Sujith Jay Nair Thinking Aloud

Filling Missing Data

A recent exercise I undertook of upgrading Apache Spark for some workloads from v2.4.3 to v2.4.5 surfaced a number of run-time errors of the form:

org.apache.spark.sql.AnalysisException: Cannot resolve column name "name" among (id, place);
  at org.apache.spark.sql.Dataset$$anonfun$resolve$1.apply(Dataset.scala:223)
  at org.apache.spark.sql.Dataset$$anonfun$resolve$1.apply(Dataset.scala:223)
  at scala.Option.getOrElse(Option.scala:121)
  at org.apache.spark.sql.Dataset.resolve(Dataset.scala:222)
  at org.apache.spark.sql.Dataset.col(Dataset.scala:1274)
  at org.apache.spark.sql.DataFrameNaFunctions$$anonfun$toAttributes$2.apply(DataFrameNaFunctions.scala:475)

A little poking-around showed this error occurred for transformations with a similar general shape. The following is a minimal example to recreate it:

val df = Seq(
  ("1", "Berlin"),
  ("2", "Bombay")
  ).toDF("id", "place")"empty",Seq("id", "place", "name"))

This looks wrong, but apparently works fine in v2.4.3 😲. A transformation which attempts to fill in a missing value for a column which does not exist should raise an error: v2.4.5 does that.

Deep Dive

So, what changed? A review of the changelog for v2.4.5 shows a number of changes touching the functionality for working with missing data in DataFrames. The relevant change here is SPARK-29890.

SPARK-29890 addresses the issue of DataFrameNaFunctions.fill not handling duplicate columns when column names are not specified. But it addresses our issue as well, as a side-effect.

A part of the associated pull-request is presented below: the first gist is the v2.4.3 version of a private method called fillValue, and the next gist, the v2.4.5 version. fillValue is the underlying method for every overloaded version of DataFrameNaFunctions.fill.

The crux of the change relevant to us is in the signature of fillValue.

v2.4.3 v2.4.5
def fillValue[T](value: T, cols: Seq[String]): DataFrame def fillValue[T](value: T, cols: Seq[Attribute]): DataFrame

To solve the original issue the PR addresses (i.e, handling duplicate columns when column names are not specified), the comparison of columns was switched from the earlier

cols.exists(col => columnEquals(, col)) to cols.exists(_.semanticEquals(col))

This necessitated a change in the signature of fillValue. However, to convert cols required by fillValue from Seq[String] to Seq[Attribute], it is passed to a method toAttributes:

private def toAttributes(cols: Seq[String]): Seq[Attribute] = { => df.col(name).expr).collect {
      case a: Attribute => a

This method, as a side-effect, ensures the columns passed to DataFrameNaFunctions.fill exists in the dataframe.

In short, this change in behaviour in DataFrameNaFunctions.fill causes tiny pains & an improved correctness to fill transformations.