Analyze data with Apache Spark

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to perform exploratory data analysis by using Azure Open Datasets and Apache Spark. You can then visualize the results in a Synapse Studio notebook in Azure Synapse Analytics.

In particular, we'll analyze the New York City (NYC) Taxi dataset. The data is available through Azure Open Datasets. This subset of the dataset contains information about yellow taxi trips: information about each trip, the start and end time and locations, the cost, and other interesting attributes.

Before you begin

Create an Apache Spark Pool by following the Create an Apache Spark pool tutorial.

Download and prepare the data

  1. Create a notebook by using the PySpark kernel. For instructions, see Create a notebook.


    Because of the PySpark kernel, you don't need to create any contexts explicitly. The Spark context is automatically created for you when you run the first code cell.

  2. In this tutorial, we'll use several different libraries to help us visualize the dataset. To do this analysis, import the following libraries:

    import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
    import seaborn as sns
    import pandas as pd
  3. Because the raw data is in a Parquet format, you can use the Spark context to pull the file into memory as a DataFrame directly. Create a Spark DataFrame by retrieving the data via the Open Datasets API. Here, we use the Spark DataFrame schema on read properties to infer the datatypes and schema.

     from azureml.opendatasets import NycTlcYellow
     from datetime import datetime
     from dateutil import parser
     end_date = parser.parse('2018-05-08 00:00:00')
     start_date = parser.parse('2018-05-01 00:00:00')
     nyc_tlc = NycTlcYellow(start_date=start_date, end_date=end_date)
     filtered_df = spark.createDataFrame(nyc_tlc.to_pandas_dataframe())
  4. After the data is read, we'll want to do some initial filtering to clean the dataset. We might remove unneeded columns and add columns that extract important information. In addition, we'll filter out anomalies within the dataset.

    # Filter the dataset 
    from pyspark.sql.functions import *
    filtered_df ='vendorID', 'passengerCount', 'tripDistance','paymentType', 'fareAmount', 'tipAmount'\
                                    , date_format('tpepPickupDateTime', 'hh').alias('hour_of_day')\
                                    , dayofweek('tpepPickupDateTime').alias('day_of_week')\
                                    , dayofmonth(col('tpepPickupDateTime')).alias('day_of_month'))\
                                .filter((df.passengerCount > 0)\
                                    & (df.tipAmount >= 0)\
                                    & (df.fareAmount >= 1) & (df.fareAmount <= 250)\
                                    & (df.tripDistance > 0) & (df.tripDistance <= 200))

Analyze data

As a data analyst, you have a wide range of tools available to help you extract insights from the data. In this part of the tutorial, we'll walk through a few useful tools available within Azure Synapse Analytics notebooks. In this analysis, we want to understand the factors that yield higher taxi tips for our selected period.

Apache Spark SQL Magic

First, we'll perform exploratory data analysis by Apache Spark SQL and magic commands with the Azure Synapse notebook. After we have our query, we'll visualize the results by using the built-in chart options capability.

  1. Within your notebook, create a new cell and copy the following code. By using this query, we want to understand how the average tip amounts have changed over the period we've selected. This query will also help us identify other useful insights, including the minimum/maximum tip amount per day and the average fare amount.

        , MIN(tipAmount) AS minTipAmount
        , MAX(tipAmount) AS maxTipAmount
        , AVG(tipAmount) AS avgTipAmount
        , AVG(fareAmount) as fareAmount
    FROM taxi_dataset 
    GROUP BY day_of_month
    ORDER BY day_of_month ASC
  2. After our query finishes running, we can visualize the results by switching to the chart view. This example creates a line chart by specifying the day_of_month field as the key and avgTipAmount as the value. After you've made the selections, select Apply to refresh your chart.

Visualize data

In addition to the built-in notebook charting options, you can use popular open-source libraries to create your own visualizations. In the following examples, we'll use Seaborn and Matplotlib. These are commonly used Python libraries for data visualization.


By default, every Apache Spark pool in Azure Synapse Analytics contains a set of commonly used and default libraries. You can view the full list of libraries in the Azure Synapse runtime documentation. In addition, to make third-party or locally built code available to your applications, you can install a library onto one of your Spark pools.

  1. To make development easier and less expensive, we'll downsample the dataset. We'll use the built-in Apache Spark sampling capability. In addition, both Seaborn and Matplotlib require a Pandas DataFrame or NumPy array. To get a Pandas DataFrame, use the toPandas() command to convert the DataFrame.

    # To make development easier, faster, and less expensive, downsample for now
    sampled_taxi_df = filtered_df.sample(True, 0.001, seed=1234)
    # The charting package needs a Pandas DataFrame or NumPy array to do the conversion
    sampled_taxi_pd_df = sampled_taxi_df.toPandas()
  2. We want to understand the distribution of tips in our dataset. We'll use Matplotlib to create a histogram that shows the distribution of tip amount and count. Based on the distribution, we can see that tips are skewed toward amounts less than or equal to $10.

    # Look at a histogram of tips by count by using Matplotlib
    ax1 = sampled_taxi_pd_df['tipAmount'].plot(kind='hist', bins=25, facecolor='lightblue')
    ax1.set_title('Tip amount distribution')
    ax1.set_xlabel('Tip Amount ($)')

    Histogram of tips.

  3. Next, we want to understand the relationship between the tips for a given trip and the day of the week. Use Seaborn to create a box plot that summarizes the trends for each day of the week.

    # View the distribution of tips by day of week using Seaborn
    ax = sns.boxplot(x="day_of_week", y="tipAmount",data=sampled_taxi_pd_df, showfliers = False)
    ax.set_title('Tip amount distribution per day')
    ax.set_xlabel('Day of Week')
    ax.set_ylabel('Tip Amount ($)')

    Graph that shows the distribution of tips per day.

  4. Another hypothesis of ours might be that there's a positive relationship between the number of passengers and the total taxi tip amount. To verify this relationship, run the following code to generate a box plot that illustrates the distribution of tips for each passenger count.

    # How many passengers tipped by various amounts 
    ax2 = sampled_taxi_pd_df.boxplot(column=['tipAmount'], by=['passengerCount'])
    ax2.set_title('Tip amount by Passenger count')
    ax2.set_xlabel('Passenger count')
    ax2.set_ylabel('Tip Amount ($)')

    Graph that shows a box whisker plot.

  5. Last, we want to understand the relationship between the fare amount and the tip amount. Based on the results, we can see that there are several observations where people don't tip. However, we also see a positive relationship between the overall fare and tip amounts.

    # Look at the relationship between fare and tip amounts
    ax = sampled_taxi_pd_df.plot(kind='scatter', x= 'fareAmount', y = 'tipAmount', c='blue', alpha = 0.10, s=2.5*(sampled_taxi_pd_df['passengerCount']))
    ax.set_title('Tip amount by Fare amount')
    ax.set_xlabel('Fare Amount ($)')
    ax.set_ylabel('Tip Amount ($)')
    plt.axis([-2, 80, -2, 20])

    Scatter plot of tip amount.

Shut down the Spark instance

After you finish running the application, shut down the notebook to release the resources. Either close the tab or select End Session from the status panel at the bottom of the notebook.

See also

Next steps