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Distributed, versioned, n-dimensional array database.

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What is Mandoline?

Mandoline is a Clojure library for reading and writing immutable, versioned datasets that contain multidimensional arrays. The Mandoline library can be extended to use different data store implementations. Currently supported data store implementations are:


If your project uses Leiningen, then it's as simple as sticking the following in your project.clj's :dependencies section:

Clojars Project

Please note that this will only give you the in-memory store. For a persistent store, use one of the options listed above.



This tutorial will walk you through:

For this tutorial, you need to start a Clojure REPL in the io.mandoline/mandoline-core project or in a project that includes io.mandoline/mandoline-core as a dependency.

Start the REPL and require/import the following:

    user=> (require '[io.mandoline :as mandoline])
    user=> (require '[io.mandoline.dataset :as dataset])
    user=> (require '[io.mandoline.slab :as slab])
    user=> (require '[io.mandoline.slice :as slice])
    user=> (require '[io.mandoline.impl :as impl])
    user=> (import '[ucar.ma2 Array])

A Mandoline dataset loosely resembles a NetCDF or Common Data Model dataset. A dataset contains zero or more variables (arrays) that are defined on named dimensions (array axes). Each variable is a (possibly multi-dimensional) array of homogeneous type that is defined on zero or more dimensions. Multiple variables can share dimensions.

To create a Mandoline dataset, you need to provide:

  1. a metadata map that defines the structure of the dataset, and
  2. slabs that contain array values to populate the variables

These ingredients will be described in the next two parts of this tutorial.


As an example, define the following metadata map in the REPL (adapted from a real-world netCDF dataset):

    (def metadata
       {:longitude 144, :latitude 73, :time 62}
        {:longitude 20, :latitude 20, :time 40}
        {:type "float"
         :fill-value Float/NaN
         :shape ["longitude"]}
        {:type "float"
         :fill-value Float/NaN
         :shape ["latitude"]}
        {:type "int"
         :fill-value Integer/MIN_VALUE
         :shape ["time"]}
        {:type "short"
         :fill-value Short/MIN_VALUE
         :shape ["time" "latitude" "longitude"]}}})

This metadata map describes a dataset that has this structure:

You may wonder what is the significance of the :chunk-dimensions entry in the metadata map. It can be regarded as a leaky implementation detail or a hint to the underlying data store for Mandoline. Each variable is partitioned into non-overlapping tiles (“chunks”) whose maximum extent along each dimension is specified by :chunk-dimensions.

You may also wonder what is the significance of the :fill-value entry that is associated with each variable in the metadata map. Mandoline requires a default element value for each variable so that it can optimize storage. This default value is specified by :fill-value and is mandatory.

You can use the function io.mandoline.dataset/validate-dataset-definition to check whether a metadata map is well-formed. This function throws an exception on invalid metadata and otherwise returns nil.

    user=> (dataset/validate-dataset-definition metadata)


Now you have a metadata map that describes the structure of the dataset. You also need data to populate the dataset. The Mandoline library enables you to write data to a contiguous section of a single variable, which is called a “slab”. The namespace io.mandoline.slab defines a Slab record type. A Slab record has two fields

  1. The (possibly multi-dimensional) array data to be written, which must be a ucar.ma2.Array instance. The data type of this array data must match the data type of the destination variable.
  2. The ranges of array indices that specify where in the destination variable the array data is to be written, which must be an instance of the io.mandoline.slice/Slice record type. You can use the convenience function io.mandoline.slice/mk-slice to create a Slice instance. The slice must be compatible with the shape of the destination variable.

