# Executors

A flow's Executor is responsible for running tasks in a flow. During execution of a flow run, a flow's executor will be initialized, used to execute all tasks in the flow, then shutdown.

To configure an executor on a flow, you can specify it as part of the constructor, or set it as the executor attribute later before calling flow.register. For example, to configure a flow to use a LocalDaskExecutor:

from prefect import Flow
from prefect.executors import LocalDaskExecutor

# Set executor as part of the constructor
with Flow("example", executor=LocalDaskExecutor()) as flow:

# OR set executor as an attribute later
with Flow("example") as flow:

flow.executor = LocalDaskExecutor()

# Choosing an Executor

Prefect's different executors have different performance (and complexity) characteristics. Choosing a good configuration can greatly improve your flow's performance. Here's some general recommendations:

  • If your flow already runs "fast enough", or doesn't have opportunites for parallelism (e.g. mapped tasks) you should use the LocalExecutor. It's the simplest option, and will be the easiest to manage.

  • If your flow doesn't require excessive memory or CPU and is fine running on a single node, you should use the LocalDaskExecutor. It's still pretty lightweight, but lets tasks run in parallel as local threads or processes.

  • If your flow could benefit from levels parallelism not available on a single node, or requires more memory than is practical for a single process, you should use the DaskExecutor. This lets you distribute your tasks among multiple nodes across a cluster, and can achieve high levels of parallelism. We recommend using a temporary cluster when possible, but also support connecting to an existing cluster.

# LocalExecutor

The LocalExecutor executes all tasks locally in a single thread. It's the default executor in Prefect. It's a good option for quick running flows, or ones that don't expose lots of opportunities for parallelism.

No extra configuration is required to specify the LocalExecutor, as it's the default option. If needed though, you can still specify it explicitly:

from prefect.executors import LocalExecutor

flow.executor = LocalExecutor()

# LocalDaskExecutor

The LocalDaskExecutor is a good option or flows that could benefit from parallel execution, but are still fine running on a single machine (not distributed). It can run tasks in parallel using either threads (default) or local processes using one of Dask's local schedulers.

from prefect.executors import LocalDaskExecutor

# Uses the default scheduler (threads)
flow.executor = LocalDaskExecutor()

To use multiple processes instead, you can pass in scheduler="processes".

# Use the multiprocessing scheduler
flow.executor = LocalDaskExecutor(scheduler="processes")

By default the number of threads or processes used is equal to the number of cores available. This can be set explicitly by passing in num_workers.

# Use 8 threads
flow.executor = LocalDaskExecutor(scheduler="threads", num_workers=8)

# Use 8 processes
flow.executor = LocalDaskExecutor(scheduler="processes", num_workers=8)

Selecting a `scheduler` and `num_workers`

You should use scheduler="threads" if:

  • Your tasks are often IO bound (e.g. API requests, uploading/downloading data, database calls, etc...). Tasks like these can sometimes benefit from having more threads than cores, but usually not more than by a factor of 2-4 (e.g. if you have 4 cores available, set num_workers=16 at most).

  • Your tasks make use of separate processes (e.g. ShellTask).

  • Your tasks make use of libraries like numpy, pandas, or scikit-learn that release the global interpreter lock (GIL). The default value for num_workers is likely sufficient - tasks like these are CPU bound and won't benefit from multiple threads per core.

You should use scheduler="processes" in most other cases. These tasks are also usually CPU bound, so the default value of num_workers should be sufficient.

# DaskExecutor

The DaskExecutor runs Prefect tasks using Dask's Distributed Scheduler. It can be used locally on a single machine (much like the LocalDaskExecutor above), but is most useful when scaling out distributed across multiple nodes.

Prefect's DaskExecutor has 3 operating modes:

# Using a Local Cluster

By default, when you use a DaskExecutor it creates a temporary local Dask cluster.

from prefect.executors import DaskExecutor

# By default this will use a temporary local Dask cluster
flow.executor = DaskExecutor()

The number of workers used is based on the number of cores on your machine. The default should provide a mix of processes and threads that should work well for most workloads. If you want to specify this explicitly, you can pass n_workers or threads_per_worker to cluster_kwargs.

