Provides guidance for fast ETL jobs, an IDataReader implementation for SqlBulkCopy (or the MySql or Oracle equivalents) that wraps an IEnumerable, and libraries for mapping entites to table columns.
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Bulk Writer

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    1. SqlBulkCopy
    2. Using SqlBulkCopy
  2. Examples
    1. Relative distances between an entity and all zip codes
    2. Pipelining
    3. Advanced Pipelining


We've all had reasons to write ETL jobs in C# rather than with Integration Services in SQL Server. Sometimes it's because your ETL's transform logic is easier to reason about in C#, sometimes we want to utilize .NET's rich library ecosystem, but for whatever reason, it's a perfectly acceptable way to to do things.

When writing an ETL process in C#, we use the tools available to us like NHibernate, Entity Framework or PetaPoco to read from and write to databases. These tools help us stream from source data pretty easily, but unfortunately, they don't make it easy to stream data to our target data stores. Instead, they typically leave us writing to target data stores with INSERT statements, which is not performant for transforms that generate very large data sets.

What we need for transforms that generate very large data sets is a technique to stream data into a target data store, just as we're able to stream from source data.

Such a technique would allow writing to target data stores as fast as our transforms and hardware will allow, compared to relying on our ORM to generate INSERT statements. In most cases, it would also use significantly less memory.

This library and the guidance that follows show how to use SqlBulkCopy, IEnumerable and IDataReader to enable this kind of streaming technique, that is, to stream from a data source and to stream into a data store, with our C# ETLs. We'll also cover how to change your "push"-based transforms that use INSERT statements to "pull"-based transforms that use IEnumerable and EnumerableDataReader, the SqlBulkCopy implementation contained in this library.


SqlBulkCopy (or the Oracle or MySql equivalents) is the most likely candidate to stream into a target data store, but its WriteToServer() methods take a DataRow[], a DataTable or an IDataReader.

The methods that take a DataRow[] or a DataTable aren't really useful when transforms produce very large data sets because they force us to load the entire data set into memory before being streamed into the target data store.

Which leaves us to examine how to leverage the WriteToServer(IDataReader) method. If you think about how IDataReader works, users of an IDataReader instance must call the Read() method before examining a current record. A user advances through the result set until Read() returns false, at which point the stream is finished and there is no longer a current record. It has no concept of a previous record. In this way, IDataReader is a non-caching forward-only reader.

There are other non-caching forward-only readers in .NET, which are used every day by most developers. The most used example of this type of reader is IEnumerator, which works similarly to IDataReader. However, instead of a Read():bool method, IEnumerator has a MoveNext():bool method. Conceptually, IDataReader and IEnumerator are similar.

Using SqlBulkCopy

The Bulk Writer core assembly has an IDataReader implementation that wraps an IEnumerator called EnumerableDataReader. You can give an instance of EnumerableDataReader to an instance of SqlBulkCopy, so that when SqlBulkCopy calls for the next record from the EnumerableDataReader instance, it is retrieving the next record from the underlying IEnumerator.

It is conceivable that IEnumerator.MoveNext() and IEnumerator.Current are proffering records from any type of data source, but you are typically enumerating over an enumerable by retrieving an instance of IEnumerator by calling IEnumerable.GetEnumerator(). So, you can think of EnumerableDataReader in this way:

You can give EnumerableDataReader to SqlBulkCopy, and in turn, SqlBulkCopy will stream the data from the IEnumerable into your target data store.

Most of the other code in the core assembly is for mapping properties on source data (objects yielded from an IEnumerable) to columns in the target data store.

This technique does require you to reason differently about your ETL jobs: Most jobs push data into the target data store. This technique requires you to think about how to structure your transforms so that data is pulled from your source data through your transforms instead.

It is technically possible to produce infinite data sets with IEnumerable, which can be pulled into a SQL Server table as soon as your IEnumerable can produce them while using very little memory.


By itself, Bulk Writer is a pretty simple concept and the code itself isn't really all that complicated. However, even simple implementations can enable very complex scenarios. The rest of this document shows examples of what you can do with Bulk Writer.

Relative distances between an entity and all zip codes

Suppose that for performance reasons you wanted to cache the distances between some entities (such as a store, house or distribution center) and the centroid of every zip code in the U.S. Depending on the number of entities, you could easily produce a very large data set from these calculations. But sure, entity locations and zip code centroids aren't likely to change often enough to warrant computing this result set on every ETL job run, but the real point of this example is to show

  1. Sometimes our transforms can produce exponentially larger data sets than our source data. In this example, the result set size is (# of Entities × # of Zipcodes).
  2. That those very large data sets can be written to our target data store much faster than by generating an INSERT statement for each row. In this example, you'd have to generate (# of Entities × # of Zipcodes) INSERT statements which will never perform as well as bulk loading the data instead.

We start off with this LINQ query that serves as our transform and will produce our large data set.

var q =
   from entity in GetAllEntities()
   where entity.IsActive && SomeOtherPredicate(entity)
   from zipCode in GetAllZipCodes()
   where zipCode.IsInContiguousStates && SomeOtherPredicate(zipCode)
   let distance = GetDistance(entity, zipCode)
   let arbitraryData = CreateSomeArbitraryData(entity, zipCode)
   where distance > 0
   select new EntityToZipCodeDistance {
      EntityId = entity.Id,
      ZipCode = zipCode.Zip,
      Distance = distance,
      ArbitraryData = arbitraryData

Note that this LINQ query does not execute until the MoveNext() method is called on its enumerator, which will ultimately be called by SqlBulkCopy.

