Using filesets for data processing

What is the idea?

Imagine you have a big dataset consisting of many files containing observations (e.g. images or satellite data). The files cover certain time periods and are bundled into subdirectories. See Fig.19 for an example.

screen shot of dataset directory structure

Fig. 19 Example of filesets

All files of Satellite B are located in subdirectories which contain temporal information in their names (year, month, day, etc.).

Typical tasks to analyze this dataset would include iterating over those files, finding those that cover a certain time period, reading them, applying functions on their content and eventually adding files with new data to this dataset. So, how to find all files in a time period? You could start by writing nested for loops and using python’s glob function. Normally, such solutions requires time to implement, are error-prone and are not portable to other filesets with different structures. Hence, save your time/energy/nerves and simply use the FileSet class.


NOTE: The code in the jupyter notebooks is old and needs to be updated! If you want to run the code from this tutorial on your machine as well, download and unzip it. You can find the code examples for this tutorial in the jupyter notebook file dataset.ipynb. You will need the jupyter engine for this.

Find Files

We stick to our example from above and want to find all files from our Satellite B dataset between two dates. To do this, we have to create a FileSet object with the path to our files:

# Import the FileSet class from the typhon module.
from typhon.files import FileSet

# Define a fileset object pointing to the files
# of the Satellite B
b_fileset = FileSet(

Nothing interesting happens so far. We imported the FileSet class from the typhon module, created a FileSet object and told it where to find its files. These words surrounded by braces (e.g. “{year}”) are called placeholders. They work like regular expressions and generalize the path, so we need not give explicit paths that point to each file directly. The FileSet object can fill those placeholders by itself when searching for files. Let’s see it in action:

# Find all files (but only print the first one)
for file in b_fileset:
Listing 1 Output:

If we want to have only files from a certain time period, we can use the find() method with start and end parameter:

# Find all files in a certain time period
for file in b_fileset.find("2018-01-01", "2018-01-01 12:00:00"):
Listing 2 Output:

In both examples from above, we yield a FileInfo object in the file variable. The FileInfo object has three attributes: path, times and attr. Let’s have a look at them:

print("Type:", type(file))
print("Path:", file.path)
print("Times:", file.times)
print("Attributes", file.attr)
Listing 3 Output:
Type: <class 'typhon.files.handlers.common.FileInfo'>
Path: .../data/SatelliteB/2018-01-03/
Times: [datetime.datetime(2018, 1, 3, 6, 0), datetime.datetime(2018, 1, 3, 12, 0)]
Attributes: {}

The path returns the path to the file and times is a list with two datetime objects: the start and end time of the file. They are retrieved by the placeholders that were used in the path argument of the Dataset object. But what is about attr and why is it an empty dictionary? Additionally to the temporal placeholders (such as {year}, etc.), which are converted into start and end datetime objects, you can define own placeholders. For example, let’s make a placeholder out of the satellite name:

# The same dataset as before but with one additional placeholder in the
# path:
fileset = FileSet(

for file in fileset.find("2018-01-01", "2018-01-02"):
  print("Path:", file.path)
  print("Attributes", file.attr)
Listing 4 Output:
Path: .../data/SatelliteA/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteA'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteB/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteB'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteA/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteA'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteB/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteB'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteA/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteA'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteB/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteB'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteA/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteA'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteB/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteB'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteA/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteA'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteA/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteA'}
Path: .../data/SatelliteB/2018-01-01/
Attributes {'satname': 'SatelliteB'}

As we can see, we are able to find the data from Satellite A as well because it has the same subdirectory structure as Satellite B. The placeholder satname - per default interpreted as wildcard - was filled by Dataset automatically and returned in attr. This could be useful if we want to process our files and we need to know from which satellite they came from. We can apply a filter on this placeholder when using find():

filters = {"satname": "SatelliteA"}
for file in fileset.find("2018-01-01", "2018-01-02", filters=filters):
    print("Path:", file.path)
    print("  Attributes", file.attr)

This finds only the files which placeholder satname is SatelliteA. We can also set it to a regular expression. If we want to apply our filter as a black list, i.e. we want to skip all files which placeholders contain certain values, we can add a ! before the placeholder name.

# This finds all files which satname is not SatelliteA
filters = {"!satname": "SatelliteA"}

We can also set a placeholder permanently to our favourite regular expression (e.g. if you want to call find() multiple times). Use set_placeholders() for this:


Which results that we only find satellites which name ends with B. If you want to find out more about placeholders, have a look at this section.

