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Extracting Data Subsets and Design By Composition

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Extracting Data Subsets and Design By Composition

What's essential here is design by composition, and decomposition to make that possible. And changing the features is a matter of changing the combination of functions.

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The request was murky. It evolved over time to this:

Create a function file_record_selection(train.csv, 2, 100, train_2_100.csv)
First parameter: input file name (train.csv)
Second parameter: first record to include (2)
Third parameter: last record to include (100)
Fourth parameter: output file name (train_2_100.csv)

Fundamentally, this is a bad way to think about things. I want to cover some superficial problems first, though.

First superficial dig: It evolved to this. In fairness to people without a technical background, getting to tight, implementable requirements are is difficult. Sadly, the first hand-waving garbage was from a DBA. It evolved to this. The early drafts made no sense.

Second superficial whining: The specification — as written — is extraordinarily shabby. This seems to be written by someone who's never read a function definition in the Python documentation before. Something I know is not the case. How can someone who is marginally able to code also unable to write a description of a function? In this case, the "marginally able to code" may be a hint that some folks struggle with abstraction: the world is a lot of unique details; patterns don't emerge from related details.

Third: Starting from record 2, it seems to show that they don't get the idea that indexes start with zero. They've seen Python. They've written code. They've posted code to the web for comments. And they are still baffled by the start value of indices.

Let's move on to the more interesting topic, functional composition.

Functional Composition

The actual data file is a .GZ archive. So there's a tiny problem with looking at .CSV extracts from the GZIP. Specifically, we're exploding a file all over the hard drive for no real benefit. It's often faster to read the zipped file: It may involve fewer physical I/O operations. The .GZ is small; the computation overhead to decompress may be less than the time waiting for I/O.

To get to functional composition we have to start by decomposing the problem. Then we can build the solution from the pieces. To do this, we'll borrow the interface segregation (ISP) design principle from OO programming.

Here's an application of ISP: avoid persistence. It's easier to add persistence than to remove it. This leads peeling off three further tiers of file processing: physical format, logical layout, and essential entities.

We shouldn't write a .CSV file unless it's somehow required — for example, if there are multiple clients for a subset. In this case, the problem domain is exploratory data analysis (EDA) and saving  .CSV subsets is unlikely to be helpful. The principle still applies: Don't start with persistence in mind. What are the essential entities?

This leads away from trying to work with filenames, also. It's better to work with files. And we shouldn't work with file names as strings — we should use pathlib.Path. All consequences of peeling off layers from the interfaces.

Replacing names with files means the overall function is really this: a composition.

file_record_selection = (lambda source, start, stop, target: 
    file_write(target, file_read_selection(source, start, stop))
)

We applied the ISP again to avoid opening a named .CSV file. We can work with open file-like objects instead of file names. This doesn't change the overall form of the functions, but it changes the types. Here are the two functions that are part of the composition:

from typing import *
import typing
Record = Any
def file_write(target: typing.TextIO, records: Iterable[Record]):
    pass
def file_read_selection(source: csv.DictReader, start: int, stop: int) -> Iterable[Record]:
    pass

We've left the record type unspecified, mostly because we don't know what it just yet. The definition of "record" reflects the essential entities, and we'll defer that decision until later. CSV readers can produce either dictionaries or lists, so it's not a complex decision, but we can defer it.

The .GZ processing defines the physical format. The content which was zipped was a .CSV file, which defines the logical layout.

Separating physical format, logical layout, and essential entity, gets us code like the following:

with gzip.open('file.gz') as source:
    reader = csv.DictReader(source)  # Iterator[Record]
    for line in file_read_selection(reader, start, stop):
        print(line)

We've opened the .GZ for reading, wrapped a CSV parser around that, and wrapped our selection filter around that. We didn't write the CSV output because, actually, that's not required. The core requirement was to examine the input.

We can, if we want, provide two variations of the file_write() function and use a composition like the file_record_selection() function with the write-to-a-file and print-to-the-console variants. Pragmatically, the print-to-the-console is all we really need.

In the above example, the record type can be formalized as List[Text]. If we want to use csv.DictReader instead, then the record type becomes Dict[Text, Text].

Further Decomposition

There's a further level of decomposition: the essential design pattern is pagination. In Python parlance, it's a slice operation. We could use itertools to replace the entirety of file_read_selection() with itertools.takewhile() and itertools.dropwhile(). The problem with these methods is they don't short-circuit — they read the entire file.

In this instance, it's helpful to have something like this for paginating an iterable with a start and stop value.

for n, r in enumerate(reader):
    if n < start: continue
    if n = stop: break
    yield r

This covers the bases with a short-circuit design that saves a little bit of time when looking at the first few records of a file. It's not great for looking at the last few records, however. Currently, the "tail" use case doesn't seem to be relevant. If it was, we might want to create an index of the line offsets to allow arbitrary access or use a simple buffer of the required size.

If we were really ambitious, we'd use the slice class definition to make it easy to specify start, stop, and step values. This would allow us to pick every eighth item from the file without too much trouble.

The slice class doesn't, however, support the selection of a randomized subset. What we really want is a paginator like this:

def paginator(iterable, start: int, stop: int, selection: Callable[[int], bool]):
    for n, r in enumerate(iterable):
        if n < start: continue
        if n == stop: break
        if selection(n): yield r

file_read_selection = lambda source, start, stop: paginator(source, start, stop, lambda n: True)

file_read_slice = lambda source, start, stop, step: paginator(source, start, stop, lambda n: n%step == 0)

The required file_read_selection() is built from smaller pieces. This function, in turn, is used to build file_read_selection() via functional composition. We can use this for randomized selection, also.

Here are functions with type hints instead of lambdas.

def file_read_selection(source: csv.DictReader, start: int, stop: int) -> Iterable[Record]:
    return paginator(source, start, stop, lambda n: True)

def file_read_slice(source: csv.DictReader, start: int, stop: int, step: int)  -> Iterable[Record]:
    return paginator(source, start, stop, lambda n: n%step == 0)

Specifying the type for a generic iterable and the matching result iterable seems to require a type variable like this:

T = TypeVar('T')
def paginator(iterable: Iterable[T], ...) -> Iterable[T]:

This type of hint suggests we can make wide reuse of this function. That's a pleasant side-effect of functional composition. Reuse can stem from stripping away the various interface details to decompose the problem to essential elements.

Conclusion

What's essential here is design by composition, and decomposition to make that possible.

We got there by stepping away from file names to file objects. We segregated physical format and logical layout, also. Each application of the Interface Segregation Principle leads to further decomposition. We unbundled the pagination from the file I/O. We have a number of smaller functions. The original feature is built from a composition of functions.

Each function can be comfortably tested as a separate unit. Each function can be reused.

Changing the features is a matter of changing the combination of functions. This can mean adding new functions and creating new combinations.

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Topics:
big data ,data extraction ,python ,tutorial ,composition

Published at DZone with permission of Steven Lott, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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