Apache Arrow Support in Julia

28 January 2021 | Jacob Quinn

We're excited to announce official support for the Julia language in the Apache Arrow project. Since the 1.0 release of the arrow format last July (2020), there have been calls for support in Julia. While Julia supported the original feather v1 format very early on, support for the "upgraded" arrow format was delayed as the format matured and a suitable approach and resources were brought together.

Initial support was merged into the Apache Arrow master branch last November (2020), and iteration on the package API and bugfixes have continued at a fast pace since then. While most language implementations all live in the apache/arrow monorepo, initial work on the Julia package was done in the JuliaData/Arrow.jl repo. The code is still being actively developed in the Arrow.jl repository, with snapshots merged "upstream" for major releases of the Apache Arrow project itself. Users can choose to install the official Apache Arrow Julia code, or follow the latest releases of the same codebase in the Arrow.jl repository.

The arrow format is a modern-day accumulation of a number of format innovations from the last 30 years. It stores actual data in binary representation, which allows avoiding costly serialization/deserialization computing when transfering data between processes or to disk and back. It stores important metadata about the data using the google flatbuffers format, including column names, types, and other important metadata.

The Julia implementation of the arrow format is done in pure Julia. It provides Julia AbstractVector objects for referencing data that conforms to the Arrow standard. This allows users to seamlessly interface Arrow formatted data with a great deal of existing Julia code. A key integration that allows such interoperability is via the Tables.jl interface for the Arrow.Stream and Arrow.Table objects, which allows seamless integration with a growing number of integrations, including: DataFrames.jl, JSONTables.jl, JuliaDB.jl, SQLite.jl, MySQL.jl, JDBC.jl, ODBC.jl, XLSX.jl, and many more.

To expound on this point a bit more, the "accessibility" of the arrow format in Julia is truly powerful. For example, the code to read an arrow formatted IPC stream or file is:

# read an arrow formatted file or IPC stream given as a Vector{UInt8}
tbl = Arrow.Table(file_or_ipc_stream)
# access the column named "col1"
col = tbl.col1

In this example, the col object is a custom AbstractArray type that provides a "view" into the raw arrow memory; i.e. no copies of the data or materialization occurs, but the arrow memory is made accessible via the powerful AbstractArray interface provided by Base Julia. That means Array functions like sum, count, map, or filter, or those provided by the Statistics stdlib like mean, std, median, or cor all "just work" on these custom Arrow.jl array types, as opposed to needing to reimplement all this functionality itself.

The Julia implementation is also impressive in the amount of format coverage it already supports, including:

It currently doesn't include support for:

It also supports multithreaded reading/writing by default, memory compression/decompression, and strong support for partitioning data into record batches. For the latter, Arrow.jl supports the Tables.partitions interface when writing, which means it takes any data partitions of the input data and will write each partition as a separate record batch in the arrow format.

We're excited to see further progress of using arrow-formatted in Julia; as it stands, we belive the Julia implementation to be one of the easiest, yet powerful and flexible implementations for the arrow format. Being able to work interactively with arrow datasets to explore, integrate easily with so many other formats, and process the data as-is is a powerful tool for anyone working with data.

Checkout the package documentation or format documentation if you're interested in learning more; and as always, feel free to swing by the #data Slack channel with questions or to chat, or start a new topic in the Data discourse domain. Happy arrowing!

A big thanks to Julia Computing for helping sponsor the work on the Julia implementation.