As an example, create a 1-dimensional slab with shape [10] that corresponds to the index range from 0 (inclusive) to 10 (exclusive) of a variable:

    user=> (let [array (Array/factory Float/TYPE (int-array [10]))
      #_=>       slice (slice/mk-slice [0] [10])]
      #_=>   (slab/->Slab array slice))
    #io.mandoline.slab.Slab{:data #<D1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 >, :slice #io.mandoline.slice.Slice{:start [0], :stop [10], :step [1]}}

Note that this slab is defined independently of any variable in a Mandoline dataset. It contains array values that can potentially be assigned to a subsection of a variable, but it does not inherently represent an assignment operation. If you were to attempt to write this slab to a specific variable in a dataset (as you will do later in this tutorial), Mandoline would fail the attempted write if any of the following conditions were not satisfied:

To populate a large variable, you will need to perform distributed writes with multiple slabs, where each slab fits in the memory of a single process but the collection of all slabs is prohibitively large. The Slab write interface of Mandoline is designed to support this use case.

To successfully write to a variable, a slab does not need to coincide with the chunks that are defined by :chunk-dimensions in the dataset's metadata map. Mandoline automatically partitions a slab into (possibly partial) chunks for storage.

Mandoline uses the Slab record type for reading data as well as for writing. The function io.mandoline/get-slice (which you will use later in this tutorial) returns a Slab instance.

To continue this tutorial, define the following slabs to write to your sample dataset:

    (def slabs
            (int-array [144])
            (float-array (range 0 360 2.5)))
          (slice/mk-slice [0] [144]))]
            (int-array [73])
            (float-array (range 90 -92.5 -2.5)))
          (slice/mk-slice [0] [73]))]
            (int-array [62])
            (int-array (range 898476 899214 12)))
          (slice/mk-slice [0] [62]))]
            (int-array [62 73 144])
                (* 62 73 144)
                #(short (rand-int Short/MAX_VALUE)))))
          (slice/mk-slice [0 0 0] [62 73 144]))]})

This slabs var is a map whose keys are variable keywords and whose values are data slabs. Because the example dataset is small, you can populate each variable with one slab that covers the entire extent of the variable. However, keep in mind that you are writing a collection of slabs to each variable; it is an arbitrary coincidence that each collection has a size of 1.

Creating a new dataset

Now you have a metadata map that describes the structure of a dataset and data slabs that you can use to populate this dataset. Generate a unique name for the new dataset that you are about to create

    user=> (def dataset-name
      #_=>   (apply str (repeatedly 6 #(rand-nth "ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ"))))

and specify a root table for your dataset

    user=> (def root-table "")

The root table is a prefix for grouping multiple datasets; you don't need to fully understand it for this tutorial.

The root table and the dataset name can be combined into a single Mandoline URI:

    user=> (def uri (format "ddb://%s/%s" root-table dataset-name))
    user=> uri

The schema for this URI is ddb://, which means that you are using the DynamoDB storage backend for Mandoline. Mandoline also has an in-memory storage backend, which uses the URI scheme mem://.

This dataset URI is for the convenience of human readers only. The Mandoline library parses it to an equivalent map that is called a dataset spec:

    user=> (def spec (impl/mk-store-spec uri))
    user=> (pprint spec)
    {:store "ddb",
     :db-version nil,
     :root "",
     :dataset "KNREFI"}

Most of the functions in the io.mandoline namespace operate on a spec map or a map that is derived from a spec.

To create a dataset, call the function io.mandoline/create on the dataset spec:

    user=> (mandoline/create spec)

Calling this function requires AWS credentials to interact with DynamoDB. This function has side effects on the backend store and returns nil. If you watch the DynamoDB Tables in the AWS Console, you can see new tables being created. It is also idempotent. The first time you call it, it may take a while to return, because it has to poll DynamoDB. Subsequent calls ought to return more quickly.

