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Prefect for workflow definition and execution in AutoFlow

Date: 22 November 2019




The first prototype of AutoFlow used Apache Airflow (as used in FlowETL) to define and execute workflows. However, this proved to be problematic in some respects - Airflow has limited support for parametrising DAG runs and sharing data between tasks, and re-running a DAG for an execution date for which it has already run is complicated.

Prefect Core is an alternative open-source workflow engine, which allows DAGs to be parametrised and run simultaneously for multiple sets of parameters, and allows data exchange between tasks. Prefect also allows the creation of dynamically-generated tasks mapped over the outputs from running another task, which makes it easier for AutoFlow to spawn multiple runs of a workflow when the sensor finds multiple days of data for which the workflow has not previously run.


AutoFlow will use Prefect to define and run workflows.


The process of parametrising and dynamically mapping workflow runs is simpler than it would be with Airflow.

Unlike Airflow, Prefect Core is not a full workflow management system - it provides the functionality for defining workflows and running them individually, but the full workflow orchestration and monitoring system is left to the proprietary Prefect Cloud platform. As a result, AutoFlow cannot benefit from a UI such as Airflow provides, and if in the future we want AutoFlow to run multiple sensor workflows we will need to write our own code to do this concurrently.