Start Date: 2020-12-29

RFC Status

Spec PR


This RFC proposes a new MetadataBlock schema that makes metadata less ambiguous and easier to extend.


MetadataBlock schema today consists of multiple optional fields that appear in metadata under different conditions. For example, the outputSlice field is present when a transformation resulted in some new data added to the datasets, the outputWatermark tells us that transformation had bumped up the watermark of a dataset - it can be present even when no new output data was produced. So when you want to process only metadata blocks that correspond to transformations - you get into a position of wondering what’s the “definitive sign” of transformation taking place, is it the presence of outputWatermark, ouputSlice, or inputSclices?

These are the clear signs of “anemic data” - the problem ODF was designed to prevent in data, as compared to approaches like Change Data Capture. As the set of features ODF supports grows, such anemic ever-growing schema will become unsustainable.

This RFC will explore how to transition metadata into a descriptive event-based format that can be easily extended by different parties to implement higher-level features.

Guide-level explanation

This RFC proposes to replace the anemic fields of the MetadataBlock schema with an extensible set of MetadataEvents, with every MetadataBlock containing a single MetadataEvent of a certain type. MetadataEvent will correspond to a certain transaction on the dataset (e.g. executing query, specifying polling source, updating transformation query). Every event will contain only fields that are relevant to the transaction.

A similar transformation will be done to the DatasetSnapshot schema. Instead of directly representing the first MetadataBlock it will contain an array of MetadataEvents that bring the dataset into a desired state. This means that in most cases a dataset newly-created from a DatasetSnapshot will have more than one block.

For example, creating dataset from the following snapshot:

kind: DatasetSnapshot
version: 1
  kind: root
    - kind: setPollingSource
      fetch: ...
      read: ...
      merge: ...
    - kind: setVocab
      eventTimeColumn: reported_date

will produce metadata chain with three blocks:

- Seed
- SetPollingSource
- SetVocab

Reference-level explanation

Core events:

Event TypeDescription
SeedContains identity information of a dataset and always appears as the first metadata block.
AddDataSignifies that data was added into the root dataset.
SetWatermarkSignifies that watermark of the dataset has been advanced.
SetTransformDefines transformation of the derivative dataset.
ExecuteQuerySignifies data processing step on the derivative dataset.

Extension events:

Event TypeDescription
SetPollingSource(Optional extension) Defines how externally-hosted data can be ingested into the root dataset.


  • Makes DatasetSnapshot schema a little more verbose
  • There will be some events that contain a similar set of fields (e.g. AddData and ExecuteQuery both contain data and watermark info) but will now need to be processed separately. This is a small price to pay for a robust domain model though.

Rationale and alternatives

  • As in case of dataset creation, we can see that it’s no longer possible to move dataset into desired state with just one metadata block. Does this hurt consistency?
    • One considered alternative was to allow multiple MetadataEvents per MetadataBlock - this would ensure per-block consistency but at the expense of higher complexity
    • It was decided that this complexity is not warranted. Just like with git, code is not guaranteed to compile when looking at it on per-commit basis - as long as a group of commits that constitutes a consistent state is pushed atomically consistency overall can be achieved.

Prior art

Unresolved questions

  • Forward-compatibility requires a way to differentiate between events that coordinator has to understand and events that can be safely ignored if coordinator does not support them.
    • Currently, we don’t have a good way to achieve this without running into too many issues with flatbuffers.
    • We postpone this issue until we get better clarity on the long-term serialization format - we’re getting more indications that flatbuffers is not the best way forward and may consider alternatives. This also ties in with considering IPLD.

Future possibilities

  • This RFC opens up the path for introducing many new MetadataEvent types such as for:
    • Storing description / readme
    • Linking to additional content (e.g. notebooks)
    • Embedding a license