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Dask DataFrame - parallelized pandas

Looks and feels like the pandas API, but for parallel and distributed workflows.

At its core, the dask.dataframe module implements a “blocked parallel” DataFrame object that looks and feels like the pandas API, but for parallel and distributed workflows. One Dask DataFrame is comprised of many in-memory pandas DataFrames separated along the index. One operation on a Dask DataFrame triggers many pandas operations on the constituent pandas DataFrames in a way that is mindful of potential parallelism and memory constraints.

Dask DataFrame is composed of pandas DataFrames

Related Documentation

When to use dask.dataframe

pandas is great for tabular datasets that fit in memory. A general rule of thumb for pandas is:

“Have 5 to 10 times as much RAM as the size of your dataset”

Wes McKinney (2017) in 10 things I hate about pandas

Here “size of dataset” means dataset size on the disk.

Dask becomes useful when the datasets exceed the above rule.

In this notebook, you will be working with the New York City Airline data. This dataset is only ~200MB, so that you can download it in a reasonable time, but dask.dataframe will scale to datasets much larger than memory.

Create datasets

Create the datasets you will be using in this notebook:

%run -d flights

Set up your local cluster

Create a local Dask cluster and connect it to the client. Don’t worry about this bit of code for now, you will learn more in the Distributed notebook.

from dask.distributed import Client

client = Client(n_workers=4)
2022-10-27 21:22:10,543 - distributed.diskutils - INFO - Found stale lock file and directory '/home/runner/work/dask-tutorial/dask-tutorial/dask-worker-space/worker-ivhn7_1u', purging
2022-10-27 21:22:10,544 - distributed.diskutils - INFO - Found stale lock file and directory '/home/runner/work/dask-tutorial/dask-tutorial/dask-worker-space/worker-rrs_4uw9', purging



Connection method: Cluster object Cluster type: distributed.LocalCluster

Cluster Info

Dask Diagnostic Dashboard

Dask Distributed provides a useful Dashboard to visualize the state of your cluster and computations.

If you’re on JupyterLab or Binder, you can use the Dask JupyterLab extension (which should be already installed in your environment) to open the dashboard plots: * Click on the Dask logo in the left sidebar * Click on the magnifying glass icon, which will automatically connect to the active dashboard (if that doesn’t work, you can type/paste the dashboard link in the field) * Click on “Task Stream”, “Progress Bar”, and “Worker Memory”, which will open these plots in new tabs * Re-organize the tabs to suit your workflow!

Alternatively, click on the dashboard link displayed in the Client details above: It will open a new browser tab with the Dashboard.

Reading and working with datasets

Let’s read an extract of flights in the USA across several years. This data is specific to flights out of the three airports in the New York City area.

import os
import dask

By convention, we import the module dask.dataframe as dd, and call the corresponding DataFrame object ddf.

Note: The term “Dask DataFrame” is slightly overloaded. Depending on the context, it can refer to the module or the DataFrame object. To avoid confusion, throughout this notebook: - dask.dataframe (note the all lowercase) refers to the API, and - DataFrame (note the CamelCase) refers to the object.

The following filename includes a glob pattern *, so all files in the path matching that pattern will be read into the same DataFrame.

import dask.dataframe as dd

ddf = dd.read_csv(
    os.path.join("data", "nycflights", "*.csv"), parse_dates={"Date": [0, 1, 2]}
Dask DataFrame Structure:
Date DayOfWeek DepTime CRSDepTime ArrTime CRSArrTime UniqueCarrier FlightNum TailNum ActualElapsedTime CRSElapsedTime AirTime ArrDelay DepDelay Origin Dest Distance TaxiIn TaxiOut Cancelled Diverted
datetime64[ns] int64 float64 int64 float64 int64 object int64 float64 float64 int64 float64 float64 float64 object object float64 float64 float64 int64 int64
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
Dask Name: read-csv, 10 tasks

Dask has not loaded the data yet, it has: - investigated the input path and found that there are ten matching files - intelligently created a set of jobs for each chunk – one per original CSV file in this case

Notice that the representation of the DataFrame object contains no data - Dask has just done enough to read the start of the first file, and infer the column names and dtypes.

Lazy Evaluation

Most Dask Collections, including Dask DataFrame are evaluated lazily, which means Dask constructs the logic (called task graph) of your computation immediately but “evaluates” them only when necessary. You can view this task graph using .visualize().

