Making Data Packages

Intake can used to create Data packages, so that you can easily distribute your catalogs - others can just “install data”. Since you may also want to distribute custom catalogues, perhaps with visualisations, and driver code, packaging these things together is a great convenience. Indeed, packaging gives you the opportunity to version-tag your distribution and to declare the requirements needed to be able to use the data. This is a common pattern for distributing code for python and other languages, but not commonly seen for data artifacts.

The current version of Intake allows making data packages using standard python tools (to be installed, for example, using pip). The previous, now deprecated, technique is still described below, under Pure conda solution and is specific to the conda packaging system.

Python packaging solution

Intake allows you to register data artifacts (catalogs and data sources) in the metadata of a python package. This means, that when you install that package, intake will automatically know of the registered items, and they will appear within the “builtin” catalog

Here we assume that you understand what is meant by a python package (i.e., a folder containing and other code, config and data files). Furthermore, you should familiarise yourself with what is required for bundling such a package into a distributable package (one with a by reading the official packaging documentation

The intake examples contains a full tutorial for packaging and distributing intake data and/or catalogs for pip and conda, see the directory “data_package/”.

Entry points definition

Intake uses the concept of entry points to define the entries that are defined by a given package. Entry points provide a mechanism to register metadata about a package at install time, so that it can easily be found by other packages such as Intake. Entry points was originally a separate package, but is included in the standard library as of python 3.8 (you will not need to install it, as Intake requires it).

All you need to do to register an entry in is:

  • define a data source somewhere in your package. This object can be of any ttype that makes sense to Intake, including Catalogs, and sources that have drivers defined in the very same package. Obviously, if you can have catalogs, you can populate these however you wish, including with more catalogs. You need not be restricted to simply loading in YAML files.

  • include a block in your call to setp in with code something like

      'intake.catalogs': [
          'sea_cat = intake_example_package:cat',
          'sea_data = intake_example_package:data'

Here only the lines with "sea_cat" and "sea_data" are specific to the example
package, the rest is required boilerplate. Each of those two lines defines a name
for the data entry (before the "=" sign) and the location to load from, in
module:object format.
  • install the package using pip, python, or package it for conda

Intake’s process

When Intake is imported, it investigates all registered entry points with the "intake.catalogs" group. It will go through and assign each name to the given location of the final object. In the above example, would be associated with the cat object in the intake_example_package package, and so on.

Note that Intake does not immediately import the given package or module, because imports can sometimes be expensive, and if you have a lot of data packages, it might cause a slow-down every time that Intake is imported. Instead, a placeholder entry is created, and whenever the entry is accessed, that’s when the particular package will be imported.

In [1]: import intake

In [2]:  # does not import yet
Out[2]: <Entry containing Catalog named sea_cat>

In [3]: cat =  # imports now

In [4]: cat   # this data source happens to be a catalog
Out[4]: <Intake catalog: sea>

(note here the parentheses - this explicitly initialises the source, and normally you don’t have to do this)

Pure conda solution

This packaging method is deprecated, but still available.

Combined with the Conda Package Manger, Intake makes it possible to create Data packages which can be installed and upgraded just like software packages. This offers several advantages:

  • Distributing Catalogs and Drivers becomes as easy as conda install

  • Data packages can be versioned, improving reproducibility in some cases

  • Data packages can depend on the libraries required for reading

  • Data packages can be self-describing using Intake catalog files

  • Applications that need certain Catalogs can include data packages in their dependency list

In this tutorial, we give a walk-through to enable you to distribute any Catalogs to others, so that they can access the data using Intake without worrying about where it resides or how it should be loaded.


The function intake.catalog.default.load_combo_catalog searches for YAML catalog files in a number of place at import. All entries in these catalogs are flattened and placed in the “builtin”

The places searched are:

  • a platform-specific user directory as given by the appdirs package

  • in the environment’s “/share/intake” data directory, where the location of the current environment is found from virtualenv or conda environment variables

  • in directories listed in the “INTAKE_PATH” environment variable or “catalog_path” config parameter

Defining a Package

The steps involved in creating a data package are:

  1. Identifying a dataset, which can be accessed via a URL or included directly as one or more files in the package.

  2. Creating a package containing:

    • an intake catalog file

    • a meta.yaml file (description of the data, version, requirements, etc.)

