How to Get Started with Apache Airflow: A Complete Guide

How to Get Started with Apache Airflow: A Complete Guide

Misskey AI

Airflow in Data Engineering

Automating Data Pipelines

Apache Airflow is a powerful open-source platform that has become a go-to choice for data engineers and data scientists alike. At its core, Airflow excels at automating and orchestrating data pipelines, enabling teams to streamline their data workflows and achieve greater efficiency.

One of the primary use cases of Airflow in data engineering is the scheduling and orchestration of ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) workflows. Airflow's core concept of "Directed Acyclic Graphs" (DAGs) allows data engineers to define complex dependencies between tasks, ensuring that data is processed in the correct order and that prerequisite tasks are completed before downstream tasks are executed.

For example, let's consider a typical data pipeline that ingests data from a relational database, transforms the data, and then loads it into a data warehouse. Using Airflow, you can define this workflow as a DAG, with tasks for extracting data from the database, transforming the data, and loading it into the data warehouse. Airflow will then handle the scheduling and execution of these tasks, ensuring that the pipeline runs reliably and on a predefined schedule.

from airflow import DAG
from airflow.operators.python_operator import PythonOperator
from airflow.operators.postgres_operator import PostgresOperator
from datetime import datetime, timedelta
def extract_data():
    # Code to extract data from a relational database
def transform_data():
    # Code to transform the extracted data
def load_data():
    # Code to load the transformed data into a data warehouse
default_args = {
    'owner': 'airflow',
    'depends_on_past': False,
    'start_date': datetime(2023, 4, 1),
    'email_on_failure': False,
    'email_on_retry': False,
    'retries': 1,
    'retry_delay': timedelta(minutes=5)
with DAG('data_pipeline', default_args=default_args, schedule_interval=timedelta(days=1)) as dag:
    extract = PythonOperator(
    transform = PythonOperator(
    load = PostgresOperator(
        sql='INSERT INTO my_table SELECT * FROM staging_table;'
    extract >> transform >> load

In this example, we define a DAG with three tasks: extract_data, transform_data, and load_data. The tasks are connected sequentially, ensuring that the data is processed in the correct order. Airflow will then handle the scheduling and execution of this pipeline, running it on a daily basis (as specified by the schedule_interval parameter).

Beyond just scheduling and orchestrating tasks, Airflow also provides powerful capabilities for handling dependencies and task ordering. This is especially important in complex data pipelines where tasks may have intricate dependencies on each other. Airflow's DAG structure allows you to define these dependencies explicitly, ensuring that tasks are only executed when their prerequisites have been met.

Furthermore, Airflow offers robust monitoring and alerting features for pipeline failures. By integrating with various notification channels, such as email, Slack, or PagerDuty, Airflow can proactively alert data engineers when a task fails or when a pipeline experiences issues. This enables quick response and resolution, minimizing the impact of pipeline failures on downstream processes.

Integrating with Various Data Sources

One of the strengths of Airflow is its ability to integrate with a wide range of data sources, including databases, APIs, and cloud storage platforms. This flexibility allows data engineers to build comprehensive data pipelines that span multiple data sources and formats.

For example, you can use Airflow's built-in operators to connect to databases like PostgreSQL, MySQL, or Snowflake, and perform tasks such as extracting data, executing SQL queries, and loading data. Airflow also provides operators for interacting with cloud storage services like Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, and Azure Blob Storage, enabling you to ingest, process, and store data in these platforms.

from import BigQueryCreateEmptyTableOperator, BigQueryInsertJobOperator
with DAG('bq_pipeline', default_args=default_args, schedule_interval=timedelta(days=1)) as dag:
    create_table = BigQueryCreateEmptyTableOperator(
    load_data = BigQueryInsertJobOperator(
            "query": {
                "query": "SELECT * FROM my_source_table",
                "useLegacySql": False
    create_table >> load_data

In this example, we use Airflow's BigQuery operators to create an empty table in BigQuery and then load data into that table. The BigQueryCreateEmptyTableOperator and BigQueryInsertJobOperator allow us to interact with Google BigQuery, one of the popular cloud-based data warehousing solutions.

Beyond just connecting to data sources, Airflow also excels at handling heterogeneous data formats. Whether you're working with structured data in databases, semi-structured data in JSON or XML files, or even unstructured data like text or images, Airflow provides a range of operators and tools to ingest, transform, and process these data sources.

