The Arrow C Device data interface#


The Arrow C Device Data Interface should be considered experimental


The current C Data Interface, and most implementations of it, make the assumption that all data buffers provided are CPU buffers. Since Apache Arrow is designed to be a universal in-memory format for representing tabular (“columnar”) data, there will be the desire to leverage this data on non-CPU hardware such as GPUs. One example of such a case is the RAPIDS cuDF library which uses the Arrow memory format with CUDA for NVIDIA GPUs. Since copying data from host to device and back is expensive, the ideal would be to be able to leave the data on the device for as long as possible, even when passing it between runtimes and libraries.

The Arrow C Device data interface builds on the existing C data interface by adding a very small, stable set of C definitions to it. These definitions are equivalents to the ArrowArray and ArrowArrayStream structures from the C Data Interface which add members to allow specifying the device type and pass necessary information to synchronize with the producer. For non-C/C++ languages and runtimes, translating the C definitions to corresponding C FFI declarations should be just as simple as with the current C data interface.

Applications and libraries can then use Arrow schemas and Arrow formatted memory on non-CPU devices to exchange data just as easily as they do now with CPU data. This will enable leaving data on those devices longer and avoiding costly copies back and forth between the host and device just to leverage new libraries and runtimes.


  • Expose an ABI-stable interface built on the existing C data interface.

  • Make it easy for third-party projects to implement support with little initial investment.

  • Allow zero-copy sharing of Arrow formatted device memory between independent runtimes and components running in the same process.

  • Avoid the need for one-to-one adaptation layers such as the CUDA Array Interface for Python processes to pass CUDA data.

  • Enable integration without explicit dependencies (either at compile-time or runtime) on the Arrow software project itself.

The intent is for the Arrow C Device data interface to expand the reach of the current C data interface, allowing it to also become the standard low-level building block for columnar processing on devices like GPUs or FPGAs.

Structure definitions#

Because this is built on the C data interface, the C Device data interface uses the ArrowSchema and ArrowArray structures as defined in the C data interface spec. It then adds the following free-standing definitions. Like the rest of the Arrow project, they are available under the Apache License 2.0.


// Device type for the allocated memory
typedef int32_t ArrowDeviceType;

// CPU device, same as using ArrowArray directly
// CUDA GPU Device
// Pinned CUDA CPU memory by cudaMallocHost
// OpenCL Device
// Vulkan buffer for next-gen graphics
// Metal for Apple GPU
// Verilog simulator buffer
// ROCm GPUs for AMD GPUs
// Pinned ROCm CPU memory allocated by hipMallocHost
// Reserved for extension
// used to quickly test extension devices, semantics
// can differ based on implementation
// CUDA managed/unified memory allocated by cudaMallocManaged
// Unified shared memory allocated on a oneAPI
// non-partitioned device.
// A call to the oneAPI runtime is required to determine the
// device type, the USM allocation type and the sycl context
// that it is bound to.
// GPU support for next-gen WebGPU standard
// Qualcomm Hexagon DSP

struct ArrowDeviceArray {
  struct ArrowArray array;
  int64_t device_id;
  ArrowDeviceType device_type;
  void* sync_event;

  // reserved bytes for future expansion
  int64_t reserved[3];



The canonical guard ARROW_C_DEVICE_DATA_INTERFACE is meant to avoid duplicate definitions if two projects copy the definitions in their own headers, and a third-party project includes from these two projects. It is therefore important that this guard is kept exactly as-is when these definitions are copied.


The ArrowDeviceType typedef is used to indicate what type of device the provided memory buffers were allocated on. This, in conjunction with the device_id, should be sufficient to reference the correct data buffers.

We then use macros to define values for different device types. The provided macro values are compatible with the widely used dlpack DLDeviceType definition values, using the same value for each as the equivalent kDL<type> enum from dlpack.h. The list will be kept in sync with those equivalent enum values over time to ensure compatibility, rather than potentially diverging. To avoid the Arrow project having to be in the position of vetting new hardware devices, new additions should first be added to dlpack before we add a corresponding macro here.

To ensure predictability with the ABI, we use macros instead of an enum so the storage type is not compiler dependent.


CPU Device, equivalent to just using ArrowArray directly instead of using ArrowDeviceArray.


A CUDA GPU Device. This could represent data allocated either with the runtime library (cudaMalloc) or the device driver (cuMemAlloc).


CPU memory that was pinned and page-locked by CUDA by using cudaMallocHost or cuMemAllocHost.


