PDEP-9: Allow third-party projects to register pandas connectors with a standard API

PDEP Summary

This document proposes that third-party projects implementing I/O or memory connectors to pandas can register them using Python's entrypoint system, and make them available to pandas users with the usual pandas I/O interface. For example, packages independent from pandas could implement readers from DuckDB and writers to Delta Lake, and when installed in the user environment the user would be able to use them as if they were implemented in pandas. For example:

import pandas


df = pandas.DataFrame.read_duckdb("SELECT * FROM 'my_dataset.parquet';")


This would allow to easily extend the existing number of connectors, adding support to new formats and database engines, data lake technologies, out-of-core connectors, the new ADBC interface, and others, and at the same time reduce the maintenance cost of the pandas code base.

Current state

pandas supports importing and exporting data from different formats using I/O connectors, currently implemented in pandas/io, as well as connectors to in-memory structures like Python structures or other library formats. In many cases, those connectors wrap an existing Python library, while in some others, pandas implements the logic to read and write to a particular format.

In some cases, different engines exist for the same format. The API to use those connectors is pandas.read_<format>(engine='<engine-name>', ...) to import data, and DataFrame.to_<format>(engine='<engine-name>', ...) to export data.

For objects exported to memory (like a Python dict) the API is the same as for I/O, DataFrame.to_<format>(...). For formats imported from objects in memory, the API is different using the from_ prefix instead of read_, DataFrame.from_<format>(...).

In some cases, the pandas API provides DataFrame.to_* methods that are not used to export the data to a disk or memory object, but instead to transform the index of a DataFrame: DataFrame.to_period and DataFrame.to_timestamp.

Dependencies of the connectors are not loaded by default, and are imported when the connector is used. If the dependencies are not installed an ImportError is raised.

>>> pandas.read_gbq(query)
Traceback (most recent call last):
ImportError: Missing optional dependency 'pandas-gbq'.
pandas-gbq is required to load data from Google BigQuery.
See the docs: https://pandas-gbq.readthedocs.io.
Use pip or conda to install pandas-gbq.

Supported formats

The list of formats can be found in the IO guide. A more detailed table, including in memory objects, and I/O connectors in the DataFrame styler is presented next:

Format Reader Writer Engines
CSV X X c, python, pyarrow
FWF X c, python, pyarrow
JSON X X ujson, pyarrow
HTML X X lxml, bs4/html5lib (parameter flavor)
XML X X lxml, etree (parameter parser)
Clipboard X X
Excel X X xlrd, openpyxl, odf, pyxlsb (each engine supports different file formats)
Feather X X
Parquet X X pyarrow, fastparquet
Stata X X
Pickle X X
SQL X X sqlalchemy, dbapi2 (inferred from the type of the con parameter)
BigQuery X X
dict X X
records X X
string X
markdown X
xarray X

At the time of writing this document, the io/ module contains close to 100,000 lines of Python, C and Cython code.

There is no objective criteria for when a format is included in pandas, and the list above is mostly the result of a developer being interested in implementing the connectors for a certain format in pandas.

The number of existing formats available for data that can be processed with pandas is constantly increasing, and its difficult for pandas to keep up to date even with popular formats. It possibly makes sense to have connectors to PyArrow, PySpark, Iceberg, DuckDB, Hive, Polars, and many others.

At the same time, some of the formats are not frequently used as shown in the 2019 user survey. Those less popular formats include SPSS, SAS, Google BigQuery and Stata. Note that only I/O formats (and not memory formats like records or xarray) were included in the survey.

The maintenance cost of supporting all formats is not only in maintaining the code and reviewing pull requests, but also it has a significant cost in time spent on CI systems installing dependencies, compiling code, running tests, etc.

In some cases, the main maintainers of some of the connectors are not part of the pandas core development team, but people specialized in one of the formats.


While the current pandas approach has worked reasonably well, it is difficult to find a stable solution where the maintenance incurred in pandas is not too big, while at the same time users can interact with all different formats and representations they are interested in, in an easy and intuitive way.

Third-party packages are already able to implement connectors to pandas, but there are some limitations to it:

This document proposes to open the development of pandas I/O connectors to third-party libraries in a standard way that overcomes those limitations.

Proposal implementation

Implementing this proposal would not require major changes to pandas, and the API defined next would be used.

User API

Users will be able to install third-party packages implementing pandas connectors using the standard packaging tools (pip, conda, etc.). These connectors should implement entrypoints that pandas will use to automatically create the corresponding methods pandas.read_*, pandas.DataFrame.to_* and pandas.Series.to_*. Arbitrary function or method names will not be created by this interface, only the read_* and to_* pattern will be allowed.

By simply installing the appropriate packages and calling the function pandas.load_io_plugins() users will be able to use code like this:

import pandas


df = pandas.read_duckdb("SELECT * FROM 'dataset.parquet';")

df.to_hive(hive_conn, "hive_table")

This API allows for method chaining:

(pandas.read_duckdb("SELECT * FROM 'dataset.parquet';")
       .to_hive(hive_conn, "hive_table"))

The total number of I/O functions and methods is expected to be small, as users in general use only a small subset of formats. The number could actually be reduced from the current state if the less popular formats (such as SAS, SPSS, BigQuery, etc.) are removed from the pandas core into third-party packages. Moving these connectors is not part of this proposal, and could be discussed later in a separate proposal.

