The importance of static type checking in a dynamically typed language like Python is not up for debate. Type hints allow developers to leverage a strong typing system to:

  • write better code,
  • self-document ambiguous programming logic, and
  • inform intelligent code completion in IDEs like PyCharm.

This is why we’re excited to announce upcoming improvements to the typehints module of Beam’s Python SDK, including support for typed PCollections and Python 3 style annotations on PTransforms.

Improved Annotations

Today, you have the option to declare type hints on PTransforms using either class decorators or inline functions.

For instance, a PTransform with decorated type hints might look like this:

@beam.typehints.with_input_types(int)
@beam.typehints.with_output_types(str)
class IntToStr(beam.PTransform):
    def expand(self, pcoll):
        return pcoll | beam.Map(lambda num: str(num))

strings = numbers | beam.ParDo(IntToStr())

Using inline functions instead, the same transform would look like this:

class IntToStr(beam.PTransform):
    def expand(self, pcoll):
        return pcoll | beam.Map(lambda num: str(num))

strings = numbers | beam.ParDo(IntToStr()).with_input_types(int).with_output_types(str)

Both methods have problems. Class decorators are syntax-heavy, requiring two additional lines of code, whereas inline functions provide type hints that aren’t reusable across other instances of the same transform. Additionally, both methods are incompatible with static type checkers like MyPy.

With Python 3 annotations however, we can subvert these problems to provide a clean and reusable type hint experience. Our previous transform now looks like this:

class IntToStr(beam.PTransform):
    def expand(self, pcoll: PCollection[int]) -> PCollection[str]:
        return pcoll | beam.Map(lambda num: str(num))

strings = numbers | beam.ParDo(IntToStr())

These type hints will actively hook into the internal Beam typing system to play a role in pipeline type checking, and runtime type checking.

So how does this work?

Typed PCollections

You guessed it! The PCollection class inherits from typing.Generic, allowing it to be parameterized with either zero types (denoted PCollection) or one type (denoted PCollection[T]).

  • A PCollection with zero types is implicitly converted to PCollection[Any].
  • A PCollection with one type can have any nested type (e.g. Union[int, str]).

Internally, Beam’s typing system makes these annotations compatible with other type hints by removing the outer PCollection container.

PBegin, PDone, None

Finally, besides PCollection, a valid annotation on the expand(...) method of a PTransform is PBegin or None. These are generally used for PTransforms that begin or end with an I/O operation.

For instance, when saving data, your transform’s output type should be None.

class SaveResults(beam.PTransform):
    def expand(self, pcoll: PCollection[str]) -> None:
        return pcoll | beam.io.WriteToBigQuery(...)

Next Steps

What are you waiting for.. start using annotations on your transforms!

For more background on type hints in Python, see: Ensuring Python Type Safety.

Finally, please let us know if you encounter any issues.