Data allocated on the device by using the OpenCL (Open Computing Language) framework.


Data allocated by the Vulkan framework and libraries.


Data on Apple GPU devices using the Metal framework and libraries.


Indicates usage of a Verilog simulator buffer.


An AMD device using the ROCm stack.


CPU memory that was pinned and page-locked by ROCm by using hipMallocHost.


This value is an escape-hatch for devices to extend which aren’t currently represented otherwise. Producers would need to provide additional information/context specific to the device if using this device type. This is used to quickly test extension devices and semantics can differ based on the implementation.


CUDA managed/unified memory which is allocated by cudaMallocManaged.


Unified shared memory allocated on an Intel oneAPI non-partitioned device. A call to the oneAPI runtime is required to determine the specific device type, the USM allocation type and the sycl context that it is bound to.


GPU support for next-gen WebGPU standards


Data allocated on a Qualcomm Hexagon DSP device.

The ArrowDeviceArray structure#

The ArrowDeviceArray structure embeds the C data ArrowArray structure and adds additional information necessary for consumers to use the data. It has the following fields:

struct ArrowArray ArrowDeviceArray.array#

Mandatory. The allocated array data. The values in the void** buffers (along with the buffers of any children) are what is allocated on the device. The buffer values should be device pointers. The rest of the structure should be accessible to the CPU.

The private_data and release callback of this structure should contain any necessary information and structures related to freeing the array according to the device it is allocated on, rather than having a separate release callback and private_data pointer here.

int64_t ArrowDeviceArray.device_id#

Mandatory. The device id to identify a specific device if multiple devices of this type are on the system. The semantics of the id will be hardware dependent, but we use an int64_t to future-proof the id as devices change over time.

For device types that do not have an intrinsic notion of a device identifier (e.g., ARROW_DEVICE_CPU), it is recommended to use a device_id of -1 as a convention.

ArrowDeviceType ArrowDeviceArray.device_type#

Mandatory. The type of the device which can access the buffers in the array.

void *ArrowDeviceArray.sync_event#

Optional. An event-like object to synchronize on if needed.

Many devices, like GPUs, are primarily asynchronous with respect to CPU processing. As such, in order to safely access device memory, it is often necessary to have an object to synchronize processing with. Since different devices will use different types to specify this, we use a void* which can be coerced into a pointer to whatever the device appropriate type is.

If synchronization is not needed, this can be null. If this is non-null then it MUST be used to call the appropriate sync method for the device (e.g. cudaStreamWaitEvent or hipStreamWaitEvent) before attempting to access the memory in the buffers.

If an event is provided, then the producer MUST ensure that the exported data is available on the device before the event is triggered. The consumer SHOULD wait on the event before trying to access the exported data.

See also

The synchronization event types section below.

int64_t ArrowDeviceArray.reserved[3]#

As non-CPU development expands, there may be a need to expand this structure. In order to do so without potentially breaking ABI changes, we reserve 24 bytes at the end of the object. These bytes MUST be zero’d out after initialization by the producer in order to ensure safe evolution of the ABI in the future.

Synchronization event types#

The table below lists the expected event types for each device type. If no event type is supported (“N/A”), then the sync_event member should always be null.

Remember that the event CAN be null if synchronization is not needed to access the data.

Device Type

Actual Event Type






























  • (1) Currently unknown if framework has an event type to support.

  • (2) Extension Device has producer defined semantics and thus if synchronization is needed for an extension device, the producer should document the type.


Memory management#

First and foremost: Out of everything in this interface, it is only the data buffers themselves which reside in device memory (i.e. the buffers member of the ArrowArray struct). Everything else should be in CPU memory.

The ArrowDeviceArray structure contains an ArrowArray object which itself has specific semantics for releasing memory. The term “base structure” below refers to the ArrowDeviceArray object that is passed directly between the producer and consumer – not any child structure thereof.

It is intended for the base structure to be stack- or heap-allocated by the consumer. In this case, the producer API should take a pointer to the consumer-allocated structure.

However, any data pointed to by the struct MUST be allocated and maintained by the producer. This includes the sync_event member if it is not null, along with any pointers in the ArrowArray object as usual. Data lifetime is managed through the release callback of the ArrowArray member.

For an ArrowDeviceArray, the semantics of a released structure and the callback semantics are identical to those for ArrowArray itself. Any producer specific context information necessary for releasing the device data buffers, in addition to any allocated event, should be stored in the private_data member of the ArrowArray and managed by the release callback.