For instance, you can use Airflow's PythonOperator to write custom data transformation logic, leveraging libraries like Pandas, Spark, or dbt to clean, enrich, and prepare the data for downstream use cases. This flexibility allows data engineers to build complex, end-to-end data pipelines that seamlessly integrate with diverse data sources and formats.

Scaling and Parallelizing Data Processing

As data volumes continue to grow, the ability to scale and parallelize data processing becomes increasingly important. Airflow's architecture is designed to handle large-scale data workloads, leveraging its task parallelism and resource optimization capabilities.

One of the key features that enables scalability in Airflow is its task parallelism. Airflow allows you to define tasks that can be executed concurrently, making efficient use of available computing resources. This is particularly useful when you have independent tasks within a pipeline that can be run in parallel, such as data ingestion from multiple sources or parallel data transformations.

from airflow.operators.python_operator import PythonOperator
def process_data(partition_date):
    # Code to process data for the given partition date
with DAG('parallel_pipeline', default_args=default_args, schedule_interval=timedelta(days=1)) as dag:
    for partition in ['2023-04-01', '2023-04-02', '2023-04-03']:
        process_task = PythonOperator(
            op_kwargs={'partition_date': partition}

In this example, we define a single task, process_data, that processes data for a given partition date. By using a loop to create multiple instances of this task, each with a different partition date, Airflow will execute these tasks in parallel, leveraging available computing resources and reducing the overall processing time.

Beyond task parallelism, Airflow also provides mechanisms for optimizing resource utilization. You can configure resource constraints, such as CPU, memory, or disk space, at the task level, ensuring that tasks are only scheduled on nodes with sufficient resources. This helps prevent resource contention and improves the overall efficiency of your data processing workflows.

To handle large-scale data workloads, Airflow can be integrated with distributed computing frameworks like Apache Spark or Dask. By leveraging these frameworks, you can scale your data processing capabilities and tackle even the most demanding data processing tasks.

from airflow.providers.apache.spark.operators.spark_submit import SparkSubmitOperator
with DAG('spark_pipeline', default_args=default_args, schedule_interval=timedelta(days=1)) as dag:
    spark_job = SparkSubmitOperator(

In this example, we use Airflow's SparkSubmitOperator to execute a Spark job as part of our data pipeline. This allows us to leverage the scalability and performance of Apache Spark to process large volumes of data, while still maintaining the orchestration and monitoring capabilities provided by Airflow.

By combining Airflow's task parallelism, resource optimization, and integration with distributed computing frameworks, data engineers can build highly scalable and efficient data processing pipelines that can handle even the most demanding data workloads.

Airflow in Machine Learning Workflows

Airflow's versatility extends beyond data engineering, as it has become a powerful tool for automating machine learning (ML) workflows. From model training and deployment to experiment tracking and hyperparameter tuning, Airflow can help data scientists and ML engineers streamline their end-to-end ML pipelines.

Automating Model Training and Deployment

One of the key use cases of Airflow in the ML domain is the automation of model training and deployment. Airflow's scheduling and orchestration capabilities allow data scientists to define and execute repeatable workflows for model retraining, evaluation, and deployment to production.

from airflow.operators.python_operator import PythonOperator
from airflow.operators.bash_operator import BashOperator
from airflow.models import Variable
def train_model():
    # Code to train a machine learning model
def evaluate_model():
    # Code to evaluate the trained model
def deploy_model():
    # Code to deploy the model to production
with DAG('ml_pipeline', default_args=default_args, schedule_interval=timedelta(days=7)) as dag:
    train = PythonOperator(
    evaluate = PythonOperator(
    deploy = BashOperator(
        bash_command='docker push my-model:{{ execution_date.strftime("%Y%m%d") }}'
    train >> evaluate >> deploy

In this example, we define a machine learning pipeline that trains a model, evaluates its performance, and then deploys the model to production. The train_model, evaluate_model, and deploy_model functions encapsulate the respective steps of the workflow.

Airflow's scheduling capabilities ensure that this pipeline is executed on a regular basis (in this case, weekly), allowing the model to be retrained and redeployed as needed. Additionally, Airflow can be used to version and track model artifacts, such as trained model files, hyperparameters, and evaluation metrics, enabling better model governance and reproducibility.

Integrating with ML Platforms and Frameworks

Airflow's strength lies in its ability to integrate with a wide range of machine learning platforms and frameworks, allowing data scientists to orchestrate end-to-end ML pipelines that span multiple tools and technologies.

