Extending pyarrow#

Controlling conversion to (Py)Arrow with the PyCapsule Interface#

The Arrow C data interface allows moving Arrow data between different implementations of Arrow. This is a generic, cross-language interface not specific to Python, but for Python libraries this interface is extended with a Python specific layer: The Arrow PyCapsule Interface.

This Python interface ensures that different libraries that support the C Data interface can export Arrow data structures in a standard way and recognize each other’s objects.

If you have a Python library providing data structures that hold Arrow-compatible data under the hood, you can implement the following methods on those objects:

  • __arrow_c_schema__ for schema or type-like objects.

  • __arrow_c_array__ for arrays and record batches (contiguous tables).

  • __arrow_c_stream__ for chunked arrays, tables and streams of data.

Those methods return PyCapsule objects, and more details on the exact semantics can be found in the specification.

When your data structures have those methods defined, the PyArrow constructors (see below) will recognize those objects as supporting this protocol, and convert them to PyArrow data structures zero-copy. And the same can be true for any other library supporting this protocol on ingesting data.

Similarly, if your library has functions that accept user-provided data, you can add support for this protocol by checking for the presence of those methods, and therefore accept any Arrow data (instead of harcoding support for a specific Arrow producer such as PyArrow).

For consuming data through this protocol with PyArrow, the following constructors can be used to create the various PyArrow objects:

A DataType can be created by consuming the schema-compatible object using pyarrow.field() and then accessing the .type of the resulting Field.

Controlling conversion to pyarrow.Array with the __arrow_array__ protocol#

The pyarrow.array() function has built-in support for Python sequences, numpy arrays and pandas 1D objects (Series, Index, Categorical, ..) to convert those to Arrow arrays. This can be extended for other array-like objects by implementing the __arrow_array__ method (similar to numpy’s __array__ protocol).

For example, to support conversion of your duck array class to an Arrow array, define the __arrow_array__ method to return an Arrow array:

class MyDuckArray:


    def __arrow_array__(self, type=None):
        # convert the underlying array values to a pyarrow Array
        import pyarrow
        return pyarrow.array(..., type=type)

The __arrow_array__ method takes an optional type keyword which is passed through from pyarrow.array(). The method is allowed to return either a Array or a ChunkedArray.


For a more general way to control the conversion of Python objects to Arrow data consider the The Arrow PyCapsule Interface. It is not specific to PyArrow and supports converting other objects such as tables and schemas.

Defining extension types (“user-defined types”)#

Arrow has the notion of extension types in the metadata specification as a possibility to extend the built-in types. This is done by annotating any of the built-in Arrow data types (the “storage type”) with a custom type name and optional serialized representation (“ARROW:extension:name” and “ARROW:extension:metadata” keys in the Field’s custom_metadata of an IPC message). See the Extension Types section of the metadata specification for more details.

Pyarrow allows you to define such extension types from Python by subclassing ExtensionType and giving the derived class its own extension name and serialization mechanism. The extension name and serialized metadata can potentially be recognized by other (non-Python) Arrow implementations such as PySpark.

For example, we could define a custom UUID type for 128-bit numbers which can be represented as FixedSizeBinary type with 16 bytes:

class UuidType(pa.ExtensionType):

    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__(pa.binary(16), "my_package.uuid")

    def __arrow_ext_serialize__(self):
        # Since we don't have a parameterized type, we don't need extra
        # metadata to be deserialized
        return b''

    def __arrow_ext_deserialize__(cls, storage_type, serialized):
        # Sanity checks, not required but illustrate the method signature.
        assert storage_type == pa.binary(16)
        assert serialized == b''
        # Return an instance of this subclass given the serialized
        # metadata.
        return UuidType()

The special methods __arrow_ext_serialize__ and __arrow_ext_deserialize__ define the serialization of an extension type instance. For non-parametric types such as the above, the serialization payload can be left empty.

This can now be used to create arrays and tables holding the extension type:

>>> uuid_type = UuidType()
>>> uuid_type.extension_name
>>> uuid_type.storage_type

>>> import uuid
>>> storage_array = pa.array([uuid.uuid4().bytes for _ in range(4)], pa.binary(16))
>>> arr = pa.ExtensionArray.from_storage(uuid_type, storage_array)
>>> arr
<pyarrow.lib.ExtensionArray object at 0x7f75c2f300a0>

This array can be included in RecordBatches, sent over IPC and received in another Python process. The receiving process must explicitly register the extension type for deserialization, otherwise it will fall back to the storage type:

>>> pa.register_extension_type(UuidType())

For example, creating a RecordBatch and writing it to a stream using the IPC protocol:

>>> batch = pa.RecordBatch.from_arrays([arr], ["ext"])
>>> sink = pa.BufferOutputStream()
>>> with pa.RecordBatchStreamWriter(sink, batch.schema) as writer:
...    writer.write_batch(batch)
>>> buf = sink.getvalue()

and then reading it back yields the proper type:

>>> with pa.ipc.open_stream(buf) as reader:
...    result = reader.read_all()
>>> result.column('ext').type

The receiving application doesn’t need to be Python but can still recognize the extension type as a “my_package.uuid” type, if it has implemented its own extension type to receive it. If the type is not registered in the receiving application, it will fall back to the storage type.