Moving an array#

The consumer can move the ArrowDeviceArray structure by bitwise copying or shallow member-wise copying. Then it MUST mark the source structure released by setting the release member of the embedded ArrowArray structure to NULL, but without calling that release callback. This ensures that only one live copy of the struct is active at any given time and that lifetime is correctly communicated to the producer.

As usual, the release callback will be called on the destination structure when it is not needed anymore.

Record batches#

As with the C data interface itself, a record batch can be trivially considered as an equivalent struct array. In this case the metadata of the top-level ArrowSchema can be used for schema-level metadata of the record batch.


Both the producer and the consumer SHOULD consider the exported data (that is, the data reachable on the device through the buffers member of the embedded ArrowArray) to be immutable, as either party could otherwise see inconsistent data while the other is mutating it.


If the sync_event member is non-NULL, the consumer should not attempt to access or read the data until they have synchronized on that event. If the sync_event member is NULL, then it MUST be safe to access the data without any synchronization necessary on the part of the consumer.

C producer example#

Exporting a simple int32 device array#

Export a non-nullable int32 type with empty metadata. An example of this can be seen in the C data interface docs directly.

To export the data itself, we transfer ownership to the consumer through the release callback. This example will use CUDA, but the equivalent calls could be used for any device:

static void release_int32_device_array(struct ArrowArray* array) {
    assert(array->n_buffers == 2);
    // destroy the event
    cudaEvent_t* ev_ptr = (cudaEvent_t*)(array->private_data);
    cudaError_t status = cudaEventDestroy(*ev_ptr);
    assert(status == cudaSuccess);

    // free the buffers and the buffers array
    status = cudaFree(array->buffers[1]);
    assert(status == cudaSuccess);

    // mark released
    array->release = NULL;

void export_int32_device_array(void* cudaAllocedPtr,
                               cudaStream_t stream,
                               int64_t length,
                               struct ArrowDeviceArray* array) {
    // get device id
    int device;
    cudaError_t status;
    status = cudaGetDevice(&device);
    assert(status == cudaSuccess);

    cudaEvent_t* ev_ptr = (cudaEvent_t*)malloc(sizeof(cudaEvent_t));
    assert(ev_ptr != NULL);
    status = cudaEventCreate(ev_ptr);
    assert(status == cudaSuccess);

    // record event on the stream, assuming that the passed in
    // stream is where the work to produce the data will be processing.
    status = cudaEventRecord(*ev_ptr, stream);
    assert(status == cudaSuccess);

    memset(array, 0, sizeof(struct ArrowDeviceArray));
    // initialize fields
    *array = (struct ArrowDeviceArray) {
        .array = (struct ArrowArray) {
            .length = length,
            .null_count = 0,
            .offset = 0,
            .n_buffers = 2,
            .n_children = 0,
            .children = NULL,
            .dictionary = NULL,
            // bookkeeping
            .release = &release_int32_device_array,
            // store the event pointer as private data in the array
            // so that we can access it in the release callback.
            .private_data = (void*)(ev_ptr),
        .device_id = (int64_t)(device),
        .device_type = ARROW_DEVICE_CUDA,
        // pass the event pointer to the consumer
        .sync_event = (void*)(ev_ptr),

    // allocate list of buffers
    array->array.buffers = (const void**)malloc(sizeof(void*) * array->array.n_buffers);
    assert(array->array.buffers != NULL);
    array->array.buffers[0] = NULL;
    array->array.buffers[1] = cudaAllocedPtr;

// calling the release callback should be done using the array member
// of the device array.
static void release_device_array_helper(struct ArrowDeviceArray* arr) {

Device Stream Interface#

Like the C stream interface, the C Device data interface also specifies a higher-level structure for easing communication of streaming data within a single process.


An Arrow C device stream exposes a streaming source of data chunks, each with the same schema. Chunks are obtained by calling a blocking pull-style iteration function. It is expected that all chunks should be providing data on the same device type (but not necessarily the same device id). If it is necessary to provide a stream of data on multiple device types, a producer should provide a separate stream object for each device type.