# Use 4 worker processes, each with 2 threads
flow.executor = DaskExecutor(
    cluster_kwargs={"n_workers": 4, "threads_per_worker": 2}

Using a DaskExecutor with a local cluster is very similar to using a LocalDaskExecutor with processes=True. You may find it more performant in certain situations (this scheduler does a better job about managing memory), but generally they should perform equivalently for most Prefect workflows. The DaskExecutor becomes much more useful when used in a distributed context.

# Using a Temporary Cluster

The DaskExecutor is capable of creating a temporary cluster using any of Dask's cluster-manager options. This can be useful when you want each flow run to have its own Dask cluster, allowing for adaptive scaling per-flow.

To configure, you need to provide a cluster_class. This can be either a string specifying the import path to the cluster class (e.g. "dask_cloudprovider.aws.FargateCluster"), the cluster class itself, or a function for creating a custom cluster. You can also configure cluster_kwargs, which takes a dictionary of keyword arguments to pass to cluster_class when starting the flow run.

For example, to configure a flow to use a temporary dask_cloudprovider.aws.FargateCluster with 4 workers running with an image named my-prefect-image:

flow.executor = DaskExecutor(
    cluster_kwargs={"n_workers": 4, "image": "my-prefect-image"},

# Specifying Worker Images

Several Dask cluster managers run using images. It's important that the images the dask workers are using have all the Python libraries that are required to run your flow. You have a few options here:

  • Build a static image that has everything required, and specify the image name explicitly in cluster_kwargs. All Prefect flow's running on dask will need at least prefect, dask, and distributed installed - depending on your flow you may have additional dependencies.

  • If your flow is running on an agent that also uses images (e.g. Kubernetes, Docker, ECS, ...), you can also access the main image used for your Flow Run at runtime at prefect.context.image. Note that you can't put this directly into cluster_kwargs (since that will resolve at registration time not run time) - instead you'll need to define a custom function for creating your cluster. For example:

    import prefect
    from dask_cloudprovider.aws import FargateCluster
    def fargate_cluster(n_workers=4):
        """Start a fargate cluster using the same image as the flow run"""
        return FargateCluster(n_workers=n_workers, image=prefect.context.image)
    flow.executor = DaskExecutor(
        cluster_kwargs={"n_workers": 4}

For more information on Prefect and Docker images, see here.

# Adaptive Scaling

One nice feature of using a DaskExecutor is the ability to scale adaptively to the workload. Instead of specifying n_workers as a fixed number, this lets you specify a minimum and maximum number of workers to use, and the dask cluster will scale up and down as needed.

To do this, you can pass adapt_kwargs to DaskExecutor. This takes the following fields:

  • maximum (int or None, optional): the maximum number of workers to scale to. Set to None for no maximum.
  • minimum (int or None, optional): the minimum number of workers to scale to. Set to None for no minimum.

For example, here we configure a flow to run on a FargateCluster scaling up to at most 10 workers.

flow.executor = DaskExecutor(
    adapt_kwargs={"maximum": 10}

# Connecting to an Existing Cluster

Multiple Prefect flow runs can all use the same existing Dask cluster. You might manage a single long-running Dask cluster (maybe using the Helm Chart) and configure flows to connect to it during execution. This has a few downsides when compared to using a temporary cluster (as described above):

  • All workers in the cluster must have dependencies installed for all flows you intend to run. When using a temporary cluster, each workers to run the flow it's associated with.

  • Multiple flow runs may compete for resources. Dask tries to do a good job sharing resources between tasks, but you may still run into issues.

  • When cancelling a flow run, any actively running tasks can't be hard-stopped when using a shared Dask cluster - instead the flow runner will stop submitting tasks but will let all active tasks run to completion. With a temporary cluster the cluster can be shutdown to force-stop any active tasks, speeding up cancellation.

That said, you may find managing a single long running cluster simpler (the choice here is largely preferential). To configure a DaskExecutor to connect to an existing cluster, pass in the address of the scheduler to the address argument:

# Connect to an existing cluster running at a specified address
flow.executor = DaskExecutor(address="tcp://...")