\ Anaconda hack: pandas decimal type! — Martin Durant

Martin Durant

Anaconda hack: pandas decimal type!

written by Martin Durant on 2022-11-14

It is little known outside of Anaconda, but we arrange quarterly hack days, in which we can do work unrelated to out day-to-day activities, together with colleagues from any team.

So, we did this last week, and I decided to lead a small project to fix what seems to mie a critical missing feature in pandas: a fixed precision decimal type. Thanks to Ryan Keith for helping out.

What is a decimal type

In python, and most computer languages, non-integer numbers are usually stored internally as floating point. This leads to plenty of quirks and unexpected errors

>>> 0.1 + 0.1 + 0.1 == 0.3

This is also true in Pandas

>>> import pandas as pd
>>> s = pd.Series([0.1, 0.1, 0.1])
>>> s.sum() == 0.3

But we can get exact and expected outcomes by using a decimal type: integers with an integer power-of-ten multiplier, so that "0.1" is represented as the integer 1, and factor of 10**-1.

Although python already has decimal.Decimal, we don't want python instances stored in pandas, because that is far too slow - we want something that vectorises.

I should say, it was surprising to find there was no existing decimal type for pandas, given pandas' origins in finance. Scientists usually are ok with uncertainty, since computer calculations are probably much more precise than any measurement, but finance values are exact.


We made a "decimal" extension type for pandas.

For now, see this repo in my personal github. We followed the template established by Doug Davis and myself in awkward-pandas; having this start was crucial to getting anything done in two days.

The hardest part was filling out the comparison and arithmetic binops, in which we need to take account of the type of the "other":


See the demo notebook! We have successful workflows, we are correct, and hundreds of times faster than putting decimal.Decimal instances into a pandas object series. We even have a handful of passing tests.

Proof of correctness:

>>> import pandas_decimal
>>> s = pd.Series([0.1, 0.1, 0.1], "decimal[2]")
>>> s
0   0.10
1   0.10
2   0.10
dtype: decimal[2]
>>> s.sum() == 0.3

That's it!


I'm not sure how to release this or whether anyone is interested. We shall find out, please comment on the repo.