule */

filter_expression ::= boolean_expression

/* Identifiers */
string_identifier ::= 'connectionId' | 'userId' 
collection_identifier ::= 'groups'

/* Rules for $filter */

boolean_expression ::= logical_expression
                     | comparison_expression
                     | in_expression
                     | boolean_literal
                     | boolean_function_call
                     | '(' boolean_expression ')'

logical_expression ::= boolean_expression ('and' | 'or') boolean_expression
                     | 'not' boolean_expression

comparison_expression ::= primary_expression comparison_operator primary_expression

in_expression ::= primary_expression 'in'  ( '(' primary_expression (',' primary_expression)* ')' ) | collection_expression  

collection_expression ::= collection_variable
                        | '(' collection_expression ')'

primary_expression ::= primary_variable 
                     | function_call
                     | constant
                     | '(' primary_expression ')'

string_expression ::= string_literal
                    | 'null'
                    | string_identifier
                    | string_function_call
                    | '(' string_expression ')'

primary_variable ::= string_identifier 
collection_variable ::= collection_identifier

comparison_operator ::= 'gt' | 'lt' | 'ge' | 'le' | 'eq' | 'ne'

/* Rules for constants and literals */
constant     ::=      string_literal
                    | integer_literal
                    | boolean_literal
                    | 'null'

boolean_literal ::= 'true' | 'false'

string_literal ::= "'"([^'] | "''")*"'"

digit ::= [0-9]
sign ::= '+' | '-'
integer_literal ::= sign? digit+

boolean_literal ::= 'true' | 'false'

/* Rules for functions */

function_call ::= indexof_function_call 
                | length_function_call 
                | string_function_call
                | boolean_function_call

boolean_function_call ::= endsWith_function_call 
                        | startsWith_function_call 
                        | contains_function_call
string_function_call  ::= tolower_function_call 
                        | toupper_function_call  
                        | trim_function_call 
                        | substring_function_call 
                        | concat_function_call

/* Rules for string functions */
indexof_function_call    ::= "indexof"     '(' string_expression ',' string_expression ')'
concat_function_call     ::= "concat"     '(' string_expression ',' string_expression ')'
contains_function_call   ::= "contains"   '(' string_expression ',' string_expression ')'
endsWith_function_call   ::= "endswith"   '(' string_expression ',' string_expression ')'
startsWith_function_call ::= "startswith" '(' string_expression ',' string_expression ')'
substring_function_call  ::= "substring"  '(' string_expression ',' integer_literal (',' integer_literal)? ')'
tolower_function_call    ::= "tolower"    '(' string_expression ')'
toupper_function_call    ::= "toupper"    '(' string_expression ')'
trim_function_call       ::= "trim"       '(' string_expression ')'

/* Rules for string and collection functions */
length_function_call     ::= "length"     '(' string_expression | collection_expression ')'

Next steps

Follow the tutorials listed below to start building your own application.