Making Drivers

The goal of the Intake plugin system is to make it very simple to implement a Driver for a new data source, without any special knowledge of Dask or the Intake catalog system.


Although Intake is very flexible about data, there are some basic assumptions that a driver must satisfy.

Data Model

Intake currently supports 3 kinds of containers, represented the most common data models used in Python:

  • dataframe

  • ndarray

  • python (list of Python objects, usually dictionaries)

Although a driver can load any type of data into any container, and new container types can be added to the list above, it is reasonable to expect that the number of container types remains small. Declaring a container type is only informational for the user when read locally, but streaming of data from a server requires that the container type be known to both server and client.

A given driver must only return one kind of container. If a file format (such as HDF5) could reasonably be interpreted as two different data models depending on usage (such as a dataframe or an ndarray), then two different drivers need to be created with different names. If a driver returns the python container, it should document what Python objects will appear in the list.

The source of data should be essentially permanent and immutable. That is, loading the data should not destroy or modify the data, nor should closing the data source destroy the data either. When a data source is serialized and sent to another host, it will need to be reopened at the destination, which may cause queries to be re-executed and files to be reopened. Data sources that treat readers as “consumers” and remove data once read will cause erratic behavior, so Intake is not suitable for accessing things like FIFO message queues.


The schema of a data source is a detailed description of the data, which can be known by loading only metadata or by loading only some small representative portion of the data. It is information to present to the user about the data that they are considering loading, and may be important in the case of server-client communication. In the latter context, the contents of the schema must be serializable by msgpack (i.e., numbers, strings, lists and dictionaries only).

There may be unknown parts of the schema before the whole data is read. drivers may require this unknown information in the __init__() method (or the catalog spec), or do some kind of partial data inspection to determine the schema; or more simply, may be given as unknown None values. Regardless of method used, the time spent figuring out the schema ahead of time should be short and not scale with the size of the data.

Typical fields in a schema dictionary are npartitions, dtype, shape, etc., which will be more appropriate for some drivers/data-types than others.


Data sources are assumed to be partitionable. A data partition is a randomly accessible fragment of the data. In the case of sequential and data-frame sources, partitions are numbered, starting from zero, and correspond to contiguous chunks of data divided along the first dimension of the data structure. In general, any partitioning scheme is conceivable, such as a tuple-of-ints to index the chunks of a large numerical array.

Not all data sources can be partitioned. For example, file formats without sufficient indexing often can only be read from beginning to end. In these cases, the DataSource object should report that there is only 1 partition. However, it often makes sense for a data source to be able to represent a directory of files, in which case each file will correspond to one partition.


Once opened, a DataSource object can have arbitrary metadata associated with it. The metadata for a data source should be a dictionary that can be serialized as JSON. This metadata comes from the following sources:

  1. A data catalog entry can associate fixed metadata with the data source. This is helpful for data formats that do not have any support for metadata within the file format.

  2. The driver handling the data source may have some general metadata associated with the state of the system at the time of access, available even before loading any data-specific information.

  1. A driver can add additional metadata when the schema is loaded for the data source. This allows metadata embedded in the data source to be exported.

From the user perspective, all of the metadata should be loaded once the data source has loaded the rest of the schema (after discover(), read(), to_dask(), etc have been called).

Subclassing intake.source.base.DataSourceBase

Every Intake driver class should be a subclass of intake.source.base.DataSource. The class should have the following attributes to identify itself:

  • name: The short name of the driver. This should be a valid python identifier. You should not include the word intake in the driver name.

  • version: A version string for the driver. This may be reported to the user by tools based on Intake, but has no semantic importance.

  • container: The container type of data sources created by this object, e.g., dataframe, ndarray, or python, one of the keys of intake.container.container_map. For simplicity, a driver many only return one typed of container. If a particular source of data could be used in multiple ways (such as HDF5 files interpreted as dataframes or as ndarrays), two drivers must be created. These two drivers can be part of the same Python package.

  • partition_access: Do the data sources returned by this driver have multiple partitions? This may help tools in the future make more optimal decisions about how to present data. If in doubt (or the answer depends on init arguments), True will always result in correct behavior, even if the data source has only one partition.

The __init()__ method should always accept a keyword argument metadata, a dictionary of metadata from the catalog to associate with the source. This dictionary must be serializable as JSON.

The DataSourceBase class has a small number of methods which should be overridden. Here is an example producing a data-frame:

class FooSource(intake.source.base.DataSource):
    container = 'dataframe'
    name = 'foo'
    version = '0.0.1'
    partition_access = True

    def __init__(self, a, b, metadata=None):
        # Do init here with a and b
        super(FooSource, self).__init__(

    def _get_schema(self):
        return intake.source.base.Schema(
            dtype={'x': "int64", 'y': "int64"},
            shape=(None, 2),
            extra_metadata=dict(c=3, d=4)

    def _get_partition(self, i):
        # Return the appropriate container of data here
        return pd.DataFrame({'x': [1, 2, 3], 'y': [10, 20, 30]})

    def read(self):
        return pd.concat([self.read_partition(i) for i in range(self.npartitions)])

    def _close(self):
        # close any files, sockets, etc

Most of the work typically happens in the following methods:

  • __init__(): Should be very lightweight and fast. No files or network resources should be opened, and no significant memory should be allocated yet. Data sources might be serialized immediately. The default implementation of the pickle protocol in the base class will record all the arguments to __init__() and recreate the object with those arguments when unpickled, assuming the class has no side effects.