For example, you can use Airflow to connect to MLflow, a popular open-source platform for managing the end-to-end machine learning lifecycle. Airflow can be used to trigger model training experiments in MLflow, track model artifacts and metrics, and then deploy the best-performing model to production.

from airflow import DAG
from airflow.providers.databricks.operators.databricks import DatabricksRunPipelineOperator
from datetime import datetime, timedelta
default_args = {
    'owner': 'airflow',
    'depends_on_past': False,
    'start_date': datetime(2023, 1, 1),
    'email_on_failure': False,
    'email_on_retry': False,
    'retries': 1,
    'retry_delay': timedelta(minutes=5),
with DAG('mlflow_pipeline', default_args=default_args, schedule_interval=timedelta(days=7)) as dag:
    train_model = DatabricksRunPipelineOperator(
            'param1': 'value1',
            'param2': 'value2',
            'node_type_id': 'i3.xlarge',
            'num_workers': 2,
            'spark_version': '7.3.x-scala2.12',
            {'pypi': {'package': 'mlflow'}},
            {'pypi': {'package': 'scikit-learn'}},

Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs)

Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) are a specialized type of neural network that have become the go-to architecture for a wide range of computer vision tasks, from image classification to object detection and segmentation. CNNs are designed to effectively process and extract features from image data, leveraging the spatial and local connectivity of the input.

The key components of a CNN architecture are:

  1. Convolutional Layers: These layers apply a set of learnable filters (or kernels) to the input image, extracting local features and patterns. The filters are trained to detect specific features, such as edges, shapes, or textures, and the output of the convolutional layer is a feature map that represents the presence and location of these features in the input.

  2. Pooling Layers: Pooling layers reduce the spatial dimensions of the feature maps, while preserving the most important information. This helps to achieve translation invariance and reduce the computational complexity of the network.

  3. Fully Connected Layers: The final layers of a CNN are typically fully connected layers, which take the flattened feature maps and produce the final output, such as a classification prediction.

Here's an example of a simple CNN architecture in PyTorch:

import torch.nn as nn
class ConvNet(nn.Module):
    def __init__(self):
        super(ConvNet, self).__init__()
        self.conv1 = nn.Conv2d(in_channels=3, out_channels=16, kernel_size=3, stride=1, padding=1)
        self.pool1 = nn.MaxPool2d(kernel_size=2, stride=2)
        self.conv2 = nn.Conv2d(in_channels=16, out_channels=32, kernel_size=3, stride=1, padding=1)
        self.pool2 = nn.MaxPool2d(kernel_size=2, stride=2)
        self.fc1 = nn.Linear(in_features=32 * 7 * 7, out_features=128)
        self.fc2 = nn.Linear(in_features=128, out_features=10)
    def forward(self, x):
        x = self.pool1(nn.functional.relu(self.conv1(x)))
        x = self.pool2(nn.functional.relu(self.conv2(x)))
        x = x.view(-1, 32 * 7 * 7)
        x = nn.functional.relu(self.fc1(x))
        x = self.fc2(x)
        return x

In this example, the CNN architecture consists of two convolutional layers, two max-pooling layers, and two fully connected layers. The convolutional layers extract features from the input image, the pooling layers reduce the spatial dimensions, and the fully connected layers produce the final classification output.

Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs)

Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) are a type of neural network that are designed to process sequential data, such as text, speech, or time series data. Unlike feedforward neural networks, which process each input independently, RNNs have a "memory" that allows them to take into account the context of the current input based on the previous inputs.

The key feature of RNNs is the presence of a recurrent connection, which allows the network to maintain a hidden state that is updated at each time step. This hidden state can be thought of as a "memory" that the network uses to make predictions or decisions based on the current input and the previous inputs.

One of the most common types of RNNs is the Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) network, which is designed to address the problem of vanishing or exploding gradients that can occur in traditional RNNs. LSTMs use a unique cell structure that includes gates (forget, input, and output gates) to selectively remember and forget information, allowing them to effectively capture long-term dependencies in the input data.

