Proof of Concept: TypedDataFrame

TypedDataFrame is the API developed in the early stages of Frameless to manipulate Spark DataFrames in a type-safe manner. With the introduction of Dataset in Spark 1.6, DataFrame seems deprecated and won't be the focus of future development of Frameless. However, the design is interesting enough to document.

To safely manipulate DataFrames we use a technique called a shadow type, which consists in storing additional information about a value in a "dummy" type. Mirroring value-level computation at the type-level lets us leverage the type system to catch common mistakes at compile time.

Diving in

In TypedDataFrame, we use a single Schema <: Product to model the number, the types and the names of columns. Here is a what the definition of TypedDataFrame looks like, with simplified type signatures:

import org.apache.spark.sql.DataFrame
import shapeless.HList

class TDataFrame[Schema <: Product](df: DataFrame) {
  def filter(predicate: Schema => Boolean): TDataFrame[Schema] = ???

  def select[C <: HList, Out <: Product](columns: C): TDataFrame[Out] = ???

  def innerJoin[OtherS <: Product, Out <: Product]
    (other: TDataFrame[OtherS]): TDataFrame[Out] = ???

  // Followed by equivalent of every DataFrame method with improved signature

As you can see, instead of the def filter(conditionExpr: String): DataFrame defined in Spark, the TypedDataFrame version expects a function from Schema to Boolean, and models the fact that resulting DataFrame will still hold elements of type Schema.

Type-level column referencing

For Spark's DataFrames, column referencing is done directly by Strings or using the Column type which provides no additional type safety. TypedDataFrame improves on that by catching invalid column references compile type. When everything goes well, Frameless select is very similar to vanilla select, except that it keeps track of the selected column types:

import frameless.TypedDataFrame

case class Foo(s: String, d: Double, i: Int)

def selectIntString(tf: TypedDataFrame[Foo]): TypedDataFrame[(Int, String)] ='i, 's)

However, in case of typo, it gets caught right away:

def selectIntStringTypo(tf: TypedDataFrame[Foo]): TypedDataFrame[(Int, String)] ='j, 's)

Type-level joins

Joins can available with two different syntaxes. The first lets you reference different columns on each TypedDataFrame, and ensures that they all exist and have compatible types:

case class Bar(i: Int, j: String, b: Boolean)

def join1(tf1: TypedDataFrame[Foo], tf2: TypedDataFrame[Bar])
    : TypedDataFrame[(String, Double, Int, Int, String, Boolean)] =

The second syntax brings some convenience when the joining columns have identical names in both tables:

def join2(tf1: TypedDataFrame[Foo], tf2: TypedDataFrame[Bar])
    : TypedDataFrame[(String, Double, Int, String, Boolean)] =

Further example are available in the TypedDataFrame join tests.

Complete example

We now consider a complete example to see how the Frameless types can improve not only correctness but also the readability of Spark jobs. Consider the following domain of phonebooks, city maps and neighborhoods:

type Neighborhood = String
type Address = String

case class PhoneBookEntry(
  address: Address,
  residents: String,
  phoneNumber: Double

case class CityMapEntry(
  address: Address,
  neighborhood: Neighborhood

Our goal will be to compute the neighborhood with unique names, approximating "unique" with names containing less common letters in the alphabet: 'x', 'q', and 'z'. We are going to need a natural language processing library at some point, so let's use the following for the example:

object NLPLib {
  def uniqueName(name: String): Boolean = name.exists(Set('x', 'q', 'z'))

Suppose we manage to obtain public data for a TypedDataFrame[PhoneBookEntry] and TypedDataFrame[CityMapEntry]. Here is what our Spark job could look like with Frameless:

import org.apache.spark.sql.SQLContext

// These case classes are used to hold intermediate results
case class Family(residents: String, neighborhood: Neighborhood)
case class Person(name: String, neighborhood: Neighborhood)
case class NeighborhoodCount(neighborhood: Neighborhood, count: Long)

def bestNeighborhood
  (phoneBookTF: TypedDataFrame[PhoneBookEntry], cityMapTF: TypedDataFrame[CityMapEntry])
  (implicit c: SQLContext): String = {
    .innerJoin(cityMapTF).using('address) :TypedDataFrame[(Address, String, Double, String)])
    .select('_2, '_4)                     :TypedDataFrame[(String, String)])
    .as[Family]()                         :TypedDataFrame[Family])
    .flatMap { f =>
      f.residents.split(' ').map(r => Person(r, f.neighborhood))
    }                                     :TypedDataFrame[Person])
    .filter { p =>
    }                                     :TypedDataFrame[Person])
    .groupBy('neighborhood).count()       :TypedDataFrame[(String, Long)])
    .as[NeighborhoodCount]()              :TypedDataFrame[NeighborhoodCount])
    .sortDesc('count)                     :TypedDataFrame[NeighborhoodCount])
    .select('neighborhood)                :TypedDataFrame[Tuple1[String]])

If you compare this version to vanilla Spark where every line is a DataFrame, you see how much types can improve readability. An executable version of this example is available in the BestNeighborhood test.


The main limitation of this approach comes from Scala 2.10, which limits the arity of class classes to 22. Because of the way DataFrame models joins, joining two table with more that 11 fields results in a DataFrame which not representable with Schema of type Product.

In the Dataset API introduced in Spark 1.6, the way join are handled was rethought to return a pair of both schemas instead of a flat table, which moderates the trouble caused by case class limitations. Alternatively, since Scala 2.11, it is possible to define Tuple23 and onward. Sadly, due to the way Spark is commonly packaged in various systems, the amount Spark users having to Scala 2.11 and not to Spark 1.6 is essentially zero. For this reasons, further development in Frameless will target Spark 1.6+, deprecating the early work onTypedDataFrame.