Plugin registration

Third-party packages would implement entrypoints to define the connectors that they implement, under a group dataframe.io.

For example, a hypothetical project pandas_duckdb implementing a read_duckdb function, could use pyproject.toml to define the next entry point:

reader_duckdb = "pandas_duckdb:read_duckdb"

When the user calls pandas.load_io_plugins(), it would read the entrypoint registry for the dataframe.io group, and would dynamically create methods in the pandas, pandas.DataFrame and pandas.Series namespaces for them. Only entrypoints with name starting by reader_ or writer_ would be processed by pandas, and the functions registered in the entrypoint would be made available to pandas users in the corresponding pandas namespaces. The text after the keywords reader_ and writer_ would be used for the name of the function. In the example above, the entrypoint name reader_duckdb would create pandas.read_duckdb. An entrypoint with name writer_hive would create the methods DataFrame.to_hive and Series.to_hive.

Entrypoints not starting with reader_ or writer_ would be ignored by this interface, but will not raise an exception since they can be used for future extensions of this API, or other related dataframe I/O interfaces.

Internal API

Connectors will use the dataframe interchange API to provide data to pandas. When data is read from a connector, and before returning it to the user as a response to pandas.read_<format>, data will be parsed from the data interchange interface and converted to a pandas DataFrame. In practice, connectors are likely to return a pandas DataFrame or a PyArrow Table, but the interface will support any object implementing the dataframe interchange API.

Connector guidelines

In order to provide a better and more consistent experience to users, guidelines will be created to unify terminology and behavior. Some of the topics to unify are defined next.

Guidelines to avoid name conflicts. Since it is expected that more than one implementation exists for certain formats, as it already happens, guidelines on how to name connectors would be created. The easiest approach is probably to use as the format a string of the type to_<format>_<implementation-id> if it is expected that more than one connector can exist. For example, for LanceDB it is likely that only one connector exist, and the name lance can be used (which would create pandas.read_lance or DataFrame.to_lance. But if a new csv reader based in the Arrow2 Rust implementation, the guidelines can recommend to use csv_arrow2 to create pandas.read_csv_arrow2, etc.

Existence and naming of parameters, since many connectors are likely to provide similar features, like loading only a subset of columns in the data, or dealing with paths. Examples of recommendations to connector developers could be:

Note that the above are only examples of guidelines for illustration, and not a proposal of the guidelines, which would be developed independently after this PDEP is approved.

Connector registry and documentation. To simplify the discovery of connectors and its documentation, connector developers can be encourage to register their projects in a central location, and to use a standard structure for documentation. This would allow the creation of a unified website to find the available connectors, and their documentation. It would also allow to customize the documentation for specific implementations, and include their final API.

Connector examples

This section lists specific examples of connectors that could immediately benefit from this proposal.

PyArrow currently provides Table.from_pandas and Table.to_pandas. With the new interface, it could also register DataFrame.from_pyarrow and DataFrame.to_pyarrow, so pandas users can use the converters with the interface they are used to, when PyArrow is installed in the environment. Better integration with PyArrow tables was discussed in #51760.

Current API:

                               .query('my_col > 0'))

Proposed API:

       .query('my_col > 0')

Polars, Vaex and other dataframe frameworks could benefit from third-party projects that make the interoperability with pandas use a more explicitly API. Integration with Polars was requested in #47368.

Current API:

                   .query('my_col > 0'))

Proposed API:

       .query('my_col > 0')

DuckDB provides an out-of-core engine able to push predicates before the data is loaded, making much better use of memory and significantly decreasing loading time. pandas, because of its eager nature is not able to easily implement this itself, but could benefit from a DuckDB loader. The loader can already be implemented inside pandas (it has already been proposed in #45678, or as a third-party extension with an arbitrary API. But this proposal would let the creation of a third-party extension with a standard and intuitive API:

pandas.read_duckdb("SELECT *
                    FROM 'dataset.parquet'
                    WHERE my_col > 0")

Out-of-core algorithms push some operations like filtering or grouping to the loading of the data. While this is not currently possible, connectors implementing out-of-core algorithms could be developed using this interface.

Big data systems such as Hive, Iceberg, Presto, etc. could benefit from a standard way to load data to pandas. Also regular SQL databases that can return their query results as Arrow, would benefit from better and faster connectors than the existing ones based on SQL Alchemy and Python structures.

Any other format, including domain-specific formats could easily implement pandas connectors with a clear and intuitive API.


The implementation of this proposal has some limitations discussed here:

Future plans

This PDEP is exclusively to support a better API for existing of future connectors. It is out of scope for this PDEP to implement changes to any connectors existing in the pandas code base.

Some ideas for future discussion related to this PDEP include:

PDEP-9 History