An interface for tables in Julia



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The Tables.jl package provides simple, yet powerful interface functions for working with all kinds tabular data through predictable access patterns. At its core, it provides two simple functions for accessing a source table's data, regardless of its storage format or orientation:

    Tables.rows(table) => Rows
    Tables.columns(table) => Columns

These two functions return objects that satisfy the Rows or Columns interfaces:

  • Rows is an iterator (i.e. implements Base.iterate(x)) of property-accessible objects (any type that supports propertynames(row) and getproperty(row, nm::Symbol)
  • Columns is a property-accessible object of iterators (i.e. each column can be retrieved via getproperty and is an iterator)

So Rows is any object that can be used like:

for rows in table
    for columnname in propertynames(row)
        value = getproperty(row, columnname)

And Columns is any object that can be used like:

for columnname in propertynames(table)
    column = getproperty(table, columnname)

In addition to these Rows and Columns objects, it's useful to be able to query properties of these objects:

  • Tables.schema(x::Union{Rows, Columns}) => Union{Tables.Schema, Nothing}: returns a Tables.Schema object, or nothing if the table's schema is unknown
  • For the Tables.Schema object:
    • column names can be accessed as an indexable collection of Symbols like sch.names
    • column types can be accessed as an indexable collection of types like sch.types
    • See ?Tables.Schema for more details on this type Because many table types are able to provide a well-defined schema, it can enable optimizations for consumers when this schema can be queried upfront before data access.

A big part of the power in these simple interface functions is that each, Tables.rows and Tables.columns, is defined for any table type, even if the table type only explicitly implements one interface function or the other. This is accomplished by providing performant, generic fallback definitions in Tables.jl itself (though obviously nothing prevents a table type from implementing each interface function directly).

This means that table authors only need to worry about providing a single, most natural access pattern to their table type, whereas table consumers don't need to worry about the storage format or orientation of a table source, but can instead focus on the most natural consumption pattern for data access (row-by-row or on entire columns).

With these simple definitions, powerful workflows are enabled:

  • A package providing data cleansing, manipulation, visualization, or analysis can automatically handle any number of decoupled input table types
  • A tabular file format can have automatic integration with in-memory structures and translation to other file formats
  • table-like database objects can be queried, streaming the results direclty to various file formats or in-memory table structures

Tables Interface

So how does one go about satisfying the Tables.jl interface functions? It mainly depends on what you've already defined and the natural access patterns of your table:


  • Tables.istable(::Type{<:MyTable}) = true: this provides an explicit affirmation that your type implements the Tables interface
  • Tables.istable(x::MyTable) = x.istable: alternatively, it may be the case that MyTable can only implement that Tables interface in some cases, known only at runtime; in this case, we can define Tables.istable on an instance of MyTable instead of the type. For consumers, this function should always be called on instances (like Tables.istable(x)), to ensure input tables are appropriately supported

To support Rows:

  • Define Tables.rowaccess(::Type{<:MyTable}) = true: this signals that MyTable supports iterating objects that satisfy the Row interface; note this function isn't meant for public use, but is instead used by Tables.jl itself to provide a generic fallback definition for Tables.columns on row-oriented sources
  • Define Tables.rows(x::MyTable): return a Row-iterator object (perhaps the table itself if it already defines a Base.iterate method that returns Row interface objects)
  • Define Tables.schema(Tables.rows(x::MyTable)) to either return a Tables.Schema object, or nothing if the schema is unknown or non-inferrable for some reason

To support Columns:

  • Define Tables.columnaccess(::Type{<:MyTable}) = true: this signals that MyTable supports returning an object satisfying the Columns interface; note this function isn't meant for public use, but is instead used by Tables.jl itself to provide a generic fallback definition for Tables.rows on column-oriented sources
  • Define Tables.columns(x::MyTable): return an object satisfying the Columns interface, perhaps the table itself if it naturally supports property-access to columns
  • Define Tables.schema(Tables.columns(x::MyTable)) to either return a Tables.Schema object, or nothing if the schema is unknown or non-inferrable for some reason

Consuming table inputs (i.e. using the Tables.jl interface)

As the author of MyTable, I'm ecstatic that MyTable can now automatically be used by a number of other "table" packages, but another question is how MyTable can be a "sink" for any other table type. In other words, how do I actually use the Tables.jl interface?

The answer is mostly straightforward: just use the interface functions. A note does need to be made with regards to how interfaces currently operate in Julia; there's no support for "dispatching" on objects satisfying interfaces, which means I can't just define MyTable(table::Tables.Table). What most packages do is define a constructor (or "sink function") that takes a single, un-typed argument like:

function MyTable(x)
    # Tables.istable(x) || throw(ArgumentError("input is not a table"))
    rows = Tables.rows(x)
    sch = Tables.schema(rows)
    names = sch.names
    types = sch.types
    # custom constructor that creates an "empty" MyTable according to given column names & types
    # note that the "unknown" schema case should be considered, i.e. when `Tables.schema(x) === nothing`
    mytbl = MyTable(names, types)
    for row in rows
        # a convenience function provided in Tables.jl for "unrolling" access to each column/property of a `Row`
        # it works by applying a provided function to each value; see `?Tables.eachcolumn` for more details
        Tables.eachcolumn(sch, row) do val, columnindex::Int, columnname::Symbol
            push!(mytbl[columnindex], val)
    return mytbl

In this example, MyTable defines a constructor that takes any tables input source, initializes an empty MyTable, and proceeds to iterate over the input rows, appending values to each column. Note that the function didn't do any validation on the input to check if it was a valid table: Tables.rows(x) will throw an error if x doesn't actually satisfy the Tables.jl interface. Alternatively, we could call Tables.istable(x) (as shown in the commented line at the start of the function) on the input before calling Tables.rows(x) if we needed to restrict things to known, valid Tables.jl. Note that doing this will prevent certain, valid table inputs from being consumed, due to their inability to confidently return true for Tables.istable, even at runtime (cases like Generators, or Vector{Any}). In short, most package just call Tables.rows, allowing invalid source errors to be thrown while also accepting the maximum number of possible valid inputs.