Parameterized extension type#

The above example used a fixed storage type with no further metadata. But more flexible, parameterized extension types are also possible.

The example given here implements an extension type for the pandas “period” data type, representing time spans (e.g., a frequency of a day, a month, a quarter, etc). It is stored as an int64 array which is interpreted as the number of time spans of the given frequency since 1970.

class PeriodType(pa.ExtensionType):

    def __init__(self, freq):
        # attributes need to be set first before calling
        # super init (as that calls serialize)
        self._freq = freq
        super().__init__(pa.int64(), 'my_package.period')

    def freq(self):
        return self._freq

    def __arrow_ext_serialize__(self):
        return "freq={}".format(self.freq).encode()

    def __arrow_ext_deserialize__(cls, storage_type, serialized):
        # Return an instance of this subclass given the serialized
        # metadata.
        serialized = serialized.decode()
        assert serialized.startswith("freq=")
        freq = serialized.split('=')[1]
        return PeriodType(freq)

Here, we ensure to store all information in the serialized metadata that is needed to reconstruct the instance (in the __arrow_ext_deserialize__ class method), in this case the frequency string.

Note that, once created, the data type instance is considered immutable. In the example above, the freq parameter is therefore stored in a private attribute with a public read-only property to access it.

Custom extension array class#

By default, all arrays with an extension type are constructed or deserialized into a built-in ExtensionArray object. Nevertheless, one could want to subclass ExtensionArray in order to add some custom logic specific to the extension type. Arrow allows to do so by adding a special method __arrow_ext_class__ to the definition of the extension type.

For instance, let us consider the example from the Numpy Quickstart of points in 3D space. We can store these as a fixed-size list, where we wish to be able to extract the data as a 2-D Numpy array (N, 3) without any copy:

class Point3DArray(pa.ExtensionArray):
    def to_numpy_array(self):
        return self.storage.flatten().to_numpy().reshape((-1, 3))

class Point3DType(pa.ExtensionType):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__(pa.list_(pa.float32(), 3), "my_package.Point3DType")

    def __arrow_ext_serialize__(self):
        return b''

    def __arrow_ext_deserialize__(cls, storage_type, serialized):
        return Point3DType()

    def __arrow_ext_class__(self):
        return Point3DArray

Arrays built using this extension type now have the expected custom array class:

>>> storage = pa.array([[1, 2, 3], [4, 5, 6]], pa.list_(pa.float32(), 3))
>>> arr = pa.ExtensionArray.from_storage(Point3DType(), storage)
>>> arr
<__main__.Point3DArray object at 0x7f40dea80670>

The additional methods in the extension class are then available to the user:

>>> arr.to_numpy_array()
array([[1., 2., 3.],
   [4., 5., 6.]], dtype=float32)

This array can be sent over IPC, received in another Python process, and the custom extension array class will be preserved (as long as the receiving process registers the extension type using register_extension_type() before reading the IPC data).

Custom scalar conversion#

If you want scalars of your custom extension type to convert to a custom type when ExtensionScalar.as_py() is called, you can override the ExtensionScalar.as_py() method by subclassing ExtensionScalar. For example, if we wanted the above example 3D point type to return a custom 3D point class instead of a list, we would implement:

from collections import namedtuple

Point3D = namedtuple("Point3D", ["x", "y", "z"])

class Point3DScalar(pa.ExtensionScalar):
    def as_py(self) -> Point3D:
        return Point3D(*self.value.as_py())

class Point3DType(pa.ExtensionType):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__(pa.list_(pa.float32(), 3), "my_package.Point3DType")

    def __arrow_ext_serialize__(self):
        return b''

    def __arrow_ext_deserialize__(cls, storage_type, serialized):
        return Point3DType()

    def __arrow_ext_scalar_class__(self):
        return Point3DScalar

Arrays built using this extension type now provide scalars that convert to our Point3D class:

>>> storage = pa.array([[1, 2, 3], [4, 5, 6]], pa.list_(pa.float32(), 3))
>>> arr = pa.ExtensionArray.from_storage(Point3DType(), storage)
>>> arr[0].as_py()
Point3D(x=1.0, y=2.0, z=3.0)

>>> arr.to_pylist()
[Point3D(x=1.0, y=2.0, z=3.0), Point3D(x=4.0, y=5.0, z=6.0)]

Conversion to pandas#

The conversion to pandas (in Table.to_pandas()) of columns with an extension type can controlled in case there is a corresponding pandas extension array for your extension type.

For this, the ExtensionType.to_pandas_dtype() method needs to be implemented, and should return a pandas.api.extensions.ExtensionDtype subclass instance.

