About the Bigslice implementation

In this document, we’ll attempt to describe some of the high-level implementation details of Bigslice. The goal of this is to help the user understand the internals of Bigslice, and to help implementors of new slice operations.

What is a bigslice.Slice?

A bigslice.Slice represents a collection of rows of data. bigslice.Slice values are typed, and contain one or more columns of data. By convention, we write the type schematically using a Java-style generics syntax. For example, the type Slice<string, int> describes a bigslice.Slice with two columns: the first is string-typed; the second is integer-typed.

Bigslice slices are sharded: their underlying dataset is split into a number of underlying partitions. bigslice.Slice is an interface, and the user may implement custom bigslice.Slices.

type Slice interface {

	// Name returns a unique (composite) name for this Slice that also has
	// useful context for diagnostic or status display.
	Name() Name

	// NumShard returns the number of shards in this Slice.
	NumShard() int
	// ShardType returns the sharding type of this Slice.
	ShardType() ShardType

	// NumDep returns the number of dependencies of this Slice.
	NumDep() int
	// Dep returns the i'th dependency for this Slice.
	Dep(i int) Dep

	// Combiner is an optional function that is used to combine multiple
	// values with the same key from the slice's output. No combination
	// is performed if nil.
	Combiner() *reflect.Value

	// Reader returns a Reader for a shard of this Slice. The reader
	// itself computes the shard's values on demand. The caller must
	// provide Readers for all of this shard's dependencies, constructed
	// according to the dependency type (see Dep).
	Reader(shard int, deps []sliceio.Reader) sliceio.Reader

A bigslice.Slice may declare dependencies on other slices. At runtime, these dependencies are materialized by the Bigslice pipeline and provided as input to func Reader.

The kernel of a slice operation is Reader: it is invoked at runtime to produce the actual rows computed by the slice operation. The Bigslice runtime provides materialized readers for each of the slice’s dependencies; the returned reader is the output of the operation.

sliceio.Reader is analagous to io.Reader, but operating on a frame.Frame, which is typed according to the slice. The sliceio.Reader implementation is responsible for filling the provided frame with up to frame.Len() rows of output.

type Reader interface {
	// Read reads a vector of records from the underlying Slice. Each
	// passed-in column should be a value containing a slice of column
	// values. The number of columns should match the number of columns
	// in the slice; their types should match the corresponding column
	// types of the slice. Each column should have the same slice
	// length.
	// Read returns the total number of records read, or an error. When
	// no more records are available, Read returns EOF. Read may return
	// EOF when n > 0. In this case, n records were read, but no more
	// are available.
	// Read should never reuse any allocated memory in the frame;
	// its callers should not mutate the data returned.
	// Read should not be called concurrently.
	Read(ctx context.Context, frame frame.Frame) (int, error)

Frames are pre-allocated and managed by the Bigslice runtime. They are layed out in a columnar fashion, so the underlying data layout can be exploited for locality.


Frames are used within Bigslice to store data and operate on it. Frames represent a rectangular data frame, comprising one or more columns and one or more rows. Frames follow the semantics of Go’s slices. That is, each frame is a descriptor of an underlying set of typed arrays. Each frame stores a pointer to the underlying data, together with its offset, length, and capacity. Thus, frames may be appended, copied, and sub-sliced in the manner of Go slices. (However, the set of columns remain fixed once a Frame has been created.) Frames also store the type of each column so that operations may be type-checked at runtime.

Frames implement a columnar memory layout: that is, each column in a Frame is an independent, contiguous array. An an example, consider a 3-column Frame with types A, B, and C of length 4. This frame has the following memory layout: AAAABBBBCCCC. (a row-based layout would have the layout ABCABCABCABC.)

In addition to managing storage, Frames provide a set of type-driven operations that are required to implement various aspects of Bigslice. For example, operations are required for hashing and sorting data (e.g., for a reduce or group-by operation); Ops also allow users to supply custom encoding and decoding functions (by default, Bigslice will use gob). User-provided operations are provided through frame.RegisterOps.

Frames thus provide a mechanism to efficiently and safely manage and operate on rectangular data. Frames expose operations in a type-oblivious way, so that algorithms can be generalized. For example, the Bigslice combiner implements a hash table on top of frames, without any knowledge of the types of the values it contains.