Getting started

Install datatable

Let’s begin by installing the latest stable version of datatable from PyPI:

$ pip install datatable

If this didn’t work for you, or if you want to install the bleeding edge version of the library, please check the Installation page.

Assuming the installation was successful, you can now import the library in a JupyterLab notebook or in a Python console:

import datatable as dt print(dt.__version__)

Loading data

The fundamental unit of analysis in datatable is a data Frame. It is the same notion as a pandas DataFrame or SQL table: data arranged in a two-dimensional array with rows and columns.

You can create a Frame object from a variety of data sources: from a python list or dictionary, from a numpy array, or from a pandas DataFrame:

DT1 = dt.Frame(A=range(5), B=[1.7, 3.4, 0, None, -math.inf], stypes={"A": dt.int64}) DT2 = dt.Frame(pandas_dataframe) DT3 = dt.Frame(numpy_array)

You can also load a CSV/text/Excel file, or open a previously saved binary .jay file:

DT4 = dt.fread("~/Downloads/dataset_01.csv") DT5 ="data.jay")

The fread() function shown above is both powerful and extremely fast. It can automatically detect parse parameters for the majority of text files, load data from .zip archives or URLs, read Excel files, and much more.

Data manipulation

Once the data is loaded into a Frame, you may want to do certain operations with it: extract/remove/modify subsets of the data, perform calculations, reshape, group, join with other datasets, etc. In datatable, the primary vehicle for all these operations is the square-bracket notation inspired by traditional matrix indexing but overcharged with power (this notation was pioneered in R data.table and is the main axis of intersection between these two libraries).

In short, almost all operations with a Frame can be expressed as

DT[i, j, ...]

where i is the row selector, j is the column selector, and ... indicates that additional modifiers might be added. If this looks familiar to you, that’s because it is. Exactly the same DT[i, j] notation is used in mathematics when indexing matrices, in C/C++, in R, in pandas, in numpy, etc. The only difference that datatable introduces is that it allows i to be anything that can conceivably be interpreted as a row selector: an integer to select just one row, a slice, a range, a list of integers, a list of slices, an expression, a boolean-valued Frame, an integer-valued Frame, an integer numpy array, a generator, and so on.

The j column selector is even more versatile. In the simplest case, you can select just a single column by its index or name. But also accepted are a list of columns, a slice, a string slice (of the form "A":"Z"), a list of booleans indicating which columns to pick, an expression, a list of expressions, and a dictionary of expressions. (The keys will be used as new names for the columns being selected.) The j expression can even be a python type (such as int or dt.float32), selecting all columns matching that type.

In addition to the selector expression shown above, we support the update and delete statements too:

DT[i, j] = r del DT[i, j]

The first expression will replace values in the subset [i, j] of Frame DT with the values from r, which could be either a constant, or a suitably-sized Frame, or an expression that operates on frame DT.

The second expression deletes values in the subset [i, j]. This is interpreted as follows: if i selects all rows, then the columns given by j are removed from the Frame; if j selects all columns, then the rows given by i are removed; if neither i nor j span all rows/columns of the Frame, then the elements in the subset [i, j] are replaced with NAs.

What the f.?

You may have noticed already that we mentioned several times the possibility of using expressions in i or j and in other places. In the simplest form an expression looks like:


which indicates a column ColA in some Frame. Here f is a variable that has to be imported from the datatable module. This variable provides a convenient way to reference any column in a Frame. In addition to the notation above, the following is also supported:

f[3] f["ColB"]

denoting the fourth column and the column ColB respectively.

These f-expression support arithmetic operations as well as various mathematical and aggregate functions. For example, in order to select the values from column A normalized to range [0; 1] we can write the following:

from datatable import f, min, max DT[:, (f.A - min(f.A))/(max(f.A) - min(f.A))]

This is equivalent to the following SQL query:

SELECT (f.A - MIN(f.A))/(MAX(f.A) - MIN(f.A)) FROM DT AS f

So, what exactly is f? We call it a “frame proxy”, as it becomes a simple way to refer to the Frame that we currently operate on. More precisely, whenever DT[i, j] is evaluated and we encounter an f-expression there, that f becomes replaced with the frame DT, and the columns are looked up on that Frame. The same expression can later on be applied to a different Frame, and it will refer to the columns in that other Frame.

At some point you may notice that that datatable also exports symbol g. This g is also a frame proxy; however it already refers to the second frame in the evaluated expression. This second frame appears when you are joining two or more frames together (more on that later). When that happens, symbol g is used to refer to the columns of the joined frame.


In the Data Manipulation section we mentioned that the DT[i, j, ...] selector can take zero or more modifiers, which we denoted as “...”. The available modifiers are by(), join() and sort(). Thus, the full form of the square-bracket selector is:

DT[i, j, by(), sort(), join()]


This modifier splits the frame into groups by the provided column(s), and then applies i and j within each group. This mostly affects aggregator functions such as sum(), min() or sd(), but may also apply in other circumstances. For example, if i is a slice that takes the first 5 rows of a frame, then in the presence of the by() modifier it will take the first 5 rows of each group.

For example, in order to find the total amount of each product sold, write:

from datatable import f, by, sum DT = dt.fread("transactions.csv") DT[:, sum(f.quantity), by(f.product_id)]


This modifier controls the order of the rows in the result, much like SQL clause ORDER BY. If used in conjunction with by(), it will order the rows within each group.


As the name suggests, this operator allows you to join another frame to the current, equivalent to the SQL JOIN operator. Currently we support only left outer joins.

In order to join frame X, it must be keyed. A keyed frame is conceptually similar to a SQL table with a unique primary key. This key may be either a single column, or several columns:

X.key = "id"

Once a frame is keyed, it can be joined to another frame DT, provided that DT has the column(s) with the same name(s) as the key in X:

DT[:, :, join(X)]

This has the semantics of a natural left outer join. The X frame can be considered as a dictionary, where the key column contains the keys, and all other columns are the corresponding values. Then during the join each row of DT will be matched against the row of X with the same value of the key column, and if there are no such value in X, with an all-NA row.

The columns of the joined frame can be used in expressions using the g. prefix, for example:

DT[:, sum(f.quantity * g.price), join(products)]


In the future, we will expand the syntax of the join operator to allow other kinds of joins and also to remove the limitation that only keyed frames can be joined.

Offloading data

Just as our work has started with loading some data into datatable, eventually you will want to do the opposite: store or move the data somewhere else. We support multiple mechanisms for this.

First, the data can be converted into a pandas DataFrame or into a numpy array. (Obviously, you have to have pandas or numpy libraries installed.):

DT.to_pandas() DT.to_numpy()

A frame can also be converted into python native data structures: a dictionary, keyed by the column names; a list of columns, where each column is itself a list of values; or a list of rows, where each row is a tuple of values:

DT.to_dict() DT.to_list() DT.to_tuples()

You can also save a frame into a CSV file, or into a binary .jay file:

DT.to_csv("out.csv") DT.to_jay("data.jay")