Purpose and scope


This document defines a Python dataframe API.

A dataframe is a programming interface for expressing data manipulations over a data structure consisting of rows and columns. Columns are named, and values in a column share a common data type. This definition is intentionally left broad.

History and dataframe implementations

Dataframe libraries in several programming language exist, such as R, Scala, Julia and others.

In Python, the most popular dataframe library is pandas. pandas was initially developed at a hedge fund, with a focus on panel data and financial time series. It was open sourced in 2009, and since then it has been growing in popularity, including many other domains outside time series and financial data. While still rich in time series functionality, today is considered a general-purpose dataframe library. The original Panel class that gave name to the library was deprecated in 2017 and removed in 2019, to focus on the main DataFrame class.

Internally, pandas is implemented on top of NumPy, which is used to store the data and to perform many of the operations. Some parts of pandas are written in Cython.

As of 2020 the pandas website has around one million and a half visitors per month.

Other libraries emerged in the last years, to address some of the limitations of pandas. But in most cases, the libraries implemented a public API very similar to pandas, to make the transition to their libraries easier. Next, there is a short description of the main dataframe libraries in Python.

Dask is a task scheduler built in Python, which implements a dataframe interface. Dask dataframe uses pandas internally in the workers, and it provides an API similar to pandas, adapted to its distributed and lazy nature.

Vaex is an out-of-core alternative to pandas. Vaex uses hdf5 to create memory maps that avoid loading data sets to memory. Some parts of Vaex are implemented in C++.

Modin is a distributed dataframe library originally built on Ray, but has a more modular way, that allows it to also use Dask as a scheduler, or replace the pandas-like public API by a SQLite-like one.

cuDF is a GPU dataframe library built on top of Apache Arrow and RAPIDS. It provides an API similar to pandas.

PySpark is a dataframe library that uses Spark as a backend. PySpark public API is based on the original Spark API, and not in pandas.

Koalas is a dataframe library built on top of PySpark that provides a pandas-like API.

Ibis is a dataframe library with multiple SQL backends. It uses SQLAlchemy and a custom SQL compiler to translate its pandas-like API to SQL statements, executed by the backends. It supports conventional DBMS, as well as big data systems such as Apache Impala or BigQuery.

Polars is a DataFrame library written in Rust, with Python bindings available. Their API is intentionally different to the pandas one.

Given the growing Python dataframe ecosystem, and its complexity, this document provides a standard Python dataframe API. Until recently, pandas has been a de-facto standard for Python dataframes. But currently there are a growing number of not only dataframe libraries, but also libraries that interact with dataframes (visualization, statistical or machine learning libraries for example). Interactions among libraries are becoming complex, and the pandas public API is suboptimal as a standard, for its size, complexity, and implementation details it exposes (for example, using NumPy data types or NaN).


In the first iteration of the API standard, the scope is limited to create a data exchange protocol. In future iterations the scope will be broader, including elements to operate with the data.

It is in the scope of this document the different elements of the API. This includes signatures and semantics. To be more specific:

  • Data structures and Python classes

  • Functions, methods, attributes and other API elements

  • Expected returns of the different operations

  • Data types (Python and low-level types)

The scope of this document is limited to generic dataframes, and not dataframes specific to certain domains.


The goal of the first iteration is to provide a data exchange protocol, so consumers of dataframes can interact with a standard interface to access their data.

The goal of future iterations will be to provide a standard interface that encapsulates implementation details of dataframe libraries. This will allow users and third-party libraries to write code that interacts and operates with a standard dataframe, and not with specific implementations.

The main goals for the API defined in this document are:

  • Make conversion of data among different implementations easier

  • Let third party libraries consume dataframes from any implementations

In the future, besides a data exchange protocol, the standard aims to include common operations done with dataframe, with the next goals in mind:

  • Provide a common API for dataframes so software using dataframes can work with all implementations

  • Provide a common API for dataframes to build user interfaces on top of it, for example libraries for interactive use or specific domains and industries

  • Help user transition from one dataframe library to another

See the use cases section for details on the exact use cases considered.


Execution details

Implementation details of the dataframes and execution of operations. This includes:

  • How data is represented and stored (whether the data is in memory, disk, distributed)

  • Expectations on when the execution is happening (in an eager or lazy way) (see execution model for some caveats)

  • Other execution details

Rationale: The API defined in this document needs to be used by libraries as diverse as Ibis, Dask, Vaex or cuDF. The data can live in databases, distributed systems, disk or GPU memory. Any decision that involves assumptions on where the data is stored, or where execution happens could prevent implementation from adopting the standard.

High level APIs

It is out of scope to provide an API designed for interactive use. While interactive use is a key aspect of dataframes, an API designed for interactive use can be built on top of the API defined in this document.

Domain or industry specific APIs are also out of scope, but can benefit from the standard to better interact with the different dataframe implementation.

Rationale: Interactive or domain specific users are key in the Python dataframe ecosystem. But the amount and diversity of users makes it unfeasible to standardize every dataframe feature that is currently used. In particular, functionality built as syntactic sugar for convenience in interactive use, or heavily overloaded create very complex APIs. For example, the pandas dataframe constructor, which accepts a huge number of formats, or its __getitem__ (e.g. df[something]) which is heavily overloaded. Implementations can provide convenient functionality like this one for the users they are targeting, but it is out-of-scope for the standard, so the standard is simple and easy to adopt.