At this point, you have a Mandoline dataset that is empty and that has no version history. To write to this dataset, call the function io.mandoline/dataset-writer on the dataset spec:

    user=> (def writer (mandoline/dataset-writer spec))
    user=> (pprint writer)
     #<CachingChunkStore io.mandoline.impl.cache.CachingChunkStore@235d74ea>,
     {:store "ddb",
      :db-version nil,
      :root "",
      :dataset "KNREFI"},
     #<DynamoDBSchema io.mandoline.impl.dynamodb.DynamoDBSchema@4ca6c0c9>,
     #<DynamoDBConnection io.mandoline.impl.dynamodb.DynamoDBConnection@57baf36f>}

The dataset-writer function returns a “writer” map whose keys are (:dataset-spec :schema :connection :chunk-store). This map contains everything that Mandoline uses to write to a dataset. The :dataset-spec entry is simply the dataset spec that you provided. The other entries are objects that implement Mandoline protocols, which are defined in the namespace io.mandoline.impl.protocol.


You can interact with the Schema instance that corresponds to your new dataset. To list of all datasets that are defined under this schema, call its list-datasets method, which returns a set of dataset names, including the name of the new dataset that you just created:

    user=> (:schema writer)
    #<DynamoDBSchema io.mandoline.impl.dynamodb.DynamoDBSchema@4ca6c0c9>
    user=> (type (.list-datasets (:schema writer)))
    user=> (contains? (.list-datasets (:schema writer)) dataset-name)

You can also interact with the Connection instance that corresponds to your new dataset. To list all versions of this dataset, call its versions method, which returns a seq. (This method takes a second argument; you can safely provide an empty map.) For the dataset that you just created, no versions exist, so the version method returns an empty list.

    user=> (:connection writer)
    #<DynamoDBConnection io.mandoline.impl.dynamodb.DynamoDBConnection@57baf36f>
    user=> (.versions (:connection writer) {})

The get-stats method returns storage statistics for the dataset. As expected, the new dataset uses zero storage:

    user=> (.get-stats (:connection writer))
    {:metadata-size 0, :index-size 0, :data-size 0}

Writing data to a dataset

Now you are ready to write slabs of data to variables in this dataset. Do the following in the REPL:

    (def new-version
      (let [version-writer (mandoline/add-version writer metadata)]
        (doseq [v (keys (:variables metadata))]
          (with-open [w (mandoline/variable-writer version-writer v)]
            (mandoline/write w (v slabs))))
        (mandoline/finish-version version-writer)))

This will take a while to run. There is a lot going on here. Step by step:

  1. In the let binding, the function io.mandoline/add-version is called on two arguments, the dataset writer map (which was returned by io.mandoline/dataset-writer) and the metadata map (which you defined earlier in this tutorial.) The add-version function associates necessary version information to the dataset writer map. Every time you write a new version of a dataset, you need to call the add-version function and use the version-aware dataset writer map that is returned.
  2. The doseq form iterates over variables in the metadata map. Recall that metadata map has variable keywords (:longitude :latitude :time :twc). For each variable keyword, the function io.mandoline/variable-writer is called to create a variable writer for that variable. Each variable writer, along with the data slabs that correspond to the variable, is passed to the function io.mandoline/write, which writes a sequence of slabs to a variable in a dataset. The variable-writer function returns an object that implements, so the with-open macro automatically closes it when finished.
  3. Finally, the function io.mandoline/finish is called on the dataset writer map. This function “commits” a new version of the dataset and returns an identifier (a long) for this new version.

After the writes are finished and the new version is committed, you can use the Connection protocol to check that the version exists.

    user=> (count (.versions (:connection writer) {}))
    user=> (= (str new-version) (:version (first (.versions (:connection writer) {}))))

Reading data from a dataset

Now that you have created a new dataset and populated it with data, you can read it. The function io.mandoline/dataset-reader returns a dataset reader map, which looks similar to the writer map that you were just using.

    user=> (def reader (mandoline/dataset-reader spec))

Try to read the last 10 elements of the :time variable. To do this, you need to construct a Slice instance:

    user=> (def request-slice
      #_=>   (let [upperbound (get-in metadata [:dimensions :time])
      #_=>         lowerbound (- upperbound 10)]
      #_=>     (slice/mk-slice [lowerbound] [upperbound])))
    user=> request-slice
    #io.mandoline.slice.Slice{:start [52], :stop [62], :step [1]}

Using the dataset reader and the request slice, you can do the following to get a corresponding slab of array data from the :time variable of the latest version of the dataset:

    (-> reader
      (mandoline/variable-reader :time)
      (mandoline/get-slice request-slice))

There is a lot going on here. Step by step:

  1. The function io.mandoline/on-last-version uses the Connection protocol to look up the latest version of the dataset and associates this version information with the dataset reader map.
  2. The function io.mandoline/variable-reader constructs a single-variable reader map. In this case, the specified variable is :time.
  3. The function io.mandoline/get-slice takes a variable reader and a slice and returns the corresponding slab of array data from the variable.

