# Impl Index for polars' Series

An experimental attempt

Jacob Xie published on
11 min, 2077 words

Categories: Post

Tags: Rust

## Intro

Today I would like to talk about a small problem I met in my project, and the inspired thoughts through the whole working process. While trying to select data from Series or DataFrame, the intuitive thought is how to make Rust DataFrame's selection similar to Python's DataFrame? For example, we have iat, at, iloc and loc methods in pandas' DataFrame, which represents accessing integer location scalar, accessing a single value for a row/column label pair, accessing a group of rows and columns by integer position(s), and accessing a group of rows and columns by label(s) respectfully.

The first idea came to me is that implementing Index trait for polars series can approach the same effect as pandas DataFrame does. As a syntactic sugar of foo.index(index), Index provide us a simple way to get an indexed of value from a variable.

pub trait Index<Idx: ?Sized> {
type Output: ?Sized;

fn index(&self, index: Idx) -> &Self::Output;
}


In accordance with the Index trait, we know the associate type Output is UnSized and the return value of index is a reference of Output. However, assuming different types of data are stored in a DataFrame, no wonder that in Python we don't care about the return type, but as known in Rust that returning different types from a function is impossible. Moreover, as polars used Apache Arrow as its memory model, a series in polars actually represents a arrow's array who carries a set of specific type data. Although polars provides us get method that returns an enum AnyValue type, what if more custom types are required, such as Uuid.

Instead, we could probably use either static dispatching (impl trait) or dynamic dispatching (dyn trait) as a workaround (or even worse, by using an Enum to wrap all types of data just like polars itself does). So the first problem is how do we design our own return type.

The second problem is quite annoying: there is no way to return a reference of Output, since neither calling get method on a series nor calling conversion methods such as bool can give us a reference of value(s). Instead, these methods create new values which only allows us to move their ownership. In other words, the lifetime of &Self::Output should live as longer as &self, but these values returned by polar's methods have shorter lifetime then &self.

## Custom Return Type

Designing a custom return type for Output is the first thing we should concern. As mentioned above, we need a trait who represents the interface of our own type, and then implement this trait for all primitive types and custom type, so that finally we could treat Output as a trait object.

trait MyValueTrait: Debug {
fn dtype(&self) -> &'static str;
}

impl MyValueTrait for bool {
fn dtype(&self) -> &'static str {
"bool"
}
}

impl MyValueTrait for i64 {
fn dtype(&self) -> &'static str {
"i64"
}
}

#[derive(Debug)]
struct Null;

impl MyValueTrait for Null {
fn dtype(&self) -> &'static str {
"null"
}
}


Apparently, in this case, impl Trait (static dispatch) is not Sized, for instance we have struct MyGenericValue<T: MyValueTrait>(T), and MyGenericValue(true)'s size is not equal to MyGenericValue(1i64) (try this assert_ne!(std::mem::size_of_val(&v1), std::mem::size_of_val(&v2))). Hence, dyn Trait is the only thing left for us.

The next step is to choose &dyn Trait or Box<dyn Trait>, since we cannot use a bare dyn Trait. The former one means a reference, but when implementing Index, there is no way to hold the original variable which is also UnSized. For instance, though &true as &dyn MyValueTrait and &1i64 as &dyn MyValueTrait have the same size, true and 1i64 are not the same. As a result, I choose to use a newtype of Box<dyn MyValueTrait>:

#[derive(Debug)]
struct MyValue(Box<dyn MyValueTrait>);

impl AsRef<MyValue> for Box<dyn MyValueTrait> {
fn as_ref(&self) -> &MyValue {
unsafe { std::mem::transmute(self) }
}
}

#[test]
fn my_value_as_ref() {
let dv = Box::new(false) as Box<dyn MyValueTrait>;

let dvr: &MyValue = dv.as_ref();

println!("{:?}", dvr);
}


Do not afraid of the unsafe code, I would replace them all later on. In compliance with 'Reinterprets the bits of a value of one type as another type' from the standard library, std::mem::transmute copies the bits from one source value into anther, and while newtype itself has the same size as the wrapped value, a Box<dyn MyValueTrait> can be regarded as a MyValue. This trick is applicable when &T wants to be presented as a &U, whom will be used later in the index function. The reason why I use a newtype instead of Box<dyn MyValueTrait> directly is the capacity of implementing traits (due to the orphan rule):

impl From<bool> for MyValue {
fn from(v: bool) -> Self {
Self(Box::new(v))
}
}

impl From<i64> for MyValue {
fn from(v: i64) -> Self {
Self(Box::new(v))
}
}

impl From<Null> for MyValue {
fn from(v: Null) -> Self {
Self(Box::new(v))
}
}


That's it. The first part of the design is pretty simple, and the only problem remained is the unsafe code which will be solved in the last section.