  • Build an API that is appropriate to all users

  • Have a unique dataframe implementation for Python

  • Standardize functionalities specific to a domain or industry


This section provides the list of stakeholders considered for the definition of this API.

Dataframe library authors

We encourage dataframe libraries in Python to implement the API defined in this document in their libraries.

The list of known Python dataframe libraries at the time of writing this document is next:

Downstream library authors

Authors of libraries that consume dataframes. They can use the API defined in this document to know how the data contained in a dataframe can be consumed, and which operations are implemented.

A non-exhaustive list of downstream library categories is next:

  • Plotting and visualization (e.g. Matplotlib, Bokeh, Altair, Plotly)

  • Statistical libraries (e.g. statsmodels)

  • Machine learning libraries (e.g. scikit-learn)

Upstream library authors

Authors of libraries that provide functionality used by dataframes.

A non-exhaustive list of upstream categories is next:

  • Data formats, protocols and libraries for data analytics (e.g. Apache Arrow, NumPy)

  • Task schedulers (e.g. Dask, Ray, Mars)

  • Big data systems (e.g. Spark, Hive, Impala, Presto)

  • Libraries for database access (e.g. SQLAlchemy)

Dataframe power users

This group considers developers of reusable code that use dataframes. For example, developers of applications that use dataframes. Or authors of libraries that provide specialized dataframe APIs to be built on top of the standard API.

People using dataframes in an interactive way are considered out of scope. These users include data analysts, data scientists and other users that are key for dataframes. But this type of user may need shortcuts, or libraries that take decisions for them to save them time. For example automatic type inference, or excessive use of very compact syntax like Python squared brackets / __getitem__. Standardizing on such practices can be extremely difficult, and it is out of scope.

With the development of a standard API that targets developers writing reusable code we expected to also serve data analysts and other interactive users. But in an indirect way, by providing a standard API where other libraries can be built on top. Including libraries with the syntactic sugar required for fast analysis of data.

High-level API overview

How to read this document

The API specification itself can be found under API specification.

For guidance on how to read and understand the type annotations included in this specification, consult the Python documentation.

How to adopt this API

Libraries which implement the Standard are required to provide the following methods:

  • __dataframe_consortium_standard__: used for converting a non-compliant dataframe to a compliant one;

  • __column_consortium_standard__: used for converting a non-compliant column to a compliant one.

For example, pandas has pandas.DataFrame.__dataframe_consortium_standard__ and pandas.Series.__column_consortium_standard__ as of version 2.1.0.

The signatures should be (note: docstring is optional):

def __dataframe_consortium_standard__(
    self, *, api_version: str
) -> Any:

def __column_consortium_standard__(
    self, *, api_version: str
) -> Any:

api_version is a string representing the version of the dataframe API specification to be returned, in 'YYYY.MM' form, for example, '2023.04'. If the given version is invalid or not implemented for the given module, an error should be raised. It is suggested to use the earliest API version required for maximum compatibility.

For some examples, please check https://github.com/data-apis/dataframe-api/tree/main/spec/examples.

Checking a dataframe object for Compliance

Dataframe-consuming libraries are likely to want a mechanism for determining whether a provided dataframe is specification compliant. The recommended approach to check for compliance is by checking whether a dataframe object has an __dataframe_namespace__ attribute, as this is the one distinguishing feature of a dataframe-compliant object.

Checking for an __dataframe_namespace__ attribute can be implemented as a small utility function similar to the following.

def is_dataframe_api_obj(x):
    return hasattr(x, '__dataframe_namespace__')

Discoverability of conforming implementations

It may be useful to have a way to discover all packages in a Python environment which provide a conforming dataframe API implementation, and the namespace that that implementation resides in. To assist dataframe-consuming libraries which need to create dataframes originating from multiple conforming dataframe implementations, or developers who want to perform for example cross-library testing, libraries may provide an entry point in order to make a dataframe API namespace discoverable.

Optional feature

Given that entry points typically require build system & package installer specific implementation, this standard chooses to recommend rather than mandate providing an entry point.

The following code is an example for how one can discover installed conforming libraries:

from importlib.metadata import entry_points

    eps = entry_points()['dataframe_api']
    ep = next(ep for ep in eps if ep.name == 'package_name')
except TypeError:
    # The dict interface for entry_points() is deprecated in py3.10,
    # supplanted by a new select interface.
    ep = entry_points(group='dataframe_api', name='package_name')

xp = ep.load()

An entry point must have the following properties:

  • group: equal to dataframe_api.

  • name: equal to the package name.

  • object reference: equal to the dataframe API namespace import path.


A conforming implementation of the dataframe API standard must provide and support all the functions, arguments, data types, syntax, and semantics described in this specification.

A conforming implementation of the dataframe API standard may provide additional values, objects, properties, data types, and functions beyond those described in this specification.

Libraries which aim to provide a conforming implementation but haven’t yet completed such an implementation may, and are encouraged to, provide details on the level of (non-)conformance. For details on how to do this, see Verification - measuring conformance.