Apache Spark DataFrame vs. Dataset with Examples


Apache Spark is a powerful distributed computing engine that provides various APIs for processing big data. Two of the most commonly used APIs are DataFrame and Dataset. Both DataFrame and Dataset are built on top of Resilient Distributed Dataset (RDD) but offer different advantages based on their characteristics. In this article, we will explore the differences between DataFrame and Dataset with examples to understand when to use each one.

1. Apache Spark DataFrame

Apache Spark DataFrame is a distributed collection of data organized into named columns. It provides a high-level abstraction on top of RDDs and is designed to support structured and semi-structured data. DataFrame is immutable, meaning any transformation on it creates a new DataFrame. It benefits from Catalyst Optimizer, which optimizes the execution plan before executing the physical operations on data.


Consider the following example of a DataFrame representing employee data:

    from pyspark.sql import SparkSession

    spark = SparkSession.builder.appName("example").getOrCreate()

    data = [("Alice", 30), ("Bob", 25), ("Charlie", 28)]
    columns = ["Name", "Age"]

    df = spark.createDataFrame(data, columns)

The output will be:

    |   Name|Age|
    |  Alice| 30|
    |    Bob| 25|
    |Charlie| 28|

2. Apache Spark Dataset

Apache Spark Dataset is a distributed collection of data that provides the benefits of RDDs (strong typing, performance, and optimization opportunities) with the benefits of DataFrames (relational querying and optimization). Dataset is available only in Scala and Java and not in Python (PySpark). It provides compile-time type safety for functional transformations.


Consider the following example of a Dataset representing employee data:

    // This example is in Scala
    case class Employee(name: String, age: Int)

    val spark = SparkSession.builder.appName("example").getOrCreate()

    import spark.implicits._
    val data = Seq(Employee("Alice", 30), Employee("Bob", 25), Employee("Charlie", 28))
    val ds = data.toDS()

The output will be:

    |   name|age|
    |  Alice| 30|
    |    Bob| 25|
    |Charlie| 28|

3. DataFrame vs. Dataset: Key Differences

Criteria DataFrame Dataset
Strong Typing No Yes
Compile-Time Type Safety No Yes
Performance Optimization Yes Yes
Availability in Python Yes No
API Unifying API Specific to Scala and Java

4. When to use DataFrame or Dataset?

Use DataFrame when you need a higher-level abstraction with a more concise API and don't require strong typing or compile-time type safety. DataFrames are available in all Spark supported languages (Scala, Java, Python, and R).

Use Dataset when you need strong typing and compile-time type safety for functional transformations and are working with Scala or Java code. Datasets are particularly useful when you need to perform operations that involve complex data structures and want the benefits of RDDs and DataFrames combined.


Apache Spark DataFrame and Dataset are essential components in Spark's unified processing engine, offering distinct advantages for different use cases. Choose DataFrame when simplicity and ease of use are the primary concerns, and opt for Dataset when you need strong typing and compile-time type safety in your functional transformations. Both DataFrame and Dataset provide optimization opportunities, making them powerful tools for distributed data processing in Apache Spark.



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