Read and Create Files

Handling common file formats

Well, it is nice to find all files from one fileset. But we also want to open them and read their content. For doing this, we could use our found FileInfo objects as file argument for python’s open builtin function:

for file in b_fileset.find("2018-01-01", "2018-01-02"):
   with open(file, "rb") as f:
      # This returns a lot of byte strings:

Okay, this may be not very practical for netCDF files since it just returns a lot of byte strings. Of course, we could use the python-netcdf module for reading the files but our FileSet object provides a much easier way:

data = b_fileset["2018-01-01"]
Listing 5 Output:
Dimensions:  (time: 15)
  * time     (time) datetime64[ns] 2018-01-01 2018-01-01T00:20:00 ...
Data variables:
    lat      (time) float64 ...
    lon      (time) float64 ...
    data     (time) float64 ...

This found a file that is the closest to 2018-01-01 and decompressed it (if it was compressed by using zip, gzip or other common compression standards). Afterwards it loaded its content into an xarray.Dataset object (kind of sophisticated dictionary that holds numpy arrays; have a look at xarray). And all this by using only one single expression! We can also read all files from a time period:

# Find files from 2018-01-01 to 2018-01-01 and load them into
# numpy arrays
data = b_fileset["2018-01-01":"2018-01-02"]

# data is now a list of xr.Dataset objects.

What if we want to create a new file for our FileSet? How does this work? It is as simple as reading them. Create your data object first and then pass it to the FileSet:

import xarray as xr

# Create a xr.Dataset which holds data in form of numpy arrays:
data = xr.Dataset()
data['lat'] = 'time', 90 * np.sin(np.linspace(0, 6.28, 7))
data['lon'] = 'time',  np.linspace(-180, 180, 7)
data['data'] = data['lat'] * 2 + np.random.randn(7)
data["time"] = pd.date_range(
    "2018-01-03 06:00:00", "2018-01-03 12:00:00", freq="h"

# Save this xr.Dataset object to a file that belongs to our fileset. The
# given timestamps indicate the time coverage of the file:
b_fileset["2018-01-03 06:00:00":"2018-01-03 12:00:00"] = data

If we look now in our dataset directory, we find a new file called data/SatelliteB/2018-01-03/ We can see its content with a netCDF viewer (e.g. panoply). So our FileSet object took our xarray.Dataset and put it into a netCDF file automatically. The FileSet object tries to detect from the path suffix the format of the files. This works for netCDF files (*.nc) and for CSV files (*.txt, *.asc or *.csv).

Handling other file formats

What happens with files in CSV format but with a different filename suffix? Or with other file formats, e.g. such as from CloudSat instruments? Can the FileSet read and write them as well? Yes, it can. But it is going to need some help of us before doing so. To understand this better, we have to be honest: the FileSet object cannot do very much; it simply finds files and compress / decompress them if necessary. However, to read or create files, it trusts a file handler and let it do the format-specific work. A file handler is an object, which knows everything about a certain file format and hence can read it or use it to write a new file. The FileSet object automatically tries to find an adequate file handler according to the filename suffix. Hence, it knew that our files from Satellite B (with the suffix .nc) have to be opened with the NetCDF4 file handler.

If we want to use another file handler, we can set the file handler by ourselves. Let’s demonstrate this by using another fileset, e.g. data from Satellite C. Its structure looks like this:

screen shot of dataset directory structure

Fig. 20 Files of Satellite C

The files are stored in a different directory structure and are in CSV format. Instead of having subdirectories with month and day, we now have subdirectories with the so-called day-of-year (all days since the start of the year). Do not worry, the FileSet object can handle this structure without any problems with the temporal placeholder doy:

c_fileset = FileSet(

for file in c_dataset.find("2018-01-01", "2018-01-02"):
Listing 6 Output
   Start: 2018-01-01 00:00:00
   End: 2018-01-01 00:00:00

But if we try to open one of the files, the following happens:

data = c_dataset["2018-01-01"]
Listing 7 Output
NoHandlerError                            Traceback (most recent call last)

NoHandlerError: Could not read '.../data/SatelliteC/2018-001/000000.dat'!
   I do not know which file handler to use. Set one by yourself.

It cannot open the file because it could not retrieve a file handler from the filename suffix. Let’s help the Dataset object by setting its file handler to CSV explicitly. Now it should be able to open these CSV files.

# Import the CSV file handler
from typhon.files import CSV

# Use the CSV file handler for the c_fileset (you could do this also
# during initialization of the FileSet object):
c_fileset.handler = CSV()

# Maybe, the file handler needs some additional information when
# reading a file? We can set them by *FileSet.read_args*. For example,
# this let the file handler interpret the column 'time' as timestamp
# object. Have a look at the CSV file handler documentation
# to know which else parameters you can pass via read_args:
    "parse_dates": ["time", ]

# This works now:
Listing 8 Output
Dimensions:  (index: 15)
  * index    (index) int64 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Data variables:
    time     (index) datetime64[ns] 2018-01-01 2018-01-01T00:20:00 ...
    lat      (index) float64 50.59 53.21 55.42 57.21 58.57 59.48 59.94 ...
    lon      (index) float64 -180.0 -177.5 -175.0 -172.5 -170.0 -167.5 ...
    data     (index) float64 99.7 105.6 114.1 114.6 117.0 119.8 120.1 ...

