Friday, June 14, 2013

Simulating Map-Reduce in R for Big Data Analysis Using Flights Data

We are constantly crunching through large amounts of data and designing unique and innovative ways to process large datasets on a single node and use distributed computing only when single node computing becomes time consuming and less efficient.  

We are happy to share with the R community one such unique map-reduce like approach we designed in R for a single node to process flights data (available here) which has  ~122 million records and occupies 12GB of space when uncompressed.  We used Mathew Dowle's data.table package heavily to load and analyze large datasets.

It took us few days to stabilize and optimize this approach and we are very proud to share this approach and source code with you.  The full source code can be found and downloaded from's git repository.

Here is how we approached this problem:  First, before loading the datasets in R, we compressed each of the 22 CSV files using gunzip for faster reading in R.  The method read.csv can read gzip files faster than it can read uncompressed files:

# load list of all files
 flights.files <- list.files(path=flights.folder.path, pattern="*.csv.gz")

# read files in data.table
 flights <- data.table(read.csv(flights.files[i], stringsAsFactors=F))

Next, we mapped the analysis we wanted to run to extract insights from each of the datasets.  This approach included extracting flight level, airlines level and airport level aggregated analysis and generating intermediate results.  Here is example code to get stats for each airline by year:

getFlightsStatusByAirlines <- function(flights, yr){   
  # by Year
  if(verbose) cat("Getting stats for airlines:", '\n')
  airlines.stats <- flights[, list(
                                   flights_cancelled=sum(cancelled, na.rm=T),
                                   flights_diverted=sum(diverted, na.rm=T),
                                   flights_departed_late=length(which(depdelay > 0)),
                                   flights_arrived_late=length(which(arrdelay > 0)),
                                   total_dep_delay_in_mins=sum(depdelay[which(depdelay > 0)]),
                                   avg_dep_delay_in_mins=round(mean(depdelay[which(depdelay > 0)])),
                                   median_dep_delay_in_mins=round(median(depdelay[which(depdelay > 0)])),                 
                                   miles_traveled=sum(distance, na.rm=T)
                                 ), by=uniquecarrier][, year:=yr]
  #change col order
  setcolorder(airlines.stats, c("year", colnames(airlines.stats)[-ncol(airlines.stats)]))
  #save this data
  saveData(airlines.stats, paste(flights.folder.path, "stats/5/airlines_stats_", yr, ".csv", sep=""))
  #clear up space
 # continue.. see git full code

Here is a copy of the map function:

#map all calculations 
mapFlightStats <- function(){
  for(j in 1:period) {
      yr <- as.integer(gsub("[^0-9]", "", gsub("(.*)(\\.csv)", "\\1", flights.files[j]))) <- paste(flights.folder.path, flights.files[j], sep="")
      if(verbose) cat(yr, ": Reading : ",, "\n")
      flights <- data.table(read.csv(, stringsAsFactors=F))
      setkeyv(flights, c("year", "uniquecarrier", "dest", "origin", "month")) 
     # call functions
      getFlightStatsForYear(flights, yr)
      getFlightsStatusByAirlines(flights, yr)
      getFlightsStatsByAirport(flights, yr)

As one can see, we are generating intermediate results by airlines (and by airports /  flights) for each year and storing it on the disk.  The map function takes less than 2 hours to run on a MacBook Pro which had 2.3 GHZ dual core processor and 8 GB of memory and generated 132 intermediate datasets containing aggregated analysis. 

And finally, we call the reduce function to aggregate intermediate datasets into final output (for flights, airlines and airports):

#reduce all results
reduceFlightStats <- function(){
  n <- 1:6
  folder.path <- paste("./raw-data/flights/stats/", n, "/", sep="")
  for(i in n){
    filenames <- paste(folder.path[i], list.files(path=folder.path[i], pattern="*.csv"), sep="") 
    dt <-"rbind", lapply(filenames, read.csv, stringsAsFactors=F))
    saveData(dt, paste("./raw-data/flights/stats/", i, ".csv", sep=""))


  1. You could look into using data.table::fread instead of read.csv. Discussion here

  2. Also in the aggregation function, I believe [, year:=yr] should be replaced with setcolnames(airlines.stats, yr, year)
    See data.table documentation for other speed-optimized methods.

  3. Replies
    1. saveData is a simple CSV writer function which takes data.table as one of the arguments...

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