You will learn more about this in the Delayed notebook, but for now, note that we need to call .compute() to trigger actual computations.


Some functions like len and head also trigger a computation. Specifically, calling len will: - load actual data, (that is, load each file into a pandas DataFrame) - then apply the corresponding functions to each pandas DataFrame (also known as a partition) - combine the subtotals to give you the final grand total

# load and count number of rows

You can view the start and end of the data as you would in pandas:

Date DayOfWeek DepTime CRSDepTime ArrTime CRSArrTime UniqueCarrier FlightNum TailNum ActualElapsedTime ... AirTime ArrDelay DepDelay Origin Dest Distance TaxiIn TaxiOut Cancelled Diverted
0 1990-01-01 1 1621.0 1540 1747.0 1701 US 33 NaN 86.0 ... NaN 46.0 41.0 EWR PIT 319.0 NaN NaN 0 0
1 1990-01-02 2 1547.0 1540 1700.0 1701 US 33 NaN 73.0 ... NaN -1.0 7.0 EWR PIT 319.0 NaN NaN 0 0
2 1990-01-03 3 1546.0 1540 1710.0 1701 US 33 NaN 84.0 ... NaN 9.0 6.0 EWR PIT 319.0 NaN NaN 0 0
3 1990-01-04 4 1542.0 1540 1710.0 1701 US 33 NaN 88.0 ... NaN 9.0 2.0 EWR PIT 319.0 NaN NaN 0 0
4 1990-01-05 5 1549.0 1540 1706.0 1701 US 33 NaN 77.0 ... NaN 5.0 9.0 EWR PIT 319.0 NaN NaN 0 0

5 rows × 21 columns


# ValueError: Mismatched dtypes found in `pd.read_csv`/`pd.read_table`.

# +----------------+---------+----------+
# | Column         | Found   | Expected |
# +----------------+---------+----------+
# | CRSElapsedTime | float64 | int64    |
# | TailNum        | object  | float64  |
# +----------------+---------+----------+

# The following columns also raised exceptions on conversion:

# - TailNum
#   ValueError("could not convert string to float: 'N54711'")

# Usually this is due to dask's dtype inference failing, and
# *may* be fixed by specifying dtypes manually by adding:

# dtype={'CRSElapsedTime': 'float64',
#        'TailNum': 'object'}

# to the call to `read_csv`/`read_table`.

Unlike pandas.read_csv which reads in the entire file before inferring datatypes, dask.dataframe.read_csv only reads in a sample from the beginning of the file (or first file if using a glob). These inferred datatypes are then enforced when reading all partitions.

In this case, the datatypes inferred in the sample are incorrect. The first n rows have no value for CRSElapsedTime (which pandas infers as a float), and later on turn out to be strings (object dtype). Note that Dask gives an informative error message about the mismatch. When this happens you have a few options:

  • Specify dtypes directly using the dtype keyword. This is the recommended solution, as it’s the least error prone (better to be explicit than implicit) and also the most performant.

  • Increase the size of the sample keyword (in bytes)

  • Use assume_missing to make dask assume that columns inferred to be int (which don’t allow missing values) are actually floats (which do allow missing values). In our particular case this doesn’t apply.

In our case we’ll use the first option and directly specify the dtypes of the offending columns.

ddf = dd.read_csv(
    os.path.join("data", "nycflights", "*.csv"),
    parse_dates={"Date": [0, 1, 2]},
    dtype={"TailNum": str, "CRSElapsedTime": float, "Cancelled": bool},
ddf.tail()  # now works
Date DayOfWeek DepTime CRSDepTime ArrTime CRSArrTime UniqueCarrier FlightNum TailNum ActualElapsedTime ... AirTime ArrDelay DepDelay Origin Dest Distance TaxiIn TaxiOut Cancelled Diverted
994 1999-01-25 1 632.0 635 803.0 817 CO 437 N27213 91.0 ... 68.0 -14.0 -3.0 EWR RDU 416.0 4.0 19.0 False 0
995 1999-01-26 2 632.0 635 751.0 817 CO 437 N16217 79.0 ... 62.0 -26.0 -3.0 EWR RDU 416.0 3.0 14.0 False 0
996 1999-01-27 3 631.0 635 756.0 817 CO 437 N12216 85.0 ... 66.0 -21.0 -4.0 EWR RDU 416.0 4.0 15.0 False 0
997 1999-01-28 4 629.0 635 803.0 817 CO 437 N26210 94.0 ... 69.0 -14.0 -6.0 EWR RDU 416.0 5.0 20.0 False 0
998 1999-01-29 5 632.0 635 802.0 817 CO 437 N12225 90.0 ... 67.0 -15.0 -3.0 EWR RDU 416.0 5.0 18.0 False 0

5 rows × 21 columns

Reading from remote storage

If you’re thinking about distributed computing, your data is probably stored remotely on services (like Amazon’s S3 or Google’s cloud storage) and is in a friendlier format (like Parquet). Dask can read data in various formats directly from these remote locations lazily and in parallel.

