Light as a Feather

During S2E1 of OHwA I made a short presentation about the feather file format, which is language agnostic between R and Pandas (Python). Here is the code to store the training and tournament data as feather files, which preserves the float32 dtype for feature columns and significantly reduces memory usage and storage space.

Step 1: create a dictionary of column names and dtypes for pandas’ read_csv to use to import the CSV files in the correct dtype.

import pandas as pd
import numpy as np
from joblib import dump

#download Numerai training data and load as a pandas dataframe
df = pd.read_csv(TRAINING_DATAPATH)

#create a list of the feature columns
features = [c for c in df if c.startswith("feature")]

#create a list of the column names
col_list = ["id", "era", "data_type"]
col_list = col_list + features + ["target_kazutsugi"]

#create a list of corresponding data types to match the column name list
dtype_list_back = [np.float32] * 311
dtype_list_front = [str, str, str]
dtype_list = dtype_list_front + dtype_list_back

#use Python's zip function to combine the column name list and the data type list
dtype_zip = zip(col_list, dtype_list)

#convert the combined list to a dictionary to conform to pandas convention
dtype_dict = dict(dtype_zip)

#save the dictionary as a joblib file for future use
dump(dtype_dict, 'dtype_dict.joblib')

Step 2: use the newly created dictionary to import both data files and save them as feather format

import pandas as pd
import numpy as np
from joblib import load
import pyarrow.feather as feather

#load dictionary to import data in specific data types
dtype_dict = load('dtype_dict.joblib')

#download Numerai training data and load as a pandas dataframe
df = pd.read_csv(TRAINING_DATAPATH, dtype=dtype_dict)

#download Numerai tournament data and load as a pandas dataframe
df_tournament = pd.read_csv(TOURNAMENT_DATAPATH, dtype=dtype_dict)

#save Numerai training data as a compressed feather file
feather.write_feather(df, 'training_compressed.feather', compression='lz4')

#save Numerai tournament data as a compressed feather file
feather.write_feather(df_tournament, 'tournament_compressed.feather', compression='lz4')

Using the above code in production is very simple:

import pandas as pd
df = pd.read_feather('training_compressed.feather')

Thanks for posting this @arbitrage! I wasn’t aware of Wes McKinney’s pet file format feather before you’d mentioned it. I finally got around trying it today. The load time seems significantly faster than what it takes to load a compressed csv (albeit, lzma, the format used by xz achieves much higher compression ratios than lz4 which doesn’t compress as well, but is much faster).

I ran the code you’d posted and some more and got these numbers:

file name size comments
latest_numerai_training_data.csv.xz 51M The original xz compressed csv file
latest_numerai_training_data.feather 371M Feather with no compression
latest_numerai_training_data.feather.lz4 241M Feather with LZ4 compression
latest_numerai_training_data.parquet 64M Parquet

Curiously enough, the parquet file is smaller than the compressed feather file. It defaults to using snappy for compression, which is quite similar to lz4 in its performance characteristics (high speed, low compression). Also, parquet is an older, more widely used format (ask anyone who’s written Spark pipelines) and supports JVM (h/t @bor) and C++, in addition to the few languages that feather supports.

It’s worth noting that the reason why both feather and parquet seem to load dataframes instantaneously is because they use mmap, which has better performance, but also the cost of reading the file is amortized over the entire read (i.e although the load call returns instantaneously, the actual data is only loaded lazily from disk, as needed), while read_csv has to read the entire file into memory at once. There are other ways to make it even faster, but since we’re dealing with interpreted languages like Python and R, it’s probably not worth the effort.

Here’s a code snippet for serializing any Pandas dataframe into a parquet file.

import pyarrow as pa
import pyarrow.parquet as pq

def write_parquet(df, filename="data.parquet"):
    table = pa.Table.from_pandas(df)
    pq.write_table(table, filename)

And reading parquet files from pandas is as easy as:

df = pd.read_parquet("data.parquet")

This makes me wonder: Is there a good reason for the feather format to even exist? :slight_smile:
The whole situation is reminiscent of this XKCD comic.


@jrb Thank you for the write-up! Let me expand on my motivation for doing this.

Because I focus on the new users who are more likely hobbyists or are scientists from other fields (in other words, not pure ML folks), I want to streamline all the things. Having taught undergraduates to participate in the tournament for two semesters, I am very aware of how confusing the workflow can be. Further, @master_key was quoted saying that Pandas and SKLearn encompasses “99%” of the typical user’s needs, and I think he’s right.

I want people to be able to use at most 4 packages and for the data to exist in Pandas dataframes, not as scattered numpy objects throughout their pipeline. I don’t want a new user to have to fiddle with reducing memory usage or converting between various file formats. Additionally, whatever format is used, should be directly plug and play with R, so that those users also have a similar “path to victory” as Python users.

Parquet meets my requirements at first glance. Feather does as well. There are likely other formats, too. What I like most about Feather is that Wes McKinney is the developer of Pandas and Feather, and the collaboration with Hadley Wickham gives me a lot of confidence that a change in Feather will be simultaneously applied to R and Pandas.

Here’s Wes on Feather and Parquet:

What I am not very concerned with is the storage size. I am ambivalent between loading speed and download speed, desiring only that the downloaded file is read into memory as a dataframe with the dtypes preserved. This write-up shows a concerning memory consumption growth when loading parquet files, which feather does not suffer from.

In the end, either option is significantly better than the CSV files, and now users can choose for themselves. Hopefully someday soon the team will offer the data files in several formats with direct links (and maybe even shortened URLs) :slight_smile: