Dask is a specification to encode a graph – specifically, a directed acyclic graph of tasks with data dependencies – using ordinary Python data structures, namely dicts, tuples, functions, and arbitrary Python values.


A dask graph is a dictionary mapping keys to computations:

{'x': 1,
 'y': 2,
 'z': (add, 'x', 'y'),
 'w': (sum, ['x', 'y', 'z']),
 'v': [(sum, ['w', 'z']), 2]}

A key is any hashable value that is not a task:

('x', 2, 3)

A task is a tuple with a callable first element. Tasks represent atomic units of work meant to be run by a single worker. Example:

(add, 'x', 'y')

We represent a task as a tuple such that the first element is a callable function (like add), and the succeeding elements are arguments for that function. An argument may be any valid computation.

A computation may be one of the following:

  1. Any key present in the dask graph like 'x'
  2. Any other value like 1, to be interpreted literally
  3. A task like (inc, 'x') (see below)
  4. A list of computations, like [1, 'x', (inc, 'x')]

So all of the following are valid computations:

(add, 1, 2)
(add, 'x', 2)
(add, (inc, 'x'), 2)
(sum, [1, 2])
(sum, ['x', (inc, 'x')])
(np.dot, np.array([...]), np.array([...]))
[(sum, ['x', 'y']), 'z']

To encode keyword arguments, we recommend the use of functools.partial or toolz.curry.

What functions should expect

In cases like (add, 'x', 'y'), functions like add receive concrete values instead of keys. A dask scheduler replaces keys (like 'x' and 'y') with their computed values (like 1, and 2) before calling the add function.

Entry Point - The get function

The get function serves as entry point to computation for all schedulers. This function gets the value associated to the given key. That key may refer to stored data, as is the case with 'x', or a task as is the case with 'z'. In the latter case, get should perform all necessary computation to retrieve the computed value.

>>> from dask.threaded import get

>>> from operator import add

>>> dsk = {'x': 1,
...        'y': 2,
...        'z': (add, 'x', 'y'),
...        'w': (sum, ['x', 'y', 'z'])}
>>> get(dsk, 'x')

>>> get(dsk, 'z')

>>> get(dsk, 'w')

Additionally if given a list, get should simultaneously acquire values for multiple keys:

>>> get(dsk, ['x', 'y', 'z'])
[1, 2, 3]

Because we accept lists of keys as keys, we support nested lists.

>>> get(dsk, [['x', 'y'], ['z', 'w']])
[[1, 2], [3, 6]]

Internally get can be arbitrarily complex, calling out to distributed computing, using caches, and so on.

Why use tuples

With (add, 'x', 'y') we wish to encode “the result of calling add on the values corresponding to the keys 'x' and 'y'.

We intend the following meaning:

add('x', 'y')  # after x and y have been replaced

But this will err because Python executes the function immediately, before we know values for 'x' and 'y'.

We delay the execution by moving the opening parenthesis one term to the left, creating a tuple:

Before: add( 'x', 'y')
After: (add, 'x', 'y')

This lets us store the desired computation as data that we can analyze using other Python code, rather than cause immediate execution.

LISP users will identify this as an s-expression, or as a rudimentary form of quoting.