Next, all there is to do is let Bulk Writer write the results to your database table.

var mapping = MapBuilder.BuildAllProperties<EntityToZipCodeDistance>();
using (var bulkWriter = mapping.CreateBulkWriter(connectionString))
   var items = GetDomainEntities();


The example above shows a transform that's pretty simple. But some ETL jobs require transforms that are so complex (and the code is so complicated), it's easier to reason about and implement the transforms in steps. You can create these steps using a single LINQ query (which are actually pipelines themselves), or you can implement a Pipeline with Stages.

Typical pipelines push data from one stage to the next.

        =========         =========         =========         ==========
        |       |         |       |         |       |         |        |
Push -> | Stage | Push -> | Stage | Push -> | Stage | Push -> |  Sink  |
        |       |         |       |         |       |         |        |
        =========         =========         =========         ==========

Using Bulk Writer, data is pulled through the Pipeline.

=========         =========         =========         ==========
|       |         |       |         |       |         |        |
| Stage | <- Pull | Stage | <- Pull | Stage | <- Pull |  Sink  |
|       |         |       |         |       |         |        |
=========         =========         =========         ==========

Take the following example:

var begin = DoStepBegin();
var step1 = DoStep1(begin);
var step2 = DoStep2(step1);
var step3 = DoStep3(step2);

// Or a one-liner!!
// DoStepEnd(DoStep3(DoStep2(DoStep1(DoStepBegin()))));

private static IEnumerable<BeginStepResult> DoStepBegin() {
   foreach (var item in Enumerable.Range(0, 1000000)) {
      yield return new BeginStepResult();

private static IEnumerable<Step1Result> DoStep1(IEnumerable<BeginStepResult> input) {
    // Or using LINQ, which does the same thing as below
    return input.Where(x => SomePredicate(x)).Select(x => new Step1Result(x));

private static IEnumerable<Step2Result> DoStep2(IEnumerable<Step1Result> input) {
   foreach (var item in input) {
      if (SomePredicate(item)) {
         yield return new Step2Result(item);

private static IEnumerable<Step3Result> DoStep3(IEnumerable<Step2Result> input) {
   foreach (var item in input) {
      foreach(var many in GetManyItems(item)) {
         yield return Step3Result(many);

private static void DoStepEnd(IEnumerable<Step3Result> input) {
   var mapping = MapBuilder.BuildAllProperties<Step3Result>();
   using (var bulkWriter = mapping.CreateBulkWriter(connectionString))

Advanced Pipelining

The example above is fine, but we're only processing one source data item at a time. If one pipeline stage takes longer to produce output than other stages, all stage processing suffers. There are times when you'd like any pipeline stage to continue to process available items even if other stages in the pipeline are blocked. For an example, let's consider a segment of a pipeline comprised of two stages.

Suppose Stage 1 was IO-bound because it queried for and produced a result set for each of its input items. In other words, Stage 1 is producing a larger data set than its input and it may be spending a lot of its time waiting.

Next, supposed Stage 2 was CPU bound because it performed hundreds of calculations on each output produced by Stage 1. In this example, there's no reason why Stage 2 shouldn't be able to perform its calculations while Stage 1 is blocked or producing input for Stage 2.

We form a pipeline like this by running each pipeline stage on its own thread and by introducing an input and output buffer between each stage. Now, instead of a pipeline stage pulling directly from the previous stage, each pipeline stage pushes to and pulls from its input and output buffer, respectively.

Such a pipeline would look like this:

        ===                           ===                           ===
        | |         =========         | |         =========         | |         ==========
        ===         |       |         ===         |       |         ===         |        |
Push -> | | <- Pull | Stage | Push -> | | <- Pull | Stage | Push -> | | <- Pull |  Sink  |
        ===         |       |         ===         |       |         ===         |        |
        | |         =========         | |         =========         | |         ==========
        ===                           ===                           ===
       Buffer                        Buffer                        Buffer

Since each stage is running on its own thread, we need to be careful so that the stage's thread doesn't end before all the items the pipeline needs to process have been pushed through. So, we'll need a way to indicate that previous stages have finished.

We also want to block SqlBulkCopy until an item is ready to write. In essence, what we need is a buffer that is thread-safe and blocks the current thread until a new item is available. .NET already has such a buffer, BlockingCollection<T>.

To implement a pipeline like this, you would do the following:

var taskFactory = new TaskFactory(TaskCreationOptions.LongRunning, TaskContinuationOptions.None);

var stage1Input = new BlockingCollection<Stage1Input>();
var stage2Input = new BlockingCollection<Stage2Input>();
var finalStageInput = new BlockingCollection<FinalStageInput>();

var stage1 = taskFactory.StartNew(() => {
   var enumerable = stage1Input.GetConsumingEnumerable();

   try {
      foreach(var item in enumerable) {
         var outputs = GetOutputsFromIO(item);
         foreach(var output in outputs) {
   } finally {
      // Let's the task managing Stage 2 know that it can end

var stage2 = taskFactory.StartNew(() => {
   var enumerable = stage2Input.GetConsumingEnumerable();

   try {
      foreach(var item in enumerable) {
         var outputs = DoLotsOfCalculations(item);
         foreach(var output in outputs) {
   } finally {

var finalStage = taskFactory.StartNew(() => {
   var enumerable = finalStageInput.GetConsumingEnumerable();
   var mapping = MapBuilder.BuildAllProperties<FinalStageInput>();
   using (var bulkWriter = mapping.CreateBulkWriter(connectionString))

// All stages are started and waiting for work at this point

// Populate your first stage here
foreach (var item in Enumerable.Range(0, 1000000)) {
   stage1Input.add(new Stage1Input());


await Task.WhenAll(new[] { stage1, stage2, finalStage });