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Best Practices for Building a Singer Tap

Developers should try to adhere to these best practices to help maintain consistency and quality between Singer Taps and Targets.

Rate Limiting

Most APIs enforce rate limits. Taps should be written in a way that respects these rate limits.

Rate limits can take the form of quotas (X requests per day), in which case the tap should leave room for other use of the API, or short-term limits (X requests per Y seconds). For short-term limits, the entire quota can be used up and the tap should sleep when rate limited.

The singer-python library's utils namespace has a rate limiting decorator for use.

Memory Constraints

Taps should not rely on large volumes of RAM being available during run and should strive to keep as little data in memory as required. Use iterators/generators when available.

Dates

All dates should use the RFC3339 format (which includes timezone offsets). UTC is the preferred timezone for all data and should be used when possible.

Good:

  • 2017-01-01T00:00:00Z (January 1, 2017 12:00:00AM UTC)
  • 2017-01-01T00:00:00-05:00 (January 1, 2017, 12:00:00AM America/New_York)

Bad:

  • 2017-01-01 00:00:00

When parsing datetimes or converting between timezones, the library accepted for use by singer taps is pytz. This project has more accurate timezone data than the builtin datetime.timezone.

Logging and Exception Handling

During tap execution, log every URL + params that will be requested, but be sure to exclude any sensitive information such as api keys and client secrets. Log the progress of the sync (e.g. Starting entity 1, Starting entity 2, etc.) When the API returns with an error, log the status code and body.

If an error causes the tap or target to exit, log the error at the CRITICAL or FATAL level just before exiting with a non-zero status. The expectation is that if the tap or target fails, a calling script can look for lines that begin with CRITICAL or FATAL in order to get the most relevant error message. If the fatal error is one that the tap or target explicitly raises, consider omitting the stack trace. However if it's an Exception from an unknown origin, log the full stack trace in addition to logging the message at the CRITICAL or FATAL level.

If an intermittent error is detected from the API, retry using an exponential backoff (try using backoff library for Python). If an unrecoverable error is detected, exit the script with a non-zero error code (raise an exception or use sys.exit(1))

Module Structure

Source code should be in a module (folder with __init__.py file) and not just a script (module.py file).

Schemas

If the schema is static, it should be stored in a schemas folder under the module directory as JSON files rather than as native dicts in the source code.

When reasonable for the data source, it is preferable to write schemas as explicitly as possible. For example:

  1. Explicitly named fields in object schemas instead of patternProperties if they are well defined.
  2. Explicit types associated with fields instead of {} if the data type is consistent and documented.
  3. Specifying additionalProperties: false when the tap should fail if extra properties are added.

In general, any valid JSON Schema is acceptable, and there are use cases that may work best when being more or less strict on validation. Targets should handle valid JSON Schemas and provide a best effort approach to load the data in a reasonable format.

NOTE: When modifying an existing schema, use extra caution when adding properties such as additionalProperties: false or an explicit type like integer. Schema changes such as this can be backwards incompatible. In Singer, we use SemVer to the best of our ability, so making the schema more restrictive (unless provable beyond question) will result in a major version release that will require all users of the tap to take special care when upgrading.

Naturally, a major version release as a result of a small field addition is preferably avoided unless absolutely necessary (for example, if a REST API changes the primary key's name).

Code Quality

We recommend running pylint on your Tap and making sure that you understand any issues it reports. You should get your code to the point where pylint does not report any error-level messages.

When we import your Tap, we'll run it in CircleCI, and we'll include Pylint in the test phase. The CircleCI buld will fail if Pylint finds any issues, so we will need to account for all issues by either fixing them or disabling the message in Pylint. We are flexible about which Pylint issues are acceptable, but we generally run Pylint with some of the more pedantic messages disabled. See any of our recently adopted taps for an example.

Dependency Versioning

When writing a new tap, all dependencies should be pinned to a specific version. Loose dependency versions leave your tap susceptible to dependency updates breaking functionality. Pinning dependencies to a version ensure that the tap works the same way it did during development.

Good:

install_requires=[
    "singer-python==5.2.3"
]

Bad:

install_requires=[
    "singer-python>=5.2.3"
]

Worst:

install_requires=[
    "singer-python"
]

Parent-Child Relationships

One of the most challenging API structures for ELT, common with REST APIs, is the existence of a parent-child relationship. For example, resources can form a tree like a structure of organization -> project -> ticket -> comment, where each sub-object requires the ID of the parent object. A request for tickets in this structure may look something like GET /organizations/{org_id}/projects/{project_id}/tickets.

This is an efficient design for applications, but can pose challenges for bulk extraction. The specific challenges are very specific to an individual API's underlying implementation, but there are some best practices that can provide guidance in many cases.

  1. Reduce Stream Dependencies - Keep logic for child streams separate from parent streams. Each stream should be able to be extracted without requiring the parent to be selected and without complex boolean logic to determine what data to emit.
    • This opens up options in implementation that can provide efficiencies like only requesting the parent object's ID field for the child object's sync, and generally results in more readable code.
    • For REST APIs that provide a client library, the library functions usually try to make efficient use of this pattern by lazy loading the parent object and only making HTTP requests as necessary.
    • Example tap-shopify
  2. Signpost State Keeping - Set a maximum bookmark value before the sync begins and store bookmarks only up to that value. For large data sets, records are being updated as the tap is requesting all of the data. As the tap reads records that may be changing in real time, setting a "signpost" bookmark as a maximum value to be stored can help with many race conditions and sorting issues. This signpost prevents the bookmark from advancing to a point where subsequent executions of the tap would miss records that were modified while the extraction process was still running.
  3. Limit State Growth - Only store a single bookmark key, or a controlled number of keys, per each deepest child object type, rather than an unbounded list of bookmarks per parent-id. Along with #1 above, this pattern removes the need for API features such as update propagation or sorting based on certain fields. For many APIs and their backing data sources, these features just aren't feasible without a lot of rework.