Here’s how you can read the NYC taxi cab data from Amazon S3:

ddf = dd.read_parquet(
    "s3://nyc-tlc/trip data/yellow_tripdata_2012-*.parquet",

You can also leverage Parquet-specific optimizations like column selection and metadata handling, learn more in the Dask documentation on working with Parquet files.

Computations with dask.dataframe

Let’s compute the maximum of the flight delay.

With just pandas, we would loop over each file to find the individual maximums, then find the final maximum over all the individual maximums.

import pandas as pd

files = os.listdir(os.path.join('data', 'nycflights'))

maxes = []

for file in files:
    df = pd.read_csv(os.path.join('data', 'nycflights', file))

final_max = max(maxes)

dask.dataframe lets us write pandas-like code, that operates on larger-than-memory datasets in parallel.

result = ddf.DepDelay.max()
CPU times: user 16 ms, sys: 130 µs, total: 16.1 ms
Wall time: 56.9 ms

This creates the lazy computation for us and then runs it.

Note: Dask will delete intermediate results (like the full pandas DataFrame for each file) as soon as possible. This means you can handle datasets that are larger than memory but, repeated computations will have to load all of the data in each time. (Run the code above again, is it faster or slower than you would expect?)

You can view the underlying task graph using .visualize():

# notice the parallelism


In this section you will do a few dask.dataframe computations. If you are comfortable with pandas then these should be familiar. You will have to think about when to call .compute().

1. How many rows are in our dataset?

Hint: how would you check how many items are in a list?

# Your code here

2. In total, how many non-canceled flights were taken?

Hint: use boolean indexing.

# Your code here

3. In total, how many non-canceled flights were taken from each airport?

Hint: use groupby.

# Your code here
EWR    4132
JFK    1085
LGA    4166
Name: Origin, dtype: int64

4. What was the average departure delay from each airport?

# Your code here
EWR    12.500968
JFK    17.053456
LGA    10.169227
Name: DepDelay, dtype: float64

5. What day of the week has the worst average departure delay?

# Your code here

6. Let’s say the distance column is erroneous and you need to add 1 to all values, how would you do this?

# Your code here
    lambda x: x + 1
).compute()  # don't worry about the warning, we'll discuss in the next sections

# OR

(ddf["Distance"] + 1).compute()
/usr/share/miniconda3/envs/dask-tutorial/lib/python3.9/site-packages/dask/dataframe/ UserWarning:
You did not provide metadata, so Dask is running your function on a small dataset to guess output types. It is possible that Dask will guess incorrectly.
To provide an explicit output types or to silence this message, please provide the `meta=` keyword, as described in the map or apply function that you are using.
  Before: .apply(func)
  After:  .apply(func, meta=('Distance', 'float64'))

0      320.0
1      320.0
2      320.0
3      320.0
4      320.0
994    417.0
995    417.0
996    417.0
997    417.0
998    417.0
Name: Distance, Length: 9990, dtype: float64

Sharing Intermediate Results

When computing all of the above, we sometimes did the same operation more than once. For most operations, dask.dataframe stores the arguments, allowing duplicate computations to be shared and only computed once.

For example, let’s compute the mean and standard deviation for departure delay of all non-canceled flights. Since Dask operations are lazy, those values aren’t the final results yet. They’re just the steps required to get the result.