There are more file handlers for other file formats. For example, CloudSat can read CloudSat HDF4 files. Have a look at Handlers for a complete list of official handler classes in typhon. Every file handler might have its own specifications and options, you can read about them in their documentations.

Handling your file formats

If you need a special format that is not covered by the official file handlers, you can use the generic FileHandler object and set customized reader and writer functions. Another way - if you like object-oriented programming - is to subclass FileHandler and write your own file handler class (see Create your own file handler for a tutorial). Since the latter is for more advanced programmers, here is a simple but extensive example that shows how to use your own reader and writer functions easily. This also shows how to create a new fileset with many files on-the-fly:

from datetime import datetime, timedelta

# Get the base class to use a customized file handler
from typhon.files import FileHandler

# Here are our reader and writer functions:
def our_reader(file_info, lineno=0):
    """Read the nth line of a text file

        file_info: A FileInfo object.
        lineno: Number of the line that should be read.
            Default is the 0th line (header).

        A string with the nth line

    with open(file_info, "r") as file:
        return file.readlines()[lineno]

def our_writer(data, file_info, mode="w"):
   """Append a text to a file

       data: A string with content.
       file_info: A FileInfo object.
       mode: The writing mode. 'w' means overwriting
           (default) and 'a' means appending.


   with open(file_info, mode) as file:

# Let's create a file handler with our functions
our_handler = FileHandler(

# Let's create a new dataset and pass our own file handler
our_dataset = FileSet(

# Fill the dataset with files covering the next two days:
start = datetime(2018, 1, 1)
for hour in range(0, 48, 4):
    timestamp = start + timedelta(hours=hour)

    # The content for each file:
    text = f"Header: {timestamp}\n" \
        + "1) First line...\n" \
        + "2) Second line...\n" \
        + "3) Third line...\n"

    # Write the text to a file (uses the
    # underlying our_writer function)
    our_dataset[timestamp] = text

# Read files at once and get their header line
# (uses the underlying our_reader function)
Listing 9 Output
['Header: 2018-01-01 00:00:00\n', 'Header: 2018-01-01 04:00:00\n',
 'Header: 2018-01-01 08:00:00\n', 'Header: 2018-01-01 12:00:00\n',
 'Header: 2018-01-01 16:00:00\n', 'Header: 2018-01-01 20:00:00\n',
 'Header: 2018-01-02 00:00:00\n', 'Header: 2018-01-02 04:00:00\n',
 'Header: 2018-01-02 08:00:00\n', 'Header: 2018-01-02 12:00:00\n',
 'Header: 2018-01-02 16:00:00\n', 'Header: 2018-01-02 20:00:00\n']

This script creates files containing one header line with a timestamp and some further ‘data’ lines. With our new file handler we can read easily the header line from each of those files. Great!

Pass arguments to reader and writer

The our_reader function actually provides to return the nth line of the file if the argument lineno is given. If we want to read files with additional arguments for the underlying reader function, we cannot use the simple expression with brackets any longer. We have to use the more extended version in form of the read() method instead:

# Find the closest file to this timestamp:
file = our_dataset.find_closest("2018-01-01")

# Pass the file and the additional argument 'lineno' to the
# underlying our_reader function:
data =, lineno=2)

print(file, "\nData:", data)
Listing 10 Output
  Start: 2018-01-01 00:00:00
  End: 2018-01-01 00:00:00
Data: 2) Second line...

Using additional arguments for creating a file works very similar as above, we can use write() here. Another difference is that we have to generate a filename first by using get_filename().

