Prefect introduces a flexible map/reduce model for dynamically executing parallel tasks.

Classic "map/reduce" is a powerful two-stage programming model that can be used to distribute and parallelize work (the "map" phase) before collecting and processing all the results (the "reduce" phase).

A typical map/reduce setup requires three things:

  • An iterable input
  • A "map" function that operates on a single item at a time
  • A "reduce" function that operates on a group of items at once

For example, we could use map/reduce to take a list of numbers, increment them all by one, and sum the result:

numbers = [1, 2, 3]
map_fn = lambda x: x + 1
reduce_fn = lambda x: sum(x)

mapped_result = [map_fn(n) for n in numbers]
reduced_result = reduce_fn(mapped_result)
assert reduced_result == 9

Prefect approach

Prefect's version of map/reduce is far more flexible than the classic implementation.

When a task is mapped, Prefect automatically creates a copy of the task for each element of its input data. The copy -- referred to as a "child" task -- is applied only to that element. This means that mapped tasks actually represent the computations of many individual children tasks.

If a "normal" (non-mapped) task depends on a mapped task, Prefect automatically applies a reduce operation to gather the mapped results and pass them to the downstream task.

However, if a mapped task relies on another mapped task, Prefect does not reduce the upstream result. Instead, it connects the nth upstream child to the nth downstream child, creating independent parallel pipelines.

Here's how the previous example would look as a Prefect flow:

from prefect import Flow, task

numbers = [1, 2, 3]
map_fn = task(lambda x: x + 1)
reduce_fn = task(lambda x: sum(x))

with Flow('Map Reduce') as flow:
    mapped_result =
    reduced_result = reduce_fn(mapped_result)

state =
assert state.result[reduced_result].result == 9

Dynamically-generated children tasks are first-class tasks

Even though the user didn't create them explicitly, the children tasks of a mapped task are first-class Prefect tasks. They can do anything a "normal" task can do, including succeed, fail, retry, pause, or skip.

Simple mapping

The simplest Prefect map takes a tasks and applies it to each element of its inputs.

For example, if we define a task for adding 10 to a number, we can trivially apply that task to each element of a list:

from prefect import Flow, task

def add_ten(x):
    return x + 10

with Flow('simple map') as flow:
    mapped_result =[1, 2, 3])

The result of the mapped_result task will be [11, 12, 13] when the flow is run.

Iterated mapping

Since mapped_result is nothing more than a task with an iterable result, we can immediately use it as the input for another round of mapping:

from prefect import Flow, task

def add_ten(x):
    return x + 10

with Flow('iterated map') as flow:
    mapped_result =[1, 2, 3])
    mapped_result_2 =

When this flow runs, the result of the mapped_result_2 task will be [21, 22, 23], which is the result of applying the mapped function twice.

No reduce required

Even though we observed that the result of mapped_result was a list, Prefect won't apply a reduce step to gather that list unless the user requires it. In this example, we never needed the entire list (we only needed each of its elements), so no reduce took place. The two mapped tasks generated three completely-independent pipelines, each one containing two tasks.


Prefect automatically gathers mapped results into a list if they are needed by a non-mapped task. Therefore, all users need to do to "reduce" a mapped result is supply it to a task!

from prefect import Flow, task

def add_ten(x):
    return x + 10

def sum_numbers(y):
    return sum(y)

with Flow('reduce') as flow:
    mapped_result =[1, 2, 3])
    mapped_result_2 =
    reduced_result = sum_numbers(mapped_result_2)

In this example, sum_numbers received an automatically-reduced list of results from mapped_result. It appropriately computes the sum: 66.

Unmapped inputs

When a task is mapped over its inputs, it retains the same call signature and arguments, but iterates over the inputs to generate its children tasks. Sometimes, we don't want to to iterate over one of the inputs -- perhaps it's a constant value, or a list that's required in its entirety. Prefect supplies a convenient unmapped() function for this case.

from prefect import Flow, task, unmapped

def add(x, y):
    return x + y

with Flow('unmapped inputs') as flow:
    result =[1, 2, 3], y=unmapped(10))

This map will iterate over the x inputs but not over the y input. The result will be [11, 12, 13].

The unmapped function can be applied to any number of input arguments. This means that a mapped task can depend on both mapped- and reduced- upstream tasks, seamlessly.

State behavior with mapped tasks

Whenever a mapped task is reduced by a downstream task, Prefect treats its children as the inputs to that task. This means, among other things, that trigger functions will be applied to all of the mapped children, not the mapped parent.

If a reducing task has an all_successful task, but one of the mapped children failed, then the reducing task's trigger will fail. This is the same behavior as if the mapped children had been created manually and passed to the reducing task. Similar behavior will take place for skips.