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Sep 13, 2016

Dask and Celery


This post compares two Python distributed task processing systems,Dask.distributed and Celery.

Disclaimer: technical comparisons are hard to do well. I am biased towardsDask and ignorant of correct Celery practices. Please keep this in mind.Critical feedback by Celery experts is welcome.

Celery is a distributed task queue built inPython and heavily used by the Python community for task-based workloads.

Dask is a parallel computing librarypopular within the PyData community that has grown a fairly sophisticateddistributed task scheduler.This post explores if Dask.distributed can be useful for Celery-style problems.

Comparing technical projects is hard both because authors have bias, and alsobecause the scope of each project can be quite large. This allows authors togravitate towards the features that show off our strengths. Fortunately aCelery user asked how Dask compares onGithub and they listed a fewconcrete features:

  1. Handling multiple queues
  2. Canvas (celery’s workflow)
  3. Rate limiting
  4. Retrying

These provide an opportunity to explore the Dask/Celery comparision from thebias of a Celery user rather than from the bias of a Dask developer.

In this post I’ll point out a couple of large differences, then go through theCelery hello world in both projects, and then address how these requestedfeatures are implemented or not within Dask. This anecdotal comparison over afew features should give us a general comparison.

Biggest difference: Worker state and communication

First, the biggest difference (from my perspective) is that Dask workers holdonto intermediate results and communicate data between each other while inCelery all results flow back to a central authority. This difference wascritical when building out large parallel arrays and dataframes (Dask’soriginal purpose) where we needed to engage our worker processes’ memory andinter-worker communication bandwidths. Computational systems like Dask dothis, more data-engineering systems like Celery/Airflow/Luigi don’t. This isthe main reason why Dask wasn’t built on top of Celery/Airflow/Luigi originally.

That’s not a knock against Celery/Airflow/Luigi by any means. Typicallythey’re used in settings where this doesn’t matter and they’ve focused theirenergies on several features that Dask similarly doesn’t care about or do well.Tasks usually read data from some globally accessible store like a database orS3 and either return very small results, or place larger results back in theglobal store.

The question on my mind is now is Can Dask be a useful solution in moretraditional loose task scheduling problems where projects like Celery aretypically used? What are the benefits and drawbacks?

Hello World

To start we do the First steps withCelerywalk-through both in Celery and Dask and compare the two:


I follow the Celery quickstart, using Redis instead of RabbitMQ because it’swhat I happen to have handy.


from celery import Celery

app = Celery('tasks', broker='redis://localhost', backend='redis')

def add(x, y):
return x + y

celery -A tasks worker --loglevel=info

In [1]: from tasks import add

In [2]: %time add.delay(1, 1).get() # submit and retrieve roundtrip
CPU times: user 60 ms, sys: 8 ms, total: 68 ms
Wall time: 567 ms
Out[2]: 2

In [3]: %%time
...: futures = [add.delay(i, i) for i in range(1000)]
...: results = [f.get() for f in futures]
CPU times: user 888 ms, sys: 72 ms, total: 960 ms
Wall time: 1.7 s


We do the same workload with dask.distributed’s concurrent.futures interface,using the default single-machine deployment.

In [1]: from distributed import Client

In [2]: c = Client()

In [3]: from operator import add

In [4]: %time c.submit(add, 1, 1).result()
CPU times: user 20 ms, sys: 0 ns, total: 20 ms
Wall time: 20.7 ms
Out[4]: 2

In [5]: %%time
...: futures = [c.submit(add, i, i) for i in range(1000)]
...: results = c.gather(futures)
CPU times: user 328 ms, sys: 12 ms, total: 340 ms
Wall time: 369 ms


  • Functions: In Celery you register computations ahead of time on theserver. This is good if you know what you want to run ahead of time (suchas is often the case in data engineering workloads) and don’t want thesecurity risk of allowing users to run arbitrary code on your cluster. It’sless pleasant on users who want to experiment. In Dask we choose thefunctions to run on the user side, not on the server side. This ends upbeing pretty critical in data exploration but may be a hinderance in moreconservative/secure compute settings.
  • Setup: In Celery we depend on other widely deployed systems likeRabbitMQ or Redis. Dask depends on lower-level Torando TCP IOStreams andDask’s own custom routing logic. This makes Dask trivial to set up, butalso probably less durable. Redis and RabbitMQ have both solved lots ofproblems that come up in the wild and leaning on them inspires confidence.
  • Performance: They both operate with sub-second latencies andmillisecond-ish overheads. Dask is marginally lower-overhead but for dataengineering workloads differences at this level are rarely significant.Dask is an order of magnitude lower-latency, which might be a big dealdepending on your application. For example if you’re firing off tasks froma user clicking a button on a website 20ms is generally within interactivebudget while 500ms feels a bit slower.

Simple Dependencies

The question asked aboutCanvas,Celery’s dependency management system.

Often tasks depend on the results of other tasks. Both systems have ways tohelp users express these dependencies.


