Aug 15, 2023

Leverage Arrow and Ibis to Streamline Database Connectivity

Kae Suarez and Phillip Cloud

Escalator going down with silhouette of people in the background

There are many powerful database and query systems with a variety of strengths, which are often complementary. However, marrying the outputs, or even just transmitting data between two databases can be burdensome or slow.

Often, the best answer is just to write to a file that the other database can read, and pass it over. At that point, however, you’ve gone out to the filesystem, and are at the mercy of differing types and file parsers. This puts you in a position to balance cost and the strength of your database — like moving data from an OLTP system to OLAP for analysis. You may well end up with extra costs that discourage you from moving forward.

There is a way, however, to augment your data system by using open source components and minimizing costs.

Ibis provides a consistent interface to 18+ backends, and Arrow provides a standard columnar memory format that can make the transfer of data trivial. If these advantages are combined, the challenge of integrating two systems is solved. With a new, experimental technique that leverages Arrow support in Ibis and a given Arrow-supporting database, it’s possible to handle integration in just a couple lines of code and take ownership of your systems.

How Does it Work?

As much as it feels like magic, this process is the outcome of years of software engineering that come together to showcase the power of strong open source standards.

  • Arrow is the key — as a well-defined memory format, anything that supports it will be able to transfer data anywhere else that can take it.
  • Ibis can turn output from any query from any backend into Arrow data, and thus pass it into anything that accepts Arrow data.
  • This, of course, includes any backend that supports Arrow, including DuckDB and DataFusion.

Diagram of Database Connectivity using Ibis

In this post, we’ll explore using Postgres and transfer data from it to DuckDB via Arrow.

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TL;DR This is experimental. It can work with any backend that accepts Arrow in DuckDB’s place, but watch out for — and report — any bugs!

Code Example


For ease of deployment, we’ll use the CI setup for Ibis, which you can set up with the instructions for Ibis contribution. However, if you have your own database and data, you can skip this and try it yourself. Here, we leverage the CI setup to have quick and easy access to a Postgres database, along with the data used for testing in Ibis.

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Note that the exact code to follow will use DuckDB — to use something like DataFusion’s support of Arrow stream input, use con.register() instead of con.read_in_memory().


First, imports! Ibis has a special import that gets you set up for an interactive session right away, so we’ll use that for simplicity:

from ibis.interactive import *

Next, let’s connect the Postgres server included with the Ibis CI, and get our target table:

pgcon = ibis.connect("postgres://postgres:postgres@localhost:5432/ibis_testing")
awards_players = pgcon.table("awards_players")

For the sake of example, let’s say that our Postgres database just doesn’t have some essential data that we have on disk or an existing DuckDB database. We don’t need to add a new table to the Postgres database, we just want to put the tables together for one query. First, we’ll have to get the extra data on hand:

ddb = ibis.duckdb.connect()

batting = ddb.read_parquet("ci/ibis-testing-data/parquet/batting.parquet")

Now we have two database connections, each containing one table we need. DuckDB is excellent at analytics, so we choose to do our work there. How do we do it?

awards_batches = ddb.read_in_memory(awards_players.to_pyarrow_batches())

That’s it. Ibis orchestrates selecting all data from the awards_players, routing it to Arrow batches, and DuckDB can read that easily. From there, we can join with our batting table, because the Postgres table now just has a version in DuckDB — after one line. So the rest comes easily:

expr = batting.join(awards_batches, ["playerID", "yearID", "lgID"])
df = ddb.execute(expr)

       playerID  yearID  stint teamID lgID    G     AB  ...   HBP   SH   SF  GIDP                awardID   tie  notes
0      bondto01    1877      1    BSN   NL   61  259.0  ...   NaN  NaN  NaN   NaN  Pitching Triple Crown  None   None
1     hinespa01    1878      1    PRO   NL   62  257.0  ...   NaN  NaN  NaN   NaN           Triple Crown  None   None
2     heckegu01    1884      1    LS2   AA   78  316.0  ...   2.0  NaN  NaN   NaN  Pitching Triple Crown  None   None
3     radboch01    1884      1    PRO   NL   87  361.0  ...   NaN  NaN  NaN   NaN  Pitching Triple Crown  None   None
4     oneilti01    1887      1    SL4   AA  124  517.0  ...   5.0  NaN  NaN   NaN           Triple Crown  None   None
...         ...     ...    ...    ...  ...  ...    ...  ...   ...  ...  ...   ...                    ...   ...    ...
4822  kiermke01    2015      1    TBA   AL  151  505.0  ...   2.0  2.0  2.0   7.0             Gold Glove  None     CF
4823  molinya01    2015      1    SLN   NL  136  488.0  ...   0.0  1.0  9.0  16.0             Gold Glove  None      C
4824  martest01    2015      1    PIT   NL  153  579.0  ...  19.0  3.0  5.0  14.0             Gold Glove  None     LF
4825  troutmi01    2015      1    LAA   AL  159  575.0  ...  10.0  0.0  5.0  11.0         Silver Slugger  None     OF
4826  troutmi01    2015      1    LAA   AL  159  575.0  ...  10.0  0.0  5.0  11.0      All-Star Game MVP  None   None

[4827 rows x 25 columns]


Databases are highly optimized for their use cases, from OLTP to OLAP to hybrid systems. As a result, their internals are often incompatible — but with open source standards like Arrow, and standard interfaces like Ibis, it’s possible to leverage these specialized systems to make a modular and composable stack that perfectly fits your needs.

This was all made possible by having backends for Ibis that can ingest Arrow batches. For every system that adopts the Arrow standard, it gets easier and easier to leverage the power of other tools and components, whether you’re an engine developer or an end user.

Voltron Data designs and builds composable data systems using standards like Arrow, Ibis, and more. Visit our Product page to learn more.