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Dive into Apache Parquet: The Efficient File Format for Big Data

Ashish Kasama|12/21/2023, UTC|8 MIN READ|
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Introduction:

In the wild west of big data, where terabytes of information roam free, wrangling them into usable form can be a real rodeo. That's where Apache Parquet comes in, a columnar file format that tames the data beast with efficiency and speed. So, saddle up, partners, and let's explore why Parquet should be your go-to format for wrangling large datasets.

What is Apache Parquet?

Imagine a traditional data file as a messy haystack, where finding a specific needle (data point) is a time-consuming chore. Parquet, on the other hand, neatly stacks that haystack into organized columns, making it a breeze to pluck out the exact data you need.

Apache Parquet, an open-source columnar storage file format, has transformed the way we handle big data. Optimized for performance and efficiency, Parquet is the go-to choice for data scientists and engineers. This article delves into the core features of Apache Parquet, its advantages, and its diverse applications in the big data ecosystem.

Understanding Apache Parquet

Apache Parquet is designed for efficient data storage and retrieval. Its columnar storage format allows for better compression and encoding, which leads to significant storage savings and optimized query performance. Parquet is compatible with multiple data processing frameworks, making it a versatile tool in the big data world.

To understand it better, let's use some simple analogies and examples.

Parquet in Everyday Life: A Library Analogy

Imagine a library full of books (your data). In a traditional library (or a traditional file format like CSV), books are arranged in rows and you read them row by row. If you're only looking for information that's on the 10th page of every book, you still have to go through all the pages up to the 10th in each book. This is time-consuming and inefficient.

Now, imagine if instead of arranging books in rows, you could take out all the 10th pages and put them together in one place. If you're only interested in the 10th page, you can go directly there and skip everything else. This is essentially what Parquet does with data.

Let's understand Apache Parquet with an example involving a dataset. Imagine you have a dataset of a bookstore's transactions. The dataset includes columns like Transaction ID, Customer Name, Book Title, Genre, Price, and Date of Purchase. Here's how Apache Parquet would handle this data compared to a traditional row-based format like CSV.

Traditional Row-based Storage (e.g., CSV)
In a CSV file, each row represents one transaction, containing all the information:

Transaction ID, Customer Name, Book Title, Genre, Price, Date of Purchase
001, John Doe, The Great Gatsby, Fiction, 10, 2021-01-01
002, Jane Smith, Becoming, Non-Fiction, 15, 2021-01-02
...

 

If you want to analyze total sales per genre, the system reads the entire row for all transactions, even though it only needs the Genre and Price columns.

Apache Parquet's Columnar Storage
Parquet organizes the data column-wise. So, instead of storing all the information for a single transaction in a row, it stores all the data for each column together:

Transaction IDs: 001, 002, ...
Customer Names: John Doe, Jane Smith, ...
Book Titles: The Great Gatsby, Becoming, ...
Genres: Fiction, Non-Fiction, ...
Prices: 10, 15, ...
Dates of Purchase: 2021-01-01, 2021-01-02, ...

 

In this setup, if you want to analyze total sales per genre, Parquet quickly accesses only the Genre and Price columns. It doesn't waste resources reading irrelevant data (like Customer Name or Book Title).

Let's embark on a data safari with an example:

Imagine you're an explorer trekking through a dense jungle of information. Vines of data points twist and tangle, making it nearly impossible to find what you seek. Fear not, brave adventurer! Apache Parquet arrives, your machete for hacking through the chaos and revealing a breathtakingly organized oasis of insights.

Our Jungle:

We have a treasure trove of information about movies: titles, release years, directors, and genres. But it's all crammed into a single file, like a messy jungle trail:

"The Shawshank Redemption", 1994, "Frank Darabont", "Drama"
"The Godfather", 1972, "Francis Ford Coppola", "Crime"
"Pulp Fiction", 1994, "Quentin Tarantino", "Crime, Comedy"
...

