# PIN 11: Task Loops

Date: July 27, 2019 Author: Jeremiah Lowin

# Status


# Context

Prefect currently exposes a few important control-flow mechanisms, including ifelse and, more dynamically, mapping. However, users who want to either loop over tasks sequentially (mapping does not work sequentially), or loop over tasks with an unknown terminal condition (mapping requires known inputs) have no first-class operation available. They must implement the loop logic themselves, inside a task.

Examples where looping matters:

  • accumulation: a result is generated in each iteration that matters for later iterations. Training a machine learning model is a complex example of this; Fibonacci sequences are a simpler one.

  • querying with pagination: if the number of pages is unknown, we want to continue the operation until a terminal condition is met.

Most workflow frameworks act as if looping is impossible (stressing the Acyclic part of the DAG), but it's actually trivial to implement. We simply dynamically unroll the loop, similar to how RNN gradients are sometimes computed.

# Proposal

A new state is introduced, Loop (or Rerun or something else). In addition to map_index, the TaskRunner also tracks a loop_index.

If a task raises a Loop state, the TaskRunner intercepts it and immediately re-runs the task with two modifications:

  • the loop_index of the taskrun is incremented by one (it defaults to 0)
  • the Loop state's result attribute is added to context (perhaps prefect.context.loop_result).

If the task does not raise a state, and simply returns as normal, the loop ends.

def accumulate(x, iterations):
    result = x + prefect.context.get("loop_result", 0)
	if prefect.context.loop_index < iterations:
        raise LOOP(result=result)
    return result

with Flow("looping accumulator") as flow:
    y = accumulate(x=1, iterations=5)

flow.run() # y = 6

# Consequences

Users will be able to create single-task loops that immediately comply with all existing assumptions of Prefect (including Cloud with no changes if we reuse map_index for loop_index).

# Actions