Writing data to a new version of a dataset

At this point in the tutorial, you have created a new dataset, populated and committed the first version of this dataset, and read data from the version that you commited. Now you will append another version to the version history of this dataset.

Create a 2-element collection of 1-by-1-by-1 slabs to overwrite opposite corners of the :tcw variable.

    (def overwrite-slabs
            (int-array [1 1 1])
            (short-array (map short [0])))
          (slice/mk-slice [0 0 0] [1 1 1]))
            (int-array [1 1 1])
            (short-array (map short [0])))
          (slice/mk-slice [61 72 143] [62 73 144]))])

You can reuse the dataset writer map that you created earlier, as long as you call the functions on-last-version and add-version on it to update the map:

    (def new-new-version
      (let [version-writer (-> writer
                             (mandoline/add-version metadata))]
        (with-open [w (mandoline/variable-writer version-writer :tcw)]
          (mandoline/write w overwrite-slabs))
        (mandoline/finish-version version-writer)))

After doing this, you can verify that there are now 2 versions:

    user=> (count (.versions (:connection writer) {}))
    user=> (= (str new-new-version) (:version (first (.versions (:connection writer) {}))))

The versions method of the Connection protocol returns versions in reverse-chronological order, so that the newest version is listed first.

Reading data from multiple versions of a dataset

Now you have a dataset with 2 versions in its history. In this section, you will read discrepant data from different versions.

Using the function io.mandoline/on-version, you can specify a specific dataset version by its version identifier. To get array values from a corner from :tcw variable in the first version of the dataset, do

    user=> (-> reader
      #_=>   (mandoline/on-version (str new-version))
      #_=>   (mandoline/variable-reader :tcw)
      #_=>   (mandoline/get-slice (slice/mk-slice [0 0 0] [1 1 1]))
      #_=>   (:data))
    #<D3 27150 >

To get array values from the same corner of the same variable in the second version of the dataset (after it was overwritten with zero), do

    user=> (-> reader
      #_=>   (mandoline/on-version (str new-new-version))
      #_=>   (mandoline/variable-reader :tcw)
      #_=>   (mandoline/get-slice (slice/mk-slice [0 0 0] [1 1 1]))
      #_=>   (:data))
    #<D3 0 >

Deleting a dataset

WARNING: Current implementations of Mandoline provide no safeguards for recovery of deleted data. Be certain that you are deleting the correct dataset when you perform this section of the tutorial.

In the final section of this tutorial, you will delete the dataset that you created. You can call the destroy-dataset method of the Schema instance that corresponds to the dataset.

    user=> (.destroy-dataset (:schema writer) dataset-name)
    user=> (contains? (.list-datasets (:schema writer)) dataset-name)

Subsequent attempts to read from the dataset will trigger an exception:

    user=> (-> reader
      #_=>   (mandoline/on-last-version)
      #_=>   (mandoline/variable-reader :time)
      #_=>   (mandoline/get-slice request-slice))
    ResourceNotFoundException Requested resource not found  com.amazonaws.http.AmazonHttpClient.handleErrorResponse (


Shoutouts to Brian Davis, Alice Liang, Steve Kim, and Sebastian Galkin for being major contributors to this project. More shoutouts to Jeffrey Gerard, Tim Chagnon, Satshabad Khalsa, Daniel Richman, Arthur Silva, and Leon Barrett for contributing to Mandoline.