Here's an example of an LSTM network in PyTorch:

import torch.nn as nn
class LSTMModel(nn.Module):
    def __init__(self, input_size, hidden_size, num_layers, output_size):
        super(LSTMModel, self).__init__()
        self.hidden_size = hidden_size
        self.num_layers = num_layers
        self.lstm = nn.LSTM(input_size, hidden_size, num_layers, batch_first=True)
        self.fc = nn.Linear(hidden_size, output_size)
    def forward(self, x):
        # Initialize the hidden state and cell state
        h0 = torch.zeros(self.num_layers, x.size(0), self.hidden_size).to(x.device)
        c0 = torch.zeros(self.num_layers, x.size(0), self.hidden_size).to(x.device)
        # Forward pass through the LSTM
        out, _ = self.lstm(x, (h0, c0))
        # Pass the LSTM output through the fully connected layer
        out = self.fc(out[:, -1, :])
        return out

In this example, the LSTM model takes an input sequence x and produces an output sequence. The hidden state and cell state are initialized to zero and are updated at each time step as the LSTM processes the input. The final output is obtained by passing the last hidden state through a fully connected layer.

RNNs, and particularly LSTMs, have been widely used in a variety of applications, such as language modeling, machine translation, speech recognition, and time series forecasting.

Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs)

Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) are a class of deep learning models that have revolutionized the field of generative modeling. GANs consist of two neural networks, a generator and a discriminator, that are trained in a adversarial manner to generate new, realistic-looking data samples.

The generator network is trained to generate data that looks like the real training data, while the discriminator network is trained to distinguish between the real training data and the generated data. This adversarial training process pushes the generator to continuously improve its ability to generate more and more realistic samples, while the discriminator becomes better at identifying fake samples.

One of the key advantages of GANs is their ability to generate highly realistic and diverse samples, such as images, text, or audio. This has led to a wide range of applications, including image synthesis, style transfer, text generation, and even the creation of synthetic media (known as "deepfakes").

Here's an example of a simple GAN architecture in PyTorch:

import torch.nn as nn
import torch.optim as optim
import torchvision.datasets as datasets
import torchvision.transforms as transforms
# Define the generator and discriminator networks
class Generator(nn.Module):
    def __init__(self, latent_dim, img_shape):
        super(Generator, self).__init__()
        self.img_shape = img_shape
        self.model = nn.Sequential(
            nn.Linear(latent_dim, 256),
            nn.LeakyReLU(0.2, inplace=True),
            nn.Linear(256, 512),
            nn.LeakyReLU(0.2, inplace=True),
            nn.Linear(512, 1024),
            nn.LeakyReLU(0.2, inplace=True),
            nn.Linear(1024, int(,
    def forward(self, z):
        img = self.model(z)
        img = img.view(img.size(0), *self.img_shape)
        return img
class Discriminator(nn.Module):
    def __init__(self, img_shape):
        super(Discriminator, self).__init__()
        self.model = nn.Sequential(
            nn.Linear(int(, 512),
            nn.LeakyReLU(0.2, inplace=True),
            nn.Linear(512, 256),
            nn.LeakyReLU(0.2, inplace=True),
            nn.Linear(256, 1),
    def forward(self, img):
        img_flat = img.view(img.size(0), -1)
        validity = self.model(img_flat)
        return validity
# Train the GAN
latent_dim = 100
img_shape = (1, 28, 28)
generator = Generator(latent_dim, img_shape)
discriminator = Discriminator(img_shape)

In this example, the generator and discriminator networks are defined as PyTorch modules. The generator takes a latent vector as input and generates an image, while the discriminator takes an image and outputs a probability of it being real or fake.

During training, the generator and discriminator are trained in an adversarial manner, with the generator trying to fool the discriminator and the discriminator trying to correctly identify real and fake samples.

GANs have been applied to a wide range of problems, from image generation and style transfer to text-to-image synthesis and even video generation. As the field of deep learning continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more exciting and innovative applications of GANs in the future.


In this article, we've explored three key deep learning architectures: Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs), Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs), and Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). Each of these architectures has its own unique strengths and applications, and they have all played a crucial role in the recent advancements in deep learning.

CNNs have become the go-to choice for a wide range of computer vision tasks, thanks to their ability to effectively extract and process visual features. RNNs, on the other hand, are well-suited for sequential data processing, such as natural language processing and time series forecasting. GANs have revolutionized the field of generative modeling, enabling the creation of highly realistic and diverse synthetic data.

As deep learning continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more exciting developments and applications of these architectures, as well as the emergence of new and innovative deep learning models. The field of deep learning is a rapidly advancing and dynamic area of research, and it will be fascinating to see how it continues to shape the future of artificial intelligence.