## Impl Index

Before moving forward, we need a small review of polars crate. There are mainly two methods to get a value from a series: call .get(index) method directly on a Series, and from its signature we know the return type is AnyValue, whose variants represents different types of data; the second method is unpacking series to ChunkedArray<T> by calling .bool(), .i32() and etc., and by calling .get(index) get T value. The former method has a runtime cast (T -> AnyValue), and the latter method has better performance. According to polars::chunked_array::ChunkedArray:

Every Series contains a ChunkedArray<T>. Unlike Series, ChunkedArray’s are typed. This allows us to apply closures to the data and collect the results to a ChunkedArray of the same type T.

...

Conversion from a Series to a ChunkedArray is effortless.

One thing is very important but not really a relevant concept to our topic is ChunkedArray's memory layout:

ChunkedArray’s use Apache Arrow as backend for the memory layout. Arrows memory is immutable which makes it possible to make multiple zero copy (sub)-views from a single array.

It gives us a better conceptual view of a Series. Now, back to our design. From the two .get(index) methods introduced above, we found that neither getting value from a Series directly nor getting value from a ChunkedArray would return a referenced value. In other words, we have to cache this value in somewhere first, which grants this value a longer lifetime of existence, or else it will be dropped after the index function's scope. Therefore, we need a struct who has at least two fields in which the data refers to the original series and the cached state, who holds the temporary value returned by the get method, lives as long as the struct itself.

struct MySeriesIndexing<'a> {
data: &'a Series,
cache: Box<dyn MyValueTrait>,
}

impl<'a> MySeriesIndexing<'a> {
fn new(series: &'a Series) -> Self {
Self {
data: series,
cache: Box::new(Null),
}
}
}


Next is the vital part of our design: implementing Index trait for our MySeriesIndexing. First and foremost turning a Series to a ChunkedArray is effortless, thus we can use pattern matching to classify a Series' type, and based on data's type call the conversion function, for example, on DataType::Boolean branch, we could use .bool() method for conversion. After that, we need to store the temporary value from the ChunkedArray. However, due to index function's immutable reference, we cannot mutate the self state without using unsafe code. Accordingly, we can turn &self.cache into an immutable raw pointer, and then turn it to a mutable raw pointer, and finally use unsafe block to assign the temporary value to this mutable raw pointer. Finally, call .as_ref() to turn &Box<dyn MyValueTrait> into &MyValue.

impl<'a> Index<usize> for MySeriesIndexing<'a> {
type Output = MyValue;

fn index(&self, index: usize) -> &Self::Output {
match self.data.dtype() {
DataType::Boolean => {
// unpack series to ChunkedArray
let res: Box<dyn MyValueTrait> = match self.data.bool().unwrap().get(index) {
Some(v) => Box::new(v),
None => Box::new(Null),
};

// turn cache into an immutable raw pointer
let r = &self.cache as *const Box<dyn MyValueTrait>;
// turn immutable raw pointer into a mutable pointer
let m = r as *mut Box<dyn MyValueTrait>;
// assign result to mutable pointer
unsafe { *m = res };

self.cache.as_ref()
}
DataType::UInt8 => todo!(),
DataType::UInt16 => todo!(),
DataType::UInt32 => todo!(),
DataType::UInt64 => todo!(),
DataType::Int8 => todo!(),
DataType::Int16 => todo!(),
DataType::Int32 => todo!(),
DataType::Int64 => {
// directly call .get method, which has a runtime casting (less efficiency)
// since we already use pattern matching on self.data.dtype(), this case
// is only for demonstrating
let res: Box<dyn MyValueTrait> = match self.data.get(index) {
AnyValue::Int64(v) => Box::new(v),
_ => Box::new(Null),
};

let r = &self.cache as *const Box<dyn MyValueTrait>;
let m = r as *mut Box<dyn MyValueTrait>;
unsafe { *m = res };

self.cache.as_ref()
}
DataType::Float32 => todo!(),
DataType::Float64 => todo!(),
DataType::Utf8 => todo!(),
_ => unimplemented!(),
}
}
}