# Generate a filename for our dataset and a given timestamp:
filename = our_dataset.get_filename("2018-01-01 04:00:00")

data = "4) Appended fourth line...\n"

print(f"Append {data} to {filename}")

# Pass the data, filename and the additional argument 'mode' to
# the underlying our_writer function:
our_dataset.write(data, filename, mode="a")
Listing 11 Output
Append 4) Appended fourth line...
to .../data/own_dataset/2018/001/000000.txt

How can we read the second lines from all files? We could do this:

for file in our_dataset:
   data =, lineno=2)

If you want to use parallel workers to load the files faster (will not make much difference for our small files here though), use icollect() in combination with a for-loop or simply collect() alone:

# Read the second line of each file:
for data in our_dataset.icollect(read_args={"lineno": 2}):

# OR

# Read the second line of all files at once:
data_list = our_dataset.collect(read_args={"lineno": 2})

Get information from a file

The Dataset object needs information about each file in order to find them properly via find(). Normally, this happens by using placeholders in the files’ path and name. Each placeholder is represented by a regular expression that is used to parse the filename. But sometimes this is not enough. For example, if the filename provides not the end of the file’s time coverage but the file does not represent a single discrete point. Let’s have a look at our Satellite C for example:

from typhon.files import CSV

# Create a CSV file handler that interprets the column 'time' as
# timestamp object.
csv_handler = CSV(
    read_csv={"parse_dates":["time", ]}

c_dataset = Dataset(

for file in c_dataset.find("2018-01-01", "2018-01-01 8:00:00"):
Listing 12 Output
   Start: 2018-01-01 00:00:00
   End: 2018-01-01 00:00:00
   Start: 2018-01-01 06:00:00
   End: 2018-01-01 06:00:00

As we can see, are files interpreted as discrete files: their start time is identical with their end time. But we know that is not true, e.g. …/data/SatelliteC/2018/001/000000.dat.gz covers a period from almost six hours:

data ="data/SatelliteC/2018/001/000000.dat.gz")
print("Start:", data["time"].min())
print("End:", data["time"].max())
Listing 13 Output
Start: 2018-01-01 00:00:00
End: 2018-01-01 05:59:59

We have two options now:

  1. Use the parameter time_coverage of the Dataset to specify the duration per file. Works only if each file has the same time coverage. This is the easiest and fastest option.
  2. Using the file handler to get more information. The file handler can more than only reading or creating files in a specific format. If its method get_info() is set, it can complement information that could not be completely retrieved from the filename.

Let’s try at first option 1:

c_dataset.time_coverage = "05:59:59 hours"

for file in c_dataset.find("2018-01-01", "2018-01-01 8:00:00"):
Listing 14 Output
   Start: 2018-01-01 00:00:00
   End: 2018-01-01 05:59:59
   Start: 2018-01-01 06:00:00
   End: 2018-01-01 11:59:59

It works! But what if each file has an individual duration? Then we need to define a file handler that have a get_info method:

TODO: The tutorial will be continued.


Temporal placeholders

Allowed temporal placeholders in the path argument are:

Placeholder Description Example
year Four digits indicating the year. 1999
year2 Two digits indicating the year. [1] 58 (=2058)
month Two digits indicating the month. 09
day Two digits indicating the day. 08
doy Three digits indicating the day of the year. 002
hour Two digits indicating the hour. 22
minute Two digits indicating the minute. 58
second Two digits indicating the second. 58
millisecond Three digits indicating the millisecond. 999
[1]Numbers lower than 65 are interpreted as 20XX while numbers equal or greater are interpreted as 19XX (e.g. 65 = 1965, 99 = 1999)

All those place holders are also allowed to have the prefix end (e.g. end_year). The FileSet will use them to retrieve the start and end of the time coverage from the file path.

Further recipes

TODO: Split this section and move it to FAQs.

Use parallel processing

If you have many files in your fileset and you want to apply a function on all of them, you can use map() to apply this function in parallel processes or threads.

This simple example collects the start times from all files with parallel processes:

b_fileset = FileSet(

def get_start_time(file_info):
    """Simple function to get the start time from each file"""
    return file_info.times[0]

# Collect all start times in parallel processes:
start_times =

You can control which type of parallel workers is used by setting worker_type to process or thread. The numbers of workers can be set via max_workers.

How about processing the content from all files in a subroutine? For example, if we want to calculate the mean from all files. We can use the on_content option for doing this.

def get_mean(data):
    """Simple function to get the average of the data"""
    return data["data"].mean()

averaged_values =
    # The on_content option passes the read content of the file instead its
    # info object to the function:

The on_content option passes the read content of the file instead of its info object to the function. If you need the file info object as well, you can set pass_info to true.

You can limit the time period that should be processed, by passing start and end:

def get_mean(data):
    """Simple function to get the average of the data"""
    return data["data"].mean()

averaged_values =
    get_mean, on_content=True, start="2018-01-01", end="2018-01-02",

map() always processes all files in the given time period, waits for all results and returns them after the last worker has finished. This might be very time-consuming for large filesets. imap() allows to process just a chunk of the data and to get immediate results:

for mean in b_fileset.imap(get_mean, on_content=True):
   # After the first worker has finished, this will be run immediately:

You should consider this option if your RAM is limited.

Copy or convert files

Use move() to copy or convert files from a fileset.