Dask Dataframe implements a subset of the Pandas Dataframe interface using blocked algorithms, cutting up the large DataFrame into many small Pandas DataFrames. This lets us compute on dataframes that are larger than memory using all of our cores or on many dataframes spread across a cluster. One operation on a dask.dataframe triggers many operations on the constituent Pandas dataframes.


Dask DataFrames coordinate many Pandas DataFrames

Dask dataframes coordinate many Pandas DataFrames/Series arranged along the index. Dask.dataframe is partitioned row-wise, grouping rows by index value for efficiency. These Pandas objects may live on disk or on other machines.

Common Uses and Anti-Uses

Dask.dataframe is particularly useful in the following situations:

  • Manipulating large datasets on a single machine, even when those datasets don’t fit comfortably into memory.
  • Fast computation on large workstation machines by parallelizing many Pandas calls across many cores.
  • Distributed computing of very large tables stored in the Hadoop File System (HDFS), S3, or other parallel file systems.
  • Parallel groupby, join, or time series computations

However in the following situations Dask.dataframe may not be the best choice:

  • If your dataset fits comfortably into RAM on your laptop then you may be better off just using Pandas. There may be simpler ways to improve performance than through parallelism.
  • If your dataset doesn’t fit neatly into the Pandas tabular model then you might find more use in dask.bag or dask.array
  • If you need functions that are not implemented in dask.dataframe then you might want to look at dask.delayed which offers more flexibility.
  • If you need a proper database with all that databases offer you might prefer something like Postgres

Dask.dataframe copies the pandas API

Because the dask.dataframe application programming interface (API) is a subset of the pandas API it should be familiar to pandas users. There are some slight alterations due to the parallel nature of dask:

>>> import dask.dataframe as dd
>>> df = dd.read_csv('2014-*.csv')
>>> df.head()
   x  y
0  1  a
1  2  b
2  3  c
3  4  a
4  5  b
5  6  c

>>> df2 = df[df.y == 'a'].x + 1

As with all dask collections (for example Array, Bag, DataFrame) one triggers computation by calling the .compute() method:

>>> df2.compute()
0    2
3    5
Name: x, dtype: int64


Dask.dataframe covers a small but well-used portion of the pandas API. This limitation is for two reasons:

  1. The pandas API is huge
  2. Some operations are genuinely hard to do in parallel (for example sort).

Additionally, some important operations like set_index work, but are slower than in pandas because they may write out to disk.

The following class of computations works well:

  • Trivially parallelizable operations (fast):
    • Elementwise operations: df.x + df.y, df * df
    • Row-wise selections: df[df.x > 0]
    • Loc: df.loc[4.0:10.5]
    • Common aggregations: df.x.max(), df.max()
    • Is in: df[df.x.isin([1, 2, 3])]
    • Datetime/string accessors: df.timestamp.month
  • Cleverly parallelizable operations (fast):
    • groupby-aggregate (with common aggregations): df.groupby(df.x).y.max(), df.groupby('x').max()
    • groupby-apply on index: df.groupby(['idx', 'x']).apply(myfunc), where idx is the index level name
    • value_counts: df.x.value_counts()
    • Drop duplicates: df.x.drop_duplicates()
    • Join on index: dd.merge(df1, df2, left_index=True, right_index=True)
    • Join with Pandas DataFrames: dd.merge(df1, df2, on='id')
    • Elementwise operations with different partitions / divisions: df1.x + df2.y
    • Datetime resampling: df.resample(...)
    • Rolling averages: df.rolling(...)
    • Pearson Correlations: df[['col1', 'col2']].corr()
  • Operations requiring a shuffle (slow-ish, unless on index)
    • Set index: df.set_index(df.x)
    • groupby-apply not on index (with anything): df.groupby(df.x).apply(myfunc)
    • Join not on the index: dd.merge(df1, df2, on='name')

See DataFrame API documentation for a more extensive list.


By default dask.dataframe uses the multi-threaded scheduler. This exposes some parallelism when pandas or the underlying numpy operations release the global interpreter lock (GIL). Generally pandas is more GIL bound than NumPy, so multi-core speed-ups are not as pronounced for dask.dataframe as they are for dask.array. This is changing, and the pandas development team is actively working on releasing the GIL.

In some cases you may experience speedups by switching to the multiprocessing or distributed scheduler.

>>> dask.set_options(get=dask.multiprocessing.get)

See scheduler docs for more information.


Dask.DataFrame does not implement the entire Pandas interface. Users expecting this will be disappointed. Notably, dask.dataframe has the following limitations:

  1. Setting a new index from an unsorted column is expensive
  2. Many operations, like groupby-apply and join on unsorted columns require setting the index, which as mentioned above, is expensive
  3. The Pandas API is very large. Dask.dataframe does not attempt to implement many pandas features or any of the more exotic data structures like NDFrames