  • _get_schema(): May open files and network resources and return as much of the schema as possible in small amount of approximately constant time. Typically, imports of packages needed by the source only happen here. The npartitions and extra_metadata attributes must be correct when _get_schema returns. Further keys such as dtype, shape, etc., should reflect the container type of the data-source, and can be None if not easily knowable, or include None for some elements. File-based sources should use fsspec to open a local or remote URL, and pass storage_options to it. This ensures compatibility and extra features such as caching. If the backend can only deal with local files, you may still want to use fsspec.open_local to allow for caching.

  • _get_partition(self, i): Should return all of the data from partition id i, where i is typically an integer, but may be something more complex. The base class will automatically verify that i is in the range [0, npartitions), so no range checking is required in the typical case.

  • _close(self): Close any network or file handles and deallocate any significant memory. Note that these resources may be need to be reopened/reallocated if a read is called again later.

The full set of user methods of interest are as follows:

  • discover(self): Read the source attributes, like npartitions, etc. As with _get_schema() above, this method is assumed to be fast, and make a best effort to set attributes. The output should be serializable, if the source is to be used on a server; the details contained will be used for creating a remote-source on the client.

  • read(self): Return all the data in memory in one in-memory container.

  • read_chunked(self): Return an iterator that returns contiguous chunks of the data. The chunking is generally assumed to be at the partition level, but could be finer grained if desired.

  • read_partition(self, i): Returns the data for a given partition id. It is assumed that reading a given partition does not require reading the data that precedes it. If i is out of range, an IndexError should be raised.

  • to_dask(self): Return a (lazy) Dask data structure corresponding to this data source. It should be assumed that the data can be read from the Dask workers, so the loads can be done in future tasks. For further information, see the Dask documentation.

  • close(self): Close network or file handles and deallocate memory. If other methods are called after close(), the source is automatically reopened.

  • to_*: for some sources, it makes sense to provide alternative outputs aside from the base container (dataframe, array, …) and Dask variants.

Note that all of these methods typically call _get_schema, to make sure that the source has been initialised.

Subclassing intake.source.base.DataSource

DataSource provides the same functionality as DataSourceBase, but has some additional mixin classes to provide some extras. A developer may choose to derive from DataSource to get all of these, or from DataSourceBase and make their own choice of mixins to support.

  • HoloviewsMixin: provides plotting and GUI capabilities via the holoviz stack

  • PersistMixin: allows for storing a local copy in a default format for the given container type

  • CacheMixin: allows for local storage of data files for a source. Deprecated, you should use one of the caching mechanisms in fsspec.

Driver Discovery

Intake discovers available drivers in three different ways, described below. After the discovery phase, Intake will automatically create open_[driver_name] convenience functions under the intake module namespace. Calling a function like open_csv() is equivalent to instantiating the corresponding data-source class.


If you are packaging your driver into an installable package to be shared, you should add the following to the package’s

        'intake.drivers': [
            'some_format_name = some_package.and_maybe_a_submodule:YourDriverClass',


Some critical details of Python’s entrypoints feature:

  • Note the unusual syntax of the entrypoints. Each item is given as one long string, with the = as part of the string. Modules are separated by ., and the final object name is preceded by :.

  • The right hand side of the equals sign must point to where the object is actually defined. If YourDriverClass is defined in foo/ and imported into foo/ you might expect foo:YourDriverClass to work, but it does not. You must spell out

Entry points are a way for Python packages to advertise objects with some common interface. When Intake is imported, it discovers all packages installed in the current environment that advertise 'intake.drivers' in this way.

Most packages that define intake drivers have a dependency on intake itself, for example in order to use intake’s base classes. This can create a ciruclar dependency: importing the package imports intake, which tries to discover and import packages that define drivers. To avoid this pitfall, just ensure that intake is imported first thing in your package’s This ensures that the driver-discovery code runs first. Note that you are not required to make your package depend on intake. The rule is that if you import intake you must import it first thing. If you do not import intake, there is no circularity.


The intake configuration file can be used to:

  • Specify precedence in the event of name collisions—for example, if two different csv drivers are installed.

  • Disable a troublesome driver.

  • Manually make intake aware of a driver, which can be useful for experimentation and early development until a with an entrypoint is prepared.

  • Assign a driver to a name other than the one assigned by the driver’s author.

