Data Processing: Data Flows and Data Factories


A common aspect of data management is processing data in some way or another: cleaning it, converting it from one format to another, integrating different datasets together etc. Such processing usually takes place in what are termed data (work)flows or pipelines. Each flow or pipeline consists of one or more stages with one particular operation (task) being done with the data at each stage. Finally, there is a need for something to manage and orchestrate the data flows/pipelines. This overall system which includes both the flows themselves and the framework for managing them needs a name. We call it a "Data Factory".

Let's have some concrete examples of simple pipelines:

  • Loading a raw CSV file into a database (e.g. to power the data API)
  • Converting a file from one format to another e.g. CSV to JSON
  • Loading a file, validating it and then computing some summary statistics

Fig 1: A simple data pipeline to clean up a CSV file

Domain Model

  • Tasks: a single processing step that is applied to data
  • Flows (DAGs): a flow or pipeline of tasks. These tasks form a "directed acyclic graph" (DAG) where each task is a node.
  • Factory: a system for creating and managing (orchestrating, monitoring etc) those flows.

Each flow or pipeline consists of one or more stages with one particular operation (task) being done with the data at each stage.

In a basic setup a flow is linear: the data arrives, operation A happens, then operation B, and, finally operation C. However, more complex flows/pipelines can involve branching e.g. the data arrives, then operation A, then there is a branch and operation B and C can happen independently.

Fig 2: An illustration of a Generic Branching Flow (DAG)


CKAN v2 has two implicit data factory system embedded in other functionality. These systems are technically entirely independent:


The Data Factory system is called AirCan and is built on top of AirFlow. AirCan itself can be used on its own or integrated with CKAN.


  • Runner: Apache AirFlow
  • Pipelines/DAGs: This is a set of AirFlow DAGs designed for common data processing operations in a DMS such as loading data into Data API storage.

CKAN integration:

Status: Beta. AirCan and ckanext-aircan are in active use in production. GUI is under development.

Documentation: including setup and use of the all the components including CKAN integration can be found in


See Design page.

  • Research - list of tools and concepts with some analysis
  • History - some previous thinking and work (2016-2019)

Appendix: Our Previous Work

See also History page.