Using the pandas period type from above as example, this would look like:

class PeriodType(pa.ExtensionType):

    def to_pandas_dtype(self):
        import pandas as pd
        return pd.PeriodDtype(freq=self.freq)

Secondly, the pandas ExtensionDtype on its turn needs to have the __from_arrow__ method implemented: a method that given a pyarrow Array or ChunkedArray of the extension type can construct the corresponding pandas ExtensionArray. This method should have the following signature:

class MyExtensionDtype(pd.api.extensions.ExtensionDtype):

    def __from_arrow__(self, array: pyarrow.Array/ChunkedArray) -> pandas.ExtensionArray:

This way, you can control the conversion of a pyarrow Array of your pyarrow extension type to a pandas ExtensionArray that can be stored in a DataFrame.

Canonical extension types#

You can find the official list of canonical extension types in the Canonical Extension Types section. Here we add examples on how to use them in pyarrow.

Fixed size tensor#

To create an array of tensors with equal shape (fixed shape tensor array) we first need to define a fixed shape tensor extension type with value type and shape:

>>> tensor_type = pa.fixed_shape_tensor(pa.int32(), (2, 2))

Then we need the storage array with pyarrow.list_() type where value_type` is the fixed shape tensor value type and list size is a product of tensor_type shape elements. Then we can create an array of tensors with pa.ExtensionArray.from_storage() method:

>>> arr = [[1, 2, 3, 4], [10, 20, 30, 40], [100, 200, 300, 400]]
>>> storage = pa.array(arr, pa.list_(pa.int32(), 4))
>>> tensor_array = pa.ExtensionArray.from_storage(tensor_type, storage)

We can also create another array of tensors with different value type:

>>> tensor_type_2 = pa.fixed_shape_tensor(pa.float32(), (2, 2))
>>> storage_2 = pa.array(arr, pa.list_(pa.float32(), 4))
>>> tensor_array_2 = pa.ExtensionArray.from_storage(tensor_type_2, storage_2)

Extension arrays can be used as columns in pyarrow.Table or pyarrow.RecordBatch:

>>> data = [
...     pa.array([1, 2, 3]),
...     pa.array(['foo', 'bar', None]),
...     pa.array([True, None, True]),
...     tensor_array,
...     tensor_array_2
... ]
>>> my_schema = pa.schema([('f0', pa.int8()),
...                        ('f1', pa.string()),
...                        ('f2', pa.bool_()),
...                        ('tensors_int', tensor_type),
...                        ('tensors_float', tensor_type_2)])
>>> table = pa.Table.from_arrays(data, schema=my_schema)
>>> table
f0: int8
f1: string
f2: bool
tensors_int: extension<arrow.fixed_shape_tensor[value_type=int32, shape=[2,2]]>
tensors_float: extension<arrow.fixed_shape_tensor[value_type=float, shape=[2,2]]>
f0: [[1,2,3]]
f1: [["foo","bar",null]]
f2: [[true,null,true]]
tensors_int: [[[1,2,3,4],[10,20,30,40],[100,200,300,400]]]
tensors_float: [[[1,2,3,4],[10,20,30,40],[100,200,300,400]]]

We can also convert a tensor array to a single multi-dimensional numpy ndarray. With the conversion the length of the arrow array becomes the first dimension in the numpy ndarray:

>>> numpy_tensor = tensor_array_2.to_numpy_ndarray()
>>> numpy_tensor
array([[[  1.,   2.],
        [  3.,   4.]],
       [[ 10.,  20.],
        [ 30.,  40.]],
       [[100., 200.],
        [300., 400.]]])
 >>> numpy_tensor.shape
(3, 2, 2)


Both optional parameters, permutation and dim_names, are meant to provide the user with the information about the logical layout of the data compared to the physical layout.

The conversion to numpy ndarray is only possible for trivial permutations (None or [0, 1, ... N-1] where N is the number of tensor dimensions).

And also the other way around, we can convert a numpy ndarray to a fixed shape tensor array:

>>> pa.FixedShapeTensorArray.from_numpy_ndarray(numpy_tensor)
<pyarrow.lib.FixedShapeTensorArray object at ...>

With the conversion the first dimension of the ndarray becomes the length of the pyarrow extension array. We can see in the example that ndarray of shape (3, 2, 2) becomes an arrow array of length 3 with tensor elements of shape (2, 2).

# ndarray of shape (3, 2, 2)
>>> numpy_tensor.shape
(3, 2, 2)

# arrow array of length 3 with tensor elements of shape (2, 2)
>>> pyarrow_tensor_array = pa.FixedShapeTensorArray.from_numpy_ndarray(numpy_tensor)
>>> len(pyarrow_tensor_array)
>>> pyarrow_tensor_array.type.shape
[2, 2]

The extension type can also have permutation and dim_names defined. For example

>>> tensor_type = pa.fixed_shape_tensor(pa.float64(), [2, 2, 3], permutation=[0, 2, 1])


>>> tensor_type = pa.fixed_shape_tensor(pa.bool_(), [2, 2, 3], dim_names=['C', 'H', 'W'])

for NCHW format where:

  • N: number of images which is in our case the length of an array and is always on the first dimension

  • C: number of channels of the image

  • H: height of the image

  • W: width of the image