If you compute them with two calls to compute, there is no sharing of intermediate computations.

non_canceled = ddf[~ddf.Cancelled]
mean_delay = non_canceled.DepDelay.mean()
std_delay = non_canceled.DepDelay.std()

mean_delay_res = mean_delay.compute()
std_delay_res = std_delay.compute()
CPU times: user 48.5 ms, sys: 4.95 ms, total: 53.5 ms
Wall time: 168 ms


But let’s try by passing both to a single compute call.


mean_delay_res, std_delay_res = dask.compute(mean_delay, std_delay)
CPU times: user 35.4 ms, sys: 506 µs, total: 35.9 ms
Wall time: 97.2 ms

Using dask.compute takes roughly 1/2 the time. This is because the task graphs for both results are merged when calling dask.compute, allowing shared operations to only be done once instead of twice. In particular, using dask.compute only does the following once:

  • the calls to read_csv

  • the filter (df[~df.Cancelled])

  • some of the necessary reductions (sum, count)

To see what the merged task graphs between multiple results look like (and what’s shared), you can use the dask.visualize function (you might want to use filename='graph.pdf' to save the graph to disk so that you can zoom in more easily):

dask.visualize(mean_delay, std_delay, engine="cytoscape")


While using a distributed scheduler (you will learn more about schedulers in the upcoming notebooks), you can keep some data that you want to use often in the distributed memory.

persist generates “Futures” (more on this later as well) and stores them in the same structure as your output. You can use persist with any data or computation that fits in memory.

If you want to analyze data only for non-canceled flights departing from JFK airport, you can either have two compute calls like in the previous section:

non_cancelled = ddf[~ddf.Cancelled]
ddf_jfk = non_cancelled[non_cancelled.Origin == "JFK"]
CPU times: user 47.9 ms, sys: 1.94 ms, total: 49.8 ms
Wall time: 170 ms

Or, consider persisting that subset of data in memory.

See the “Graph” dashboard plot, the red squares indicate persisted data stored as Futures in memory. You will also notice an increase in Worker Memory (another dashboard plot) consumption.

ddf_jfk = ddf_jfk.persist()  # returns back control immediately
CPU times: user 50.1 ms, sys: 3.66 ms, total: 53.7 ms
Wall time: 129 ms

Analyses on this persisted data is faster because we are not repeating the loading and selecting (non-canceled, JFK departure) operations.

Custom code with Dask DataFrame

dask.dataframe only covers a small but well-used portion of the pandas API.

This limitation is for two reasons:

  1. The Pandas API is huge

  2. Some operations are genuinely hard to do in parallel, e.g, sorting.

Additionally, some important operations like set_index work, but are slower than in pandas because they include substantial shuffling of data, and may write out to disk.

What if you want to use some custom functions that aren’t (or can’t be) implemented for Dask DataFrame yet?

You can open an issue on the Dask issue tracker to check how feasible the function could be to implement, and you can consider contributing this function to Dask.

In case it’s a custom function or tricky to implement, dask.dataframe provides a few methods to make applying custom functions to Dask DataFrames easier:

Let’s take a quick look at the map_partitions() function:

Help on method map_partitions in module dask.dataframe.core:

map_partitions(func, *args, **kwargs) method of dask.dataframe.core.DataFrame instance
    Apply Python function on each DataFrame partition.

    Note that the index and divisions are assumed to remain unchanged.

    func : function
        The function applied to each partition. If this function accepts
        the special ``partition_info`` keyword argument, it will receive
        information on the partition's relative location within the
    args, kwargs :
        Positional and keyword arguments to pass to the function.
        Positional arguments are computed on a per-partition basis, while
        keyword arguments are shared across all partitions. The partition
        itself will be the first positional argument, with all other
        arguments passed *after*. Arguments can be ``Scalar``, ``Delayed``,
        or regular Python objects. DataFrame-like args (both dask and
        pandas) will be repartitioned to align (if necessary) before
        applying the function; see ``align_dataframes`` to control this
    enforce_metadata : bool, default True
        Whether to enforce at runtime that the structure of the DataFrame
        produced by ``func`` actually matches the structure of ``meta``.
        This will rename and reorder columns for each partition,
        and will raise an error if this doesn't work or types don't match.
    transform_divisions : bool, default True
        Whether to apply the function onto the divisions and apply those
        transformed divisions to the output.
    align_dataframes : bool, default True
        Whether to repartition DataFrame- or Series-like args
        (both dask and pandas) so their divisions align before applying
        the function. This requires all inputs to have known divisions.
        Single-partition inputs will be split into multiple partitions.

