A wrapper for R methods to run them in arbitrary batches.
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Batchman is a wrapper for R methods to run them in arbitrary batches.

Some methods crash when running on large inputs. Batchman helps prevent those crashes, and helps increase speed where batching is useful.

If you find that running computationally_intensive_method(dataframe_with_lots_of_rows) is having trouble, you could instead run the method via Batchman, which will split up the inputs into smaller components, run them in individual batches, and then merge all those batches together.

To run batchman, you specify the function you want to batch, the key or keys that you want to batch by (or "..." if batching a splat function), a combination strategy for how to combine batches (e.g., c or rbind), and a batch size.

For example, to run computationally_intensive_method in batches of 50...

batched_method <- batch(computationally_intensive_method, keys = 'df', combination_strategy = rbind, size = 50)


This package is not yet available from CRAN. To install the latest development builds directly from GitHub, run this instead:

if (!require('devtools')) install.packages('devtools')
devtools::install_github('peterhurford', 'batchman')

Using Batchman

Using Batchman with Error-Prone Sources

Sometimes you might be batching functions that can be error-prone, like an API call. When initializing the batching via the batch function, choose to pass trycatch = TRUE to batch to run Batchman in a tryCatch block. If this is done, batchman will stop upon an error, but store all the progress so far, which you can retrieve with batchman::progress().

You can pass both trycatch = TRUE and stop = FALSE to batch, and Batchman will keep going even when encountering an error. Blocks that result in an error will be converted to NA.

Lastly, rather than having to constantly re-run and paste together the batch function when it errors, you can use the retry argument, which will retry each batch that errors until either the error goes away or it has been retried retry times.

Using Batchman to Parallelize Your Work

If you set parallel = TRUE batchman will use parallel::mclapply to run the batches. This can greatly speed up applications that have a fixed time penalty, like network API calls. Beware that you cannot use parallel and trycatch together due to the laziness of developers complex mechanics of parallel code execution in R.

Using Batchman with Big Data

Batchman could be a useful tool for handling big data in R. Since batchman allows for a custom combination_strategy, you could do something other than combining the items in R memory (which may not be possible with the size of your data). For example, you might make a method like:

big_data_combine <- function(first_batch, second_batch) {

Which will work to store each batch generated (except the first, which you'd have to make an exception for).

You then can call batchman using big_data_combine as the combination_strategy.

Combine Batches

If you have objects you want to combine, but don't know their class, you can combine them together with combine (as long as all items are the same class). This allows for class-agnostic recombination, which is useful for batching, and is the default combination method for Batchman.

> combine(1, 2, 3, 4)
[1] 1 2 3 4

> combine('hello', 'world')
[1] "helloworld"

> combine(c(1,2,3), c(4,5,6))
[1] 1 2 3 4 5 6

> combine(list('first' = 'a'), list('second' = 'b', 'third' = 'c'))
[1] "a"

[1] "b"

[1] "c"

> combine(data.frame(x = 1:3, y = c('a','b','c')), data.frame(x = 11:13, y = c('x','y','z')))
   x y
   1  1 a
   2  2 b
   3  3 c
   4 11 x
   5 12 y
   6 13 z

> combine(matrix(1:6, nrow = 2, ncol = 3), matrix(11:16, nrow = 2, ncol = 3))
Still not good with matricies. Coming soon.

Bonus: If you have a list of things to combine, you can call combine_by_list(list) to combine them directly.

Other Features

  • You can now set options('batchman.verbose' = FALSE) to turn off batchman's print messages dynamically, even for functions that have already been generated. This is potentially useful for tests where digging into batchman to set bachman.verbose = FALSE is annoying.

  • The same is true with using options('batchman.verbose' = TRUE) to turn on batchman's printed messages dynamically.