    • a script to copy the data

  3. Building the package using the command conda build.

  4. Uploading the package to a package repository such as Anaconda Cloud or your own private repository.

Data packages are standard conda packages that install an Intake catalog file into the user’s conda environment ($CONDA_PREFIX/share/intake). A data package does not necessarily imply there are data files inside the package. A data package could describe remote data sources (such as files in S3) and take up very little space on disk.

These packages are considered noarch packages, so that one package can be installed on any platform, with any version of Python (or no Python at all). The easiest way to create such a package is using a conda build recipe.

Conda-build recipes are stored in a directory that contains a files like:

  • meta.yaml - description of package metadata

  • - script for building/installing package contents (on Linux/macOS)

  • other files needed by the package (catalog files and data files for data packages)

An example that packages up data from a Github repository would look like this:

# meta.yaml
  version: '1.0.0'
  name: 'data-us-states'

  git_rev: v1.0.0

  number: 0
  noarch: generic

    - intake
  build: []

  description: Data about US states from CivilServices (
  license: MIT
  license_family: MIT
  summary: Data about US states from CivilServices

The key parts of a data package recipe (different from typical conda recipes) is the build section:

  number: 0
  noarch: generic

This will create a package that can be installed on any platform, regardless of the platform where the package is built. If you need to rebuild a package, the build number can be incremented to ensure users get the latest version when they conda update.

The corresponding file in the recipe looks like this:


mkdir -p $CONDA_PREFIX/share/intake/civilservices
cp $SRC_DIR/data/states.csv $PREFIX/share/intake/civilservices
cp $RECIPE_DIR/us_states.yaml $PREFIX/share/intake/

The $SRC_DIR variable refers to any source tree checked out (from Github or other service), and the $RECIPE_DIR refers to the directory where the meta.yaml is located.

Finishing out this example, the catalog file for this data source looks like this:

    description: US state information from [CivilServices](
    driver: csv
      urlpath: '{{ CATALOG_DIR }}/civilservices/states.csv'
      origin_url: ''

The {{ CATALOG_DIR }} Jinja2 variable is used to construct a path relative to where the catalog file was installed.

To build the package, you must have conda-build installed:

conda install conda-build

Building the package requires no special arguments:

conda build my_recipe_dir

Conda-build will display the path of the built package, which you will need to upload it.

If you want your data package to be publicly available on Anaconda Cloud, you can install the anaconda-client utility:

conda install anaconda-client

Then you can register your Anaconda Cloud credentials and upload the package:

anaconda login
anaconda upload /Users/intake_user/anaconda/conda-bld/noarch/data-us-states-1.0.0-0.tar.bz2

Best Practices


  • Versions for data packages should be used to indicate changes in the data values or schema. This allows applications to easily pin to the specific data version they depend on.

  • Putting data files into a package ensures reproducibility by allowing a version number to be associated with files on disk. This can consume quite a bit of disk space for the user, however. Large data files are not generally included in pip or conda packages so, if possible, you should reference the data assets in an external place where they can be loaded.


  • Packages that refer to remote data sources (such as databases and REST APIs) need to think about authentication. Do not include authentication credentials inside a data package. They should be obtained from the environment.

  • Data packages should depend on the Intake plugins required to read the data, or Intake itself.

  • You may well want to break any driver code code out into a separate package so that it can be updated independent of the data. The data package would then depend on the driver package.

Nested catalogs

As noted above, entries will appear in the users’ builtin catalog as*. In the case that the catalog has multiple entries, it may be desirable to put the entries below a namespace as*. This can be achieved by having one catalog containing the (several) data sources, with only a single top-level entry pointing to it. This catalog could be defined in a YAML file, created using any other catalog driver, or constructed in the code, e.g.:

from intake.catalog import Catalog
from intake.catalog.local import LocalCatalogEntry as Entry
cat = intake.catalog.Catalog()
cat._entries = {name: Entry(name, descr, driver='package.module.driver',
                              args={"urlpath": url})
                          for name, url in my_input_list}

If your package contains many sources of different types, you may even nest the catalogs, i.e., have a top-level whose contents are also catalogs.

e = Entry('first_cat', 'sample', driver='catalog')
e._default_source = cat
top_level = Catalog()
top_level._entries = {'fist_cat': e, ...}

where your entry point might look something like: "my_cat = my_package:top_level". You could achieve the same with multiple YAML files.