        If False, all inputs must have either the same number of partitions
        or a single partition. Single-partition inputs will be broadcast to
        every partition of multi-partition inputs.
    meta : pd.DataFrame, pd.Series, dict, iterable, tuple, optional
        An empty ``pd.DataFrame`` or ``pd.Series`` that matches the dtypes
        and column names of the output. This metadata is necessary for
        many algorithms in dask dataframe to work.  For ease of use, some
        alternative inputs are also available. Instead of a ``DataFrame``,
        a ``dict`` of ``{name: dtype}`` or iterable of ``(name, dtype)``
        can be provided (note that the order of the names should match the
        order of the columns). Instead of a series, a tuple of ``(name,
        dtype)`` can be used. If not provided, dask will try to infer the
        metadata. This may lead to unexpected results, so providing
        ``meta`` is recommended. For more information, see

    Given a DataFrame, Series, or Index, such as:

    >>> import pandas as pd
    >>> import dask.dataframe as dd
    >>> df = pd.DataFrame({'x': [1, 2, 3, 4, 5],
    ...                    'y': [1., 2., 3., 4., 5.]})
    >>> ddf = dd.from_pandas(df, npartitions=2)

    One can use ``map_partitions`` to apply a function on each partition.
    Extra arguments and keywords can optionally be provided, and will be
    passed to the function after the partition.

    Here we apply a function with arguments and keywords to a DataFrame,
    resulting in a Series:

    >>> def myadd(df, a, b=1):
    ...     return df.x + df.y + a + b
    >>> res = ddf.map_partitions(myadd, 1, b=2)
    >>> res.dtype

    Here we apply a function to a Series resulting in a Series:

    >>> res = ddf.x.map_partitions(lambda x: len(x)) # ddf.x is a Dask Series Structure
    >>> res.dtype

    By default, dask tries to infer the output metadata by running your
    provided function on some fake data. This works well in many cases, but
    can sometimes be expensive, or even fail. To avoid this, you can
    manually specify the output metadata with the ``meta`` keyword. This
    can be specified in many forms, for more information see

    Here we specify the output is a Series with no name, and dtype

    >>> res = ddf.map_partitions(myadd, 1, b=2, meta=(None, 'f8'))

    Here we map a function that takes in a DataFrame, and returns a
    DataFrame with a new column:

    >>> res = ddf.map_partitions(lambda df: df.assign(z=df.x * df.y))
    >>> res.dtypes
    x      int64
    y    float64
    z    float64
    dtype: object

    As before, the output metadata can also be specified manually. This
    time we pass in a ``dict``, as the output is a DataFrame:

    >>> res = ddf.map_partitions(lambda df: df.assign(z=df.x * df.y),
    ...                          meta={'x': 'i8', 'y': 'f8', 'z': 'f8'})

    In the case where the metadata doesn't change, you can also pass in
    the object itself directly:

    >>> res = ddf.map_partitions(lambda df: df.head(), meta=ddf)

    Also note that the index and divisions are assumed to remain unchanged.
    If the function you're mapping changes the index/divisions, you'll need
    to clear them afterwards:

    >>> ddf.map_partitions(func).clear_divisions()  # doctest: +SKIP

    Your map function gets information about where it is in the dataframe by
    accepting a special ``partition_info`` keyword argument.

    >>> def func(partition, partition_info=None):
    ...     pass

    This will receive the following information:

    >>> partition_info  # doctest: +SKIP
    {'number': 1, 'division': 3}

    For each argument and keyword arguments that are dask dataframes you will
    receive the number (n) which represents the nth partition of the dataframe
    and the division (the first index value in the partition). If divisions
    are not known (for instance if the index is not sorted) then you will get
    None as the division.

The “Distance” column in ddf is currently in miles. Let’s say we want to convert the units to kilometers and we have a general helper function as shown below. In this case, we can use map_partitions to apply this function across each of the internal pandas DataFrames in parallel.

def my_custom_converter(df, multiplier=1):
    return df * multiplier

meta = pd.Series(name="Distance", dtype="float64")

distance_km = ddf.Distance.map_partitions(
    my_custom_converter, multiplier=0.6, meta=meta
0    191.4
1    191.4
2    191.4
3    191.4
4    191.4
Name: Distance, dtype: float64

What is meta?

Since Dask operates lazily, it doesn’t always have enough information to infer the output structure (which includes datatypes) of certain operations.

meta is a suggestion to Dask about the output of your computation. Importantly, meta never infers with the output structure. Dask uses this meta until it can determine the actual output structure.

Even though there are many ways to define meta, we suggest using a small pandas Series or DataFrame that matches the structure of your final output.

Close you local Dask Cluster

It’s good practice to always close any Dask cluster you create: