Use cases


This section discusses the use cases considered for the standard dataframe API.

Types of use cases

The next types of use cases can be accomplished by the use of the standard Python dataframe API defined in this document:

  • Downstream library receiving a dataframe as a parameter

  • Converting a dataframe from one implementation to another (try to clarify)

Other types of uses cases not related to data interchange will be added later.

Concrete use cases

In this section we define concrete examples of the types of use cases defined above.

Plotting library receiving data as a dataframe

One use case we facilitate with the API defined in this document is a plotting library receiving the data to be plotted as a dataframe object.

Consider the case of a scatter plot, that will be plotted with the data contained in a dataframe structure. For example, consider this data:

petal length petal width
1.4 0.2
1.7 0.4
1.3 0.2
1.5 0.1

If we consider a pure Python implementation, we could for example receive the information as two lists, one for the petal length and one for the petal width.

petal_length = [1.4, 1.7, 1.3, 1.5]
petal_width = [0.2, 0.4, 0.2, 0.1]

def scatter_plot(x: list, y: list):
    Generate a scatter plot with the information provided in `x` and `y`.

When we consider dataframes, we would like to provide them directly to the scatter_plot function. And we would like the plotting library to be agnostic of what specific library will be used when calling the function. We would like the code to work whether a pandas, Dask, Vaex or other current or future implementation are used.

An implementation of the scatter_plot function could be:

def scatter_plot(data: dataframe, x_column: str, y_column: str):
    Generate a scatter plot with the information provided in `x` and `y`.

The API documented here describes what the developer of the plotting library can expect from the object data. In which ways can interact with the dataframe object to extract the desired information.

An example of this are Seaborn plots. For example, the scatterplot accepts a parameter data, which is expected to be a DataFrame.

When providing a pandas DataFrame, the next code generates the intended scatter plot:

import pandas
import seaborn

pandas_df = pandas.DataFrame({'bill': [15, 32, 28],
                              'tip': [2, 5, 3]})

seaborn.scatterplot(data=pandas_df, x='bill', y='tip')

But if we instead provide a Vaex dataframe, then an exception occurs:

import vaex

vaex_df = vaex.from_pandas(pandas_df)

seaborn.scatterplot(data=vaex_df, x='bill', y='tip')

This is caused by Seaborn expecting a pandas DataFrame object. And while Vaex provides an interface very similar to pandas, it does not implement 100% of its API, and Seaborn is trying to use parts that differ.

With the definition of the standard API, Seaborn developers should be able to expect a generic dataframe. And any library implementing the standard dataframe API could be plotted with the previous example (Vaex, cuDF, Ibis, Dask, Modin, etc.).

Change object from one implementation to another

Another considered use case is transforming the data from one implementation to another.

As an example, consider we are using Dask dataframes, given that our data is too big to fit in memory, and we are working over a cluster. At some point in our pipeline, we reduced the size of the dataframe we are working on, by filtering and grouping. And we are interested in transforming the dataframe from Dask to pandas, to use some functionalities that pandas implements but Dask does not.

Since Dask knows how the data in the dataframe is represented, one option could be to implement a .to_pandas() method in the Dask dataframe. Another option could be to implement this in pandas, in a .from_dask() method.

As the ecosystem grows, this solution implies that every implementation could end up having a long list of functions or methods:

  • to_pandas() / from_pandas()

  • to_vaex() / from_vaex()

  • to_modin() / from_modin()

  • to_dask() / from_dask()

With a standard Python dataframe API, every library could simply implement a method to import a standard dataframe. And since dataframe libraries are expected to implement this API, that would be enough to transform any dataframe to one implementation.

So, the list above would be reduced to a single function or method in each implementation:

  • from_dataframe()

Note that the function from_dataframe() is for illustration, and not proposed as part of the standard at this point.

Every pair of dataframe libraries could benefit from this conversion. But we can go deeper with an actual example. The conversion from an xarray DataArray to a pandas DataFrame, and the other way round.

Even if xarray is not a dataframe library, but a multidimensional labeled structure, in cases where a 2-D is used, the data can be converted from and to a dataframe.

Currently, xarray implements a .to_pandas() method to convert a DataArray to a pandas DataFrame:

import xarray

xarray_data = xarray.DataArray([[15, 2], [32, 5], [28, 3]],
                               dims=('diners', 'features'),
                               coords={'features': ['bill', 'tip']})

pandas_df = xarray_data.to_pandas()

To convert the pandas dataframe to an xarray Data Array, both libraries have implementations. Both lines below are equivalent:


Other dataframe implementations may or may not implement a way to convert to xarray. And passing a dataframe to the DataArray constructor may or may not work.

The standard dataframe API would allow pandas, xarray and other libraries to implement the standard API. They could convert other representations via a single from_dataframe() function or method. And they could be converted to other representations that implement that function automatically.

This would make conversions very simple, not only among dataframe libraries, but also among other libraries which data can be expressed as tabular data, such as xarray, SQLAlchemy and others.