PDEP-6: Ban upcasting in setitem-like operations


The suggestion is that setitem-like operations would not change a Series' dtype (nor that of a DataFrame's column).

Current behaviour:

In [1]: ser = pd.Series([1, 2, 3], dtype='int64')

In [2]: ser[2] = 'potage'

In [3]: ser  # dtype changed to 'object'!
0         1
1         2
2    potage
dtype: object

Suggested behaviour:

In [1]: ser = pd.Series([1, 2, 3])

In [2]: ser[2] = 'potage'  # raises!
ValueError: Invalid value 'potage' for dtype int64

Motivation and Scope

Currently, pandas is extremely flexible in handling different dtypes. However, this can potentially hide bugs, break user expectations, and copy data in what looks like it should be an inplace operation.

An example of it hiding a bug is:

In[9]: ser = pd.Series(pd.date_range("2000", periods=3))

In[10]: ser[2] = "2000-01-04"  # works, is converted to datetime64

In[11]: ser[2] = "2000-01-04x"  # typo - but pandas does not error, it upcasts to object

The scope of this PDEP is limited to setitem-like operations on Series (and DataFrame columns). For example, starting with:

df = DataFrame({"a": [1, 2, np.nan], "b": [4, 5, 6]})
ser = df["a"].copy()

then the following would all raise:

It may be desirable to expand the top list to Series.replace and Series.update, but to keep the scope of the PDEP down, they are excluded for now.

Examples of operations which would not raise are:

Detailed description

Concretely, the suggestion is:

For a start, this would involve:

  1. changing Block.setitem such that it does not have an except block in:

    value = extract_array(value, extract_numpy=True)
        casted = np_can_hold_element(values.dtype, value)
    except LossSetitiemError:
        # current dtype cannot store value, coerce to common dtype
        nb = self.coerce_to_target_dtype(value)
        return nb.setitem(index, value)
  2. making a similar change in:

    • Block.where
    • Block.putmask
    • EABackedBlock.setitem
    • EABackedBlock.where
    • EABackedBlock.putmask

The above would already require several hundreds of tests to be adjusted. Note that once implementation starts, the list of locations to change may turn out to be slightly different.

Ban upcasting altogether, or just upcasting to object?

The trickiest part of this proposal concerns what to do when setting a float in an integer column:

In[1]: ser = pd.Series([1, 2, 3])

In [2]: ser
0    1
1    2
2    3
dtype: int64

In[3]: ser[0] = 1.5  # what should this do?

The current behaviour is to upcast to 'float64':

In [4]: ser
0    1.5
1    2.0
2    3.0
dtype: float64

This is not necessarily a sign of a bug, because the user might just be thinking of their Series as being numeric (without much regard for int vs float) - 'int64' is just what pandas happened to infer when constructing it.

Possible options could be:

  1. Only accept round floats (e.g. 1.0) and raise on anything else (e.g. 1.01).
  2. Convert the float value to int before setting it (i.e. silently round all float values).
  3. Limit "banning upcasting" to when the upcasted dtype is object (i.e. preserve current behavior of upcasting the int64 Series to float64).

Let us compare with what other libraries do:

Option 2 would be a breaking behaviour change in pandas. Further, if the objective of this PDEP is to prevent bugs, then this is also not desirable: someone might set 1.5 and later be surprised to learn that they actually set 1.

There are several downsides to option 3:

Option 1 is the maximally safe one in terms of protecting users from bugs, being consistent with the current behaviour of nullable dtypes, and in being simple to teach. Therefore, the option chosen by this PDEP is option 1.

Usage and Impact

This would make pandas stricter, so there should not be any risk of introducing bugs. If anything, this would help prevent bugs.

Unfortunately, it would also risk annoying users who might have been intentionally upcasting.

Given that users could still get the current behaviour by first explicitly casting the Series to float, it would be more beneficial to the community at large to err on the side of strictness.

Out of scope

Enlargement. For example:

ser = pd.Series([1, 2, 3])
ser[len(ser)] = 4.5

There is arguably a larger conversation to be had about whether that should be allowed at all. To keep this proposal focused, it is intentionally excluded from the scope.


Q: What happens if setting 1.0 in an int8 Series?

A: The current behavior would be to insert 1.0 as 1 and keep the dtype as int8. So, this would not change.

Q: What happens if setting 1_000_000.0 in an int8 Series?

A: The current behavior would be to upcast to int32. So under this PDEP, it would instead raise.

Q: What happens in setting 16.000000000000001 in an int8 Series?

A: As far as Python is concerned, 16.000000000000001 and 16.0 are the same number. So, it would be inserted as 16 and the dtype would not change (just like what happens now, there would be no change here).

Q: What if I want 1.0000000001 to be inserted as 1.0 in an int8 Series?

A: You may want to define your own helper function, such as:

def maybe_convert_to_int(x: int | float, tolerance: float):
    if np.abs(x - round(x)) < tolerance:
        return round(x)
    return x

which you could adapt according to your needs.


Deprecate sometime in the 2.x releases (after 2.0.0 has already been released), and enforce in 3.0.0.

PDEP History