MapReduce and Apache Hadoop

This section uses text from Apache’s MapReduce Tutorial.

MapReduce is a way of writing programs designed for processing vast amounts of data, and a system for running those programs in a distributed and fault-tolerant way. Apache Hadoop is one such system designed primarily to run Java code.

A MapReduce job usually splits the input data-set into independent chunks which are processed by the map tasks in a completely parallel manner. The framework sorts the outputs of the maps, which are then input to the reduce tasks. Typically both the input and the output of the job are stored in a file system shared by all processing nodes. The framework takes care of scheduling tasks, monitoring them, and re-executing the failed tasks.

The MapReduce framework consists of a single master “job tracker” (Hadoop 1) or “resource manager” (Hadoop 2) and a number of worker nodes. The master is responsible for scheduling the jobs’ component tasks on the worker nodes and re-executing the failed tasks. The worker nodes execute the tasks as directed by the master.

As the job author, you write map, combine, and reduce functions that are submitted to the job tracker for execution.

A mapper takes a single key and value as input, and returns zero or more (key, value) pairs. The pairs from all map outputs of a single step are grouped by key.

A combiner takes a key and a subset of the values for that key as input and returns zero or more (key, value) pairs. Combiners are optimizations that run immediately after each mapper and can be used to decrease total data transfer. Combiners should be idempotent (produce the same output if run multiple times in the job pipeline).

A reducer takes a key and the complete set of values for that key in the current step, and returns zero or more arbitrary (key, value) pairs as output.

After the reducer has run, if there are more steps, the individual results are arbitrarily assigned to mappers for further processing. If there are no more steps, the results are sorted and made available for reading.

An example

Consider a program that counts how many times words occur in a document. Here is some input:

The wheels on the bus go round and round,
round and round, round and round
The wheels on the bus go round and round,
all through the town.

The inputs to the mapper will be (None, "one line of text"). (The key is None because the input is just raw text.)

The mapper converts the line to lowercase, removes punctuation, splits it on whitespace, and outputs (word, 1) for each item.

mapper input: (None, "The wheels on the bus go round and round,")
mapper output:
    "the", 1
    "wheels", 1
    "on", 1
    "the", 1
    "bus", 1
    "go", 1
    "round", 1
    "and", 1
    "round", 1

Each call to the combiner gets a word as the key and a list of 1s as the value. It sums the 1s and outputs the original key and the sum.

combiner input: ("the", [1, 1])
combiner output:
    "the", 2

The reducer is identical to the combiner; for each key, it simply outputs the original key and the sum of the values.

reducer input: ("round", [2, 4, 2])
reducer output:
    "round", 8

The final output is collected:

"all", 1
"and", 4
"bus", 2
"go", 2
"on", 2
"round", 8
"the", 5
"through", 1
"town", 1
"wheels", 2

Your algorithm may require several repetitions of this process.

Hadoop Streaming and mrjob


If this is your first exposure to MapReduce or Hadoop, you may want to skip this section and come back later. Feel free to stick with it if you feel adventurous.

Although Hadoop is primarly designed to work with Java code, it supports other languages via Hadoop Streaming. This jar opens a subprocess to your code, sends it input via stdin, and gathers results via stdout.

In most cases, the input to a Hadoop Streaming job is a set of newline-delimited files. Each line of input is passed to your mapper, which outputs key-value pairs expressed as two strings separated by a tab and ending with a newline, like this:


Hadoop then sorts the output lines by key (the line up to the first tab character) and passes the sorted lines to the appropriate combiners or reducers.

mrjob is a framework that assists you in submitting your job to the Hadoop job tracker and in running each individual step under Hadoop Streaming.

How your program is run

Depending on the way your script is invoked on the command line, it will behave in different ways. You’ll only ever use one of these; the rest are for mrjob and Hadoop Streaming to use.

When you run with no arguments or with --runner, you invoke mrjob’s machinery for running your job or submitting it to the cluster. Your mappers and reducers are not called in this process at all [1].

This process creates a runner (see MRJobRunner), which then sends the job to Hadoop [2].

It tells Hadoop something like this:

  • Run a step with Hadoop Streaming.
  • The command for the mapper is python --step-num=0 --mapper.
  • The command for the combiner is python --step-num=0 --combiner.
  • The command for the reducer is python --step-num=0 --reducer.

If you have a multi-step job, --step-num helps your script know which step is being run.

When Hadoop distributes tasks among the task nodes, Hadoop Streaming will use the appropriate command to process the data it is given.


Prior to v0.6.7, your job would also run itself locally with the --steps switch, to get a JSON representation of the job’s step. Jobs now pass that representation directly to the runner when they instantiate it. See mrjob.step - represent Job Steps for more information.


[1]Unless you’re using the inline runner, which is a special case for debugging.
[2]Or when using the local runner, a simulation of Hadoop.