And here comes the finally unit test:

#[test]
fn my_series_index_success() {
let s = Series::new("funk", [true, false, true, true]);

let s = MySeriesIndexing::new(&s);

println!("{:?}", &s[1]);
println!("{:?}", &s[3]);
}


which prints out:

MyValue(false)
MyValue(true)


## Safe Code

In spite of archiving our goal, the unsafe code is ineluctable. In order to discard all the unsafe code, a little refactor is needed. The first part to deal with is the conversion of &T to &U, which in our case converting &Box<dyn MyValueTrait> to &MyValue. Fortunately, I found a crate called ref_cast who can safely convert &T to &U, conditionally.

This crate provides a derive macro for generating safe conversions from &T to &U where the struct U contains a single field of type T.

By its basic example:

use ref_cast::RefCast;

#[derive(RefCast)]
#[repr(transparent)]
struct U(String);

fn main() {
let s = String::new();

// Safely cast from &String to &U.
let u = U::ref_cast(&s);
}


However, we can't just simply refactor our code as MyValue(Box<dyn MyValueTrait>). Remember that the second place we wrote an unsafe code is in the index function, in which we tried to turn &self.cache into a mutable raw pointer and then dereference it in an unsafe block. As a matter of fact, a safer way to avoid raw pointers and its dereference is to wrap our value by RefCell. Eventually, MyValue looks like this:

#[derive(RefCast)]
#[repr(transparent)]
struct MyValue(RefCell<Box<dyn MyValueTrait>>);

impl MyValue {
fn dtype(&self) -> &'static str {
self.0.borrow().dtype()
}
}


Also its unit test:

#[test]
fn my_value_ref_cast() {
let v = RefCell::new(Box::new(true) as Box<dyn MyValueTrait>);

let res = MyValue::ref_cast(&v);

assert_eq!(res.dtype(), "bool");
}


And update MySeriesIndexing:

struct MySeriesIndexing {
data: Series,
cache: RefCell<Box<dyn MyValueTrait>>,
}

impl MySeriesIndexing {
fn new(series: Series) -> Self {
Self {
data: series,
cache: RefCell::new(Box::new(Null)),
}
}
}

impl Index<usize> for MySeriesIndexing {
type Output = MyValue;

fn index(&self, index: usize) -> &Self::Output {
match self.data.dtype() {
DataType::Boolean => {
let res: Box<dyn MyValueTrait> = match self.data.bool().unwrap().get(index) {
Some(v) => Box::new(v),
None => Box::new(Null),
};

self.cache.replace(res);

MyValue::ref_cast(&self.cache)
}
DataType::UInt8 => todo!(),
DataType::UInt16 => todo!(),
DataType::UInt32 => todo!(),
DataType::UInt64 => todo!(),
DataType::Int8 => todo!(),
DataType::Int16 => todo!(),
DataType::Int32 => todo!(),
DataType::Int64 => todo!(),
DataType::Float32 => todo!(),
DataType::Float64 => todo!(),
DataType::Utf8 => {
let res: Box<dyn MyValueTrait> = match self.data.utf8().unwrap().get(index) {
Some(v) => Box::new(v.to_string()),
None => Box::new(Null),
};

self.cache.replace(res);

MyValue::ref_cast(&self.cache)
}
_ => {
self.cache.replace(Box::new(Null));
MyValue::ref_cast(&self.cache)
}
}
}
}


Notice that I also did some extra work such as impl Debug and PartialEq for MyValue, they are genuinely useful for our unit test. Please follow the link to see more detailed implementation if you are interested.

#[test]
fn my_series_index_success() {
let s = Series::new("funk", [true, false, true, true]);

let s = MySeriesIndexing::new(s);

assert_eq!(&s[1], &MyValue::new(false));
assert_eq!(&s[3], &MyValue::new(true));
}


The full code is in my Github page index.rs. And that's all for today, until next time! 👋