Enter Parquet, the Organizer:

With its magic touch, Parquet transforms the data into neat, accessible columns:

Title Release Year Director Genre
The Shawshank Redemption 1994 Frank Darabont Drama
The Godfather 1972 Francis Ford Coppola Crime
Pulp Fiction 1994 Quentin Tarantino Crime, Comedy
... ... ... ...

 

Suddenly, exploring becomes a breeze:

  • Want to find all 1990s thrillers? Focus on the "Release Year" and "Genre" columns, ignoring details like directors.
  • Craving comedies by female directors? Scan the "Genre" and "Director" columns without wasting time on release years.
  • Analyzing trends by decade? Group the data by "Release Year" and dig deeper into each era.

Key Features of Apache Parquet

  1. Columnar Storage: Parquet stores data column-wise. In a table of customer information (like name, email, and purchase history), each column (name, email, purchase history) is stored separately. If a query only needs the "email" column, Parquet reads just that, saving time and resources.

  2. Compression and Encoding: Because similar data is stored together (like all emails), it can be compressed more effectively. Parquet uses various techniques to reduce the size of the data significantly.

  3. Compatibility and Performance: Parquet works well with complex data and is compatible with many data processing frameworks like Hadoop and Spark, enhancing performance.

Benefits of Using Apache Parquet

  • Reduced Storage Costs: Its efficient compression reduces storage space requirements.
  • Improved Query Performance: Speeds up analytical queries, making data processing more efficient.
  • Flexibility: Adapts to various use cases, supporting both complex and simple data structures.

Applications of Apache Parquet 

Parquet is widely used in industries such as finance, healthcare, and e-commerce for data analytics, machine learning, and real-time data processing. Its ability to handle large datasets efficiently makes it ideal for these sectors.

  • Getting Started with Parquet

    Ready to saddle up with Parquet? Most big data tools and frameworks offer built-in support for reading and writing Parquet files. So, you can ditch the manual wrangling and let Parquet take the reins.

    To access a remote Parquet file in Python for data modeling, here are two popular approaches you can choose from:

    1. Using pyarrow and fsspec:

    This method is efficient and works with various cloud storage providers and local file systems. It involves:

    • Installing libraries:

      pip install pyarrow fsspec

    • Importing libraries:

      import pyarrow.parquet as pq
      import fsspec

    • Specifying the remote URL:  Replace <URL> with your actual file location.

      url = "<URL>"
      # Optionally configure authentication if needed
      fs = fsspec.filesystem("your_provider", options={"key": ..., "secret": ...})

    • Reading the Parquet file and accessing data:

      table = pq.read_table(fs.
      open(url))
      # Access specific columns or perform data manipulations for your model
      names = table["name"].to_numpy()
      ages = table[
      "age"].to_numpy()
      # ... your data modeling code using pandas, scikit-learn, etc.

    2. Using Pandas:

    This is a simpler approach if you're only familiar with Pandas and the file is publicly accessible. However, it may be less efficient for large datasets:

    • Installing library:  pip install pandas
    • Importing library and specifying URL:
      import pandas as pd url = "<URL>"
      # Read the Parquet file directly with Pandas
      df = pd.read_parquet(url)
      # Access specific columns or perform data manipulations for your model
      names = df[
      "name"]
      ages = df[
      "age"]
      # ... your data modeling code using Pandas or other libraries
    • Remember to replace <URL> with your actual file location and configure authentication if necessary. Choose the approach that best suits your project's specific needs and complexity.

    Additional Tips:

    • Consider using cloud storage providers like AWS S3, Google Cloud Storage, or Azure Blob Storage for efficient and scalable storage of large Parquet files.
    • Check the documentation of your chosen libraries for advanced features like partitioning and filtering data within the Parquet file.
    • You can always combine these approaches with libraries like dask for parallel processing and handling large datasets more efficiently.

    Conclusion

    Apache Parquet stands out as a superior file format for big data processing, offering unparalleled efficiency and performance. Its adaptability and compatibility with various big data tools make it an essential component in modern data architectures.

    Also, read: Python Framework - Flask Vs FastAPI Vs Django Choose Best for Your Next Project

    Ashish Kasama

    Co-founder & Your Technology Partner

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