Structure definition#

The C device stream interface is defined by a single struct definition:


struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream {
    // device type that all arrays will be accessible from
    ArrowDeviceType device_type;
    // callbacks
    int (*get_schema)(struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream*, struct ArrowSchema*);
    int (*get_next)(struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream*, struct ArrowDeviceArray*);
    const char* (*get_last_error)(struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream*);

    // release callback
    void (*release)(struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream*);

    // opaque producer-specific data
    void* private_data;



The canonical guard ARROW_C_DEVICE_STREAM_INTERFACE is meant to avoid duplicate definitions if two projects copy the C device stream interface definitions into their own headers, and a third-party project includes from these two projects. It is therefore important that this guard is kept exactly as-is when these definitions are copied.

The ArrowDeviceArrayStream structure#

The ArrowDeviceArrayStream provides a device type that can access the resulting data along with the required callbacks to interact with a streaming source of Arrow arrays. It has the following fields:

ArrowDeviceType device_type#

Mandatory. The device type that this stream produces data on. All ArrowDeviceArray s that are produced by this stream should have the same device type as is set here. This is a convenience for the consumer to not have to check every array that is retrieved and instead allows higher-level coding constructs for streams.

int (*ArrowDeviceArrayStream.get_schema)(struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream*, struct ArrowSchema *out)#

Mandatory. This callback allows the consumer to query the schema of the chunks of data in the stream. The schema is the same for all data chunks.

This callback must NOT be called on a released ArrowDeviceArrayStream.

Return value: 0 on success, a non-zero error code otherwise.

int (*ArrowDeviceArrayStream.get_next)(struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream*, struct ArrowDeviceArray *out)#

Mandatory. This callback allows the consumer to get the next chunk of data in the stream.

This callback must NOT be called on a released ArrowDeviceArrayStream.

The next chunk of data MUST be accessible from a device type matching the ArrowDeviceArrayStream.device_type.

Return value: 0 on success, a non-zero error code otherwise.

On success, the consumer must check whether the ArrowDeviceArray’s embedded ArrowArray is marked released. If the embedded ArrowDeviceArray.array is released, then the end of the stream has been reached. Otherwise, the ArrowDeviceArray contains a valid data chunk.

const char *(*ArrowDeviceArrayStream.get_last_error)(struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream*)#

Mandatory. This callback allows the consumer to get a textual description of the last error.

This callback must ONLY be called if the last operation on the ArrowDeviceArrayStream returned an error. It must NOT be called on a released ArrowDeviceArrayStream.

Return value: a pointer to a NULL-terminated character string (UTF8-encoded). NULL can also be returned if no detailed description is available.

The returned pointer is only guaranteed to be valid until the next call of one of the stream’s callbacks. The character string it points to should be copied to consumer-managed storage if it is intended to survive longer.

void (*ArrowDeviceArrayStream.release)(struct ArrowDeviceArrayStream*)#

Mandatory. A pointer to a producer-provided release callback.

void *ArrowDeviceArrayStream.private_data#

Optional. An opaque pointer to producer-provided private data.

Consumers MUST NOT process this member. Lifetime of this member is handled by the producer, and especially by the release callback.

Result lifetimes#

The data returned by the get_schema and get_next callbacks must be released independently. Their lifetimes are not tied to that of ArrowDeviceArrayStream.

Stream lifetime#

Lifetime of the C stream is managed using a release callback with similar usage as in C data interface.

Thread safety#

The stream source is not assumed to be thread-safe. Consumers wanting to call get_next from several threads should ensure those calls are serialized.

Interoperability with other interchange formats#

Other interchange APIs, such as the CUDA Array Interface, include members to pass the shape and the data types of the data buffers being exported. This information is necessary to interpret the raw bytes in the device data buffers that are being shared. Rather than store the shape / types of the data alongside the ArrowDeviceArray, users should utilize the existing ArrowSchema structure to pass any data type and shape information.

Updating this specification#


Since this specification is still considered experimental, there is the (still very low) possibility it might change slightly. The reason for tagging this as “experimental” is because we don’t know what we don’t know. Work and research was done to ensure a generic ABI compatible with many different frameworks, but it is always possible something was missed. Once this is supported in an official Arrow release and usage is observed to confirm there aren’t any modifications necessary, the “experimental” tag will be removed and the ABI frozen.

Once this specification is supported in an official Arrow release, the C ABI is frozen. This means that the ArrowDeviceArray structure definition should not change in any way – including adding new members.

Backwards-compatible changes are allowed, for example new macro values for ArrowDeviceType or converting the reserved 24 bytes into a different type/member without changing the size of the structure.

Any incompatible changes should be part of a new specification, for example ArrowDeviceArrayV2.