The commandline invocation

intake drivers enable some_format_name some_package.and_maybe_a_submodule.YourDriverClass

is equivalent to adding this to your intake configuration file:

  some_format_name: some_package.and_maybe_a_submodule.YourDriverClass

You can also disable a troublesome driver

intake drivers disable some_format_name

which is equivalent to

  your_format_name: false

Deprecated: Package Scan

When Intake is imported, it will search the Python module path (by default includes site-packages and other directories in your $PYTHONPATH) for packages starting with intake\_ and discover DataSource subclasses inside those packages to register. drivers will be registered based on the``name`` attribute of the object. By convention, drivers should have names that are lowercase, valid Python identifiers that do not contain the word intake.

This approach is deprecated because it is limiting (requires the package to begin with “intake_”) and because the package scan can be slow. Using entrypoints is strongly encouraged. The package scan may be disabled by default in some future release of intake. During the transition period, if a package named intake_* provides an entrypoint for a given name, that will take precedence over any drivers gleaned from the package scan having that name. If intake discovers any names from the package scan for which there are no entrypoints, it will issue a FutureWarning.

Python API to Driver Discovery

intake.source.discovery.drivers.register_driver(name, value, clobber=False, do_enable=False)

Add runtime driver definition to list of registered drivers

(drivers in global scope with corresponding intake.open_* function)

name: str

Name of the driver

value: str, entrypoint or class

Pointer to the implementation

clobber: bool

If True, perform the operation even if the driver exists

do_enable: bool

If True, unset the disabled flag for this driver

intake.source.discovery.drivers.enable(name, driver=None)

Explicitly assign a driver to a name, or remove ban

Updates the associated config, which will be persisted


As in 'zarr'


Dotted object name, as in 'intake_xarray.xzarr.ZarrSource'. If None, simply remove driver disable flag, if it is found


Disable a driver by name.

Updates the associated config, which will be persisted


As in 'zarr'

Remote Data

For drivers loading from files, the author should be aware that it is easy to implement loading from files stored in remote services. A simplistic case is demonstrated by the included CSV driver, which simply passes a URL to Dask, which in turn can interpret the URL as a remote data service, and use the storage_options as required (see the Dask documentation on remote data).

More advanced usage, where a Dask loader does not already exist, will likely rely on fsspec.open_files . Use this function to produce lazy OpenFile object for local or remote data, based on a URL, which will have a protocol designation and possibly contain glob “*” characters. Additional parameters may be passed to open_files, which should, by convention, be supplied by a driver argument named storage_options (a dictionary).

To use an OpenFile object, make it concrete by using a context:

# at setup, to discover the number of files/partitions
set_of_open_files = fsspec.open_files(urlpath, mode='rb', **storage_options)

# when actually loading data; here we loop over all files, but maybe we just do one partition
for an_open_file in set_of_open_files:
    # `with` causes the object to become concrete until the end of the block
    with an_open_file as f:
        # do things with f, which is a file-like object;

The textfiles builtin drivers implements this mechanism, as an example.

Structured File Paths

The CSV driver sets up an example of how to gather data which is encoded in file paths like ('data_{site}_.csv') and return that data in the output. Other drivers could also follow the same structure where data is being loaded from a set of filenames. Typically this would apply to data-frame output. This is possible as long as the driver has access to each of the file paths at some point in _get_schema. Once the file paths are known, the driver developer can use the helper functions defined in intake.source.utils to get the values for each field in the pattern for each file in the list. These values should then be added to the data, a process which normally would happen within the _get_schema method.

The PatternMixin defines driver properties such as urlpath, path_as_pattern, and pattern. The implementation might look something like this:

from intake.source.utils import reverse_formats

class FooSource(intake.source.base.DataSource, intake.source.base.PatternMixin):
    def __init__(self, a, b, path_as_pattern, urlpath, metadata=None):
        # Do init here with a and b
        self.path_as_pattern = path_as_pattern
        self.urlpath = urlpath

        super(FooSource, self).__init__(
    def _get_schema(self):
        # read in the data
        values_by_field = reverse_formats(self.pattern, file_paths)
        # add these fields and map values to the data
        return data

Since dask already has a specific method for including the file paths in the output dataframe, in the CSV driver we set include_path_column=True, to get a dataframe where one of the columns contains all the file paths. In this case, add these fields and values to data is a mapping between the categorical file paths column and the values_by_field.

In other drivers where each file is read in independently the driver developer can set the new fields on the data from each file before concattenating. This pattern looks more like:

from intake.source.utils import reverse_format

class FooSource(intake.source.base.DataSource):

    def _get_schema(self):
        # get list of file paths
        for path in file_paths:
            # read in the file
            values_by_field = reverse_format(self.pattern, path)
            # add these fields and values to the data
        # concatenate the datasets
        return data

To toggle on and off this path as pattern behavior, the CSV and intake-xarray drivers uses the bool path_as_pattern keyword argument.