The apply_async method has a link= parameter that can be used to call tasksafter other tasks have run. For example we can compute (1 + 2) + 3 in Celeryas follows:

add.apply_async((1, 2), link=add.s(3))


With the Dask concurrent.futures API, futures can be used within submit callsand dependencies are implicit.

x = c.submit(add, 1, 2)
y = c.submit(add, x, 3)

We could also use the dask.delayed decorator to annotate arbitrary functions and then use normal-ish Python.

def add(x, y):
return x + y

x = add(1, 2)
y = add(x, 3)


I prefer the Dask solution, but that’s subjective.

Complex Dependencies


Celery includes a rich vocabulary of terms to connect tasks in more complexways including groups, chains, chords, maps, starmaps, etc.. Moredetail here in their docs for Canvas, the system they use to construct complexworkflows:

For example here we chord many adds and then follow them with a sum.

In [1]: from tasks import add, tsum # I had to add a sum method to

In [2]: from celery import chord

In [3]: %time chord(add.s(i, i) for i in range(100))(tsum.s()).get()
CPU times: user 172 ms, sys: 12 ms, total: 184 ms
Wall time: 1.21 s
Out[3]: 9900


Dask’s trick of allowing futures in submit calls actually goes pretty far.Dask doesn’t really need any additional primitives. It can do all of thepatterns expressed in Canvas fairly naturally with normal submit calls.

In [4]: %%time
...: futures = [c.submit(add, i, i) for i in range(100)]
...: total = c.submit(sum, futures)
...: total.result()
CPU times: user 52 ms, sys: 0 ns, total: 52 ms
Wall time: 60.8 ms

Or with Dask.delayed

futures = [add(i, i) for i in range(100)]
total = dask.delayed(sum)(futures)

Multiple Queues

In Celery there is a notion of queues to which tasks can be submitted and thatworkers can subscribe. An example use case is having “high priority” workersthat only process “high priority” tasks. Every worker can subscribe tothe high-priority queue but certain workers will subscribe to that queueexclusively:

celery -A my-project worker -Q high-priority # only subscribe to high priority
celery -A my-project worker -Q celery,high-priority # subscribe to both
celery -A my-project worker -Q celery,high-priority
celery -A my-project worker -Q celery,high-priority

This is like the TSA pre-check line or the express lane in the grocery store.

Dask has a couple of topics that are similar or could fit this need in a pinch, but nothing that is strictly analogous.

First, for the common case above, tasks have priorities. These are typicallyset by the scheduler to minimize memory use but can be overridden directly byusers to give certain tasks precedence over others.

Second, you can restrict tasks to run on subsets of workers. This wasoriginally designed for data-local storage systems like the Hadoop FileSystem(HDFS) or clusters with special hardware like GPUs but can be used in thequeues case as well. It’s not quite the same abstraction but could be used toachieve the same results in a pinch. For each task you can restrict the poolof workers on which it can run.

The relevant docs for this are here:

Retrying Tasks

Celery allows tasks to retry themselves on a failure.

def send_twitter_status(self, oauth, tweet):
twitter = Twitter(oauth)
except (Twitter.FailWhaleError, Twitter.LoginError) as exc:
raise self.retry(exc=exc)

# Example from

Sadly Dask currently has no support for this (see openissue). All functions areconsidered pure and final. If a task errs the exception is considered to bethe true result. This could change though; it has been requested a couple oftimes now.

Until then users need to implement retry logic within the function (which isn’ta terrible idea regardless).

def send_twitter_status(self, oauth, tweet, n_retries=5):
for i in range(n_retries):
twitter = Twitter(oauth)
except (Twitter.FailWhaleError, Twitter.LoginError) as exc:

Rate Limiting

Celery lets you specify rate limits on tasks, presumably to help you avoidgetting blocked from hammering external APIs

def query_external_api(...):

Dask definitely has nothing built in for this, nor is it planned. However,this could be done externally to Dask fairly easily. For example, Dasksupports mapping functions over arbitrary Python Queues. If you send in aqueue then all current and future elements in that queue will be mapped over.You could easily handle rate limiting in Pure Python on the client side byrate limiting your input queues. The low latency and overhead of Dask makes itfairly easy to manage logic like this on the client-side. It’s not asconvenient, but it’s still straightforward.

>>> from queue import Queue

>>> q = Queue()

>>> out =, q)
>>> type(out)

Final Thoughts

Based on this very shallow exploration of Celery, I’ll foolishly claim thatDask can handle Celery workloads, if you’re not diving into deep API.However all of that deep API is actually really important. Celery evolved inthis domain and developed tons of features that solve problems that arise overand over again. This history saves users an enormous amount of time. Daskevolved in a very different space and has developed a very different set oftricks. Many of Dask’s tricks are general enough that they can solve Celeryproblems with a small bit of effort, but there’s still that extra step. I’mseeing people applying that effort to problems now and I think it’ll beinteresting to see what comes out of it.

Going through the Celery API was a good experience for me personally. I thinkthat there are some good concepts from Celery that can inform future Daskdevelopment.