Hi Jacob,

Yes, the arrow format allows for larger-than-memory datasets. I can describe a little what this looks like on the Julia side of things, which should be pretty similar in other languages.

When you write a dataset to the arrow format, either on disk or in memory, you're laying the data + metadata down in a specific, (mostly) self-describing format, with the actual data in particular being written in pre-determined, binary formats by supported type. Provisions are made for even writing a long table in chunks, and writing columns with a dictionary encoding (which can "compress" a column with low cardinality).

What this allows when _reading_, is you can "memory map" this entire region of arrow memory to make it available to a running program, which means the OS will "give you" the memory, without necessarily loading the entire region into RAM at the same time, instead it "swaps" requested regions into RAM as necessary. For the Arrow.jl Julia package, reading a table or stream starts with getting access to an arrow memory region: if a file, it calls `Mmap.mmap(file)`, or you can pass a `Vector{UInt8}` directly. For `Arrow.Stream`, it only reads the initial schema metadata, and then you can iterate the stream to get the group of columns for each batch (chunk). For `Arrow.Table`, it will process all record batches, "chaining" each chunk together using a ChainedVector type for each column. When the columns are "read", they're really just custom types that wrap a specific region of the arrow memory along with the metadata type information and length. This means no new memory (well, practically none) is allocated when creating one of these ArrowVectors or chaining them together, but they still satisfy the AbstractArray interface which allows all sorts of operations on the data.

The Arrow.jl package also defines the Tables.jl interface for `Arrow.Table`, which means, for example, you can operate on an arrow-memory-backed DataFrame just by doing `df = DataFrame(Arrow.Table(file))`. This builds the `Arrow.Table` like I described above, then the `DataFrame` constructor uses the memory-mapped columns directly in its construction. You can then use all of the useful functionality of DataFrames directly on these arrow columns. Similarly for other Tables.jl-compatible packages, they're just as accessible: SQLite.load!(db, "arrow_data", arrow_table) to load arrow data into an sqlite database, CSV.write("arrow.csv", arrow_table) to write arrow data out as csv file, MySQL.load!(db, "arrow_data", arrow_table) to load data into a mysql database table, and so on.

Sorry for the diatribe, but I've actually been meaning to write a bunch of this down for some enhanced documentation for the Arrow.jl package, so consider this a teaser!

Hope that helps!


On Thu, Oct 22, 2020 at 12:39 PM Jacob Zelko <jacobszelko@gmail.com> wrote:

Hi all,

Very basic question as I have seen conflicting sources. I come from the Julia community and was wondering if Arrow can handle larger-than-memory datasets? I saw this post by Wes McKinney here discussing that the tooling is being laid down:

Table columns in Arrow C++ can be chunked, so that appending to a table is a zero copy operation, requiring no non-trivial computation or memory allocation. By designing up front for streaming, chunked tables, appending to existing in-memory tabler is computationally inexpensive relative to pandas now. Designing for chunked or streaming data is also essential for implementing out-of-core algorithms, so we are also laying the foundation for processing larger-than-memory datasets.

~ Apache Arrow and the “10 Things I Hate About pandas”

And then in the docs I saw this:

The pyarrow.dataset module provides functionality to efficiently work with tabular, potentially larger than memory and multi-file datasets:

  • A unified interface for different sources: supporting different sources and file formats (Parquet, Feather files) and different file systems (local, cloud).
  • Discovery of sources (crawling directories, handle directory-based partitioned datasets, basic schema normalization, ..)
  • Optimized reading with predicate pushdown (filtering rows), projection (selecting columns), parallel reading or fine-grained managing of tasks.

Currently, only Parquet and Feather / Arrow IPC files are supported. The goal is to expand this in the future to other file formats and data sources (e.g. database connections).

~ Tabular Datasets

The article from Wes was from 2017 and the snippet on Tabular Datasets is from the current documentation for pyarrow.

Could anyone answer this question or at least clear up my confusion for me? Thank you!

Jacob Zelko
Georgia Institute of Technology - Biomedical Engineering B.S. '20
Corning Community College - Engineering Science A.S. '17
Cell Number: (607) 846-8947