Alternatively, it may be more natural for MyTable to consume input data column-by-column, so my definition would be more like:

function MyTable(x)
    cols = Tables.columns(x)
    # here we use Tables.eachcolumn to iterate over each column in `cols`, which satisfies the `Columns` interface
    return MyTable(collect(propertynames(cols)), [collect(col) for col in Tables.eachcolumn(cols)])

Note that in neither case did we need to call Tables.rowaccess or Tables.columnaccess; those interface functions are only used internally by Tables.jl itself to provide the Tables.rows and Tables.columns fallback definitions. As a consumer, I only need to consider which of Tables.rows or Tables.columns better fits my use-case, knowing that if the input table isn't oriented naturally, the fallback definition will provide the access pattern I desire. Also note that in the column-oriented definition, we didn't even call Tables.schema since we just do a single iteration over each column. Also note that in the row-oriented case, we didn't account for the case when Tables.schema(x) === nothing; one way to support the unknown schema case is to do something like:

function MyTable(x)
    rows = Tables.rows(x)
    state = iterate(rows)
    if state === nothing
        # the input table was empty, so return an empty MyTable
        return MyTable()
    row, st = state
    columnnames = propertynames(row)
    # create a Tables.Schema manually w/ just the column names from the first row
    sch = Tables.Schema(columnnames, nothing)
    cols = length(columnnames)
    # create an emtpy MyTable with just the expected column names
    mytbl = MyTable(columnnames)
    while state !== nothing
        row, st = state
        Tables.eachcolumn(sch, row) do val, columnindex::Int, columnname::Symbol
            push!(mytbl[columnindex], val)
        state = iterate(rows, st)
    return mytbl

Functions that input and output tables:

For functions that input a table, perform some calculation, and output a new table, we need a way of constructing the preferred output table given the input. For this purpose, Tables.materializer(table) returns the preferred sink function for a table (Tables.columntable, which creates a named tuple of AbstractVectors, is the default).

Note that an in-memory table with a properly defined "sink" function can reconstruct itself with the following:



For example, we may want to select a subset of columns from a column-access table. One way we could implement it is with the following:

function select(table, cols::Symbol...)
    nt = Tables.columntable(table)  # columntable(t) creates a NamedTuple of AbstractVectors
    newcols = NamedTuple{cols}(nt)

# Example of selecting columns from a columntable
tbl = (x=1:100, y=rand(100), z=randn(100))
select(tbl, :x)
select(tbl, :x, :z)

tbl = [(x=1, y="a", z=1.0), (x=2, y="b", z=2.0)]
select(tbl, :z, :x)


A number of "helper" utility functions are provided to aid in working with the Tables.jl collection of interfaces:

  • rowtable(x): takes any input that satisfies the Tables.jl interface and converts it to a Vector of NamedTuples, which itself satisfies the Tables.jl interface
  • rowtable(rt, x): take a "row table" (Vector of NamedTuples) and any table input x and appends x to rt
  • columntable(x): takes any input that satisfies the Tables.jl interface and converts it to a NamedTuple of AbstractVectors, which itself satisfies the Tables.jl interface
  • columntable(ct, x): takes a "column table (NamedTuple of AbstractVectors) and a table input x and appends x to ct
  • Tables.datavaluerows(x): takes any table input x and returns an iterator that will replace missing values with DataValue-wrapped values; this allows any table type to satisfy the TableTraits.jl Queryverse integration interface by defining: IteratorInterfaceExtensions.getiterator(x::MyTable) = Tables.datavaluerows(x)
  • Tables.nondatavaluerows(x): takes any iterator and replaces any DataValue values that are actually missing with missing
  • Tables.transform(x, transformfunctions...): create a lazy wrapper that satisfies the Tables.jl interface and applies transformfunctions to values when accessed; the tranform functions can be a NamedTuple or Dict mapping column name (String or Symbol or Integer index) to Function
  • Tables.select(x, columns...): create a lazy wrapper that satisfies the Tables.jl interface and keeps only the columns given by the columns arguments, which can be Strings, Symbols, or Integers
  • Tables.table(x::AbstractMatrix): because any AbstractMatrix isn't a table by default, a convenience function is provided to treat an AbstractMatrix as a table; see ?Tables.table for more details
  • Tables.matrix(x; transpose::Bool=false): a matrix "sink" function; takes any table input and converts to a dense Matrix; see ?Tables.matrix for more details
  • Tables.eachcolumn: convenience function for objects satisfying the Row or Columns interfaces which allows iterating or applying a function over each column; see ?Tables.eachcolumn for more details

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