csvbase is a simple web database. Please join the committee to keep csv evil.

Client libraries are better when they have no API

terminal showing how to use the csvbase-client through pandas

fsspec is secretly everywhere, and boss


When I met a friend in a pub recently and I told him I was writing a client library for csvbase, he did laugh a bit. "Can't people just use curl?"

It's true. On csvbase, you can just curl any table url and get a csv file. Through the magic of HTTP, this web-page:

screenshot of csvbase table web

becomes this csv file inside curl:

screenshot of csvbase table in

[For details of how that trick works, see an older blog post]

That barely qualifies as an API, it's just HTTP. So what possible use could a client library be?

And of course client libraries add mental overhead of their own. You have to read some docs, learn some methods and then and the end you still have to add some code to use whatever library it is.

Wouldn't you rather just not?

I would certainly rather not. With that in mind, I've written a client library that has no API.


Wait, no API?:

>>> import pandas as pd
>>> df = pd.read_csv("csvbase://calpaterson/onion-vox-pops")
>>> df.quote[0]
"""I realize passengers are concerned, but speaking as a pilot,
there's no better place to drop acid than 40,000 feet in the air."""

(A man after my own heart.)

But yes, no API. I resent writing data APIs anyway (that's why I wrote csvbase - to do it once, generically). So if you want, just pull dataframes down from csvbase with Pandas itself. pip install csvbase-client and Pandas will suddenly learn the csvbase:// url scheme.

And what if you want to write a dataframe to csvbase? Is there an API for that? Again: no. You call the usual method: DataFrame.to_csv:

>>> import string  # from the stdlib
>>> alphabet_df = pd.DataFrame(enumerate(string.ascii_lowercase, start=1),\
    columns=("number", "letter")).set_index("number")
>>> alphabet_df.to_csv("csvbase://calpaterson/alphabet")

You do admittedly need to put your csvbase username and API key into ~/.netrc first. Here's mine:

machine csvbase.com
  login calpaterson
  password hunter42

You can check up on calpaterson/alphabet: it's a real table on csvbase.com now.

But perhaps you don't like Pandas. You prefer Polars, that other dataframe library. Again: I refuse to write an API. You can just use Polars itself:

>>> import polars as pl
>>> pl.read_csv("csvbase://calpaterson/alphabet")
shape: (26, 3)
 csvbase_row_id  number  letter 
 ---             ---     ---    
 i64             i64     str    
 1               1       a      
 2               2       b      
 3               3       c      
 4               4       d      
 5               5       e      
 22              22      v      
 23              23      w      
 24              24      x      
 25              25      y      
 26              26      z      

What about Dask? Same thing:

>>> import dask.dataframe as dd
>>> dd.read_csv("csvbase://calpaterson/alphabet")
Dask DataFrame Structure:
              csvbase_row_id number  letter
                       int64  int64  string
                         ...    ...     ...
Dask Name: read_csv, 1 expression

I imported pandas as pd, I imported polars as pl and I imported dask.dataframe as dd. But I didn't import csvbase_client. Unnecessary - there is no API.

Enter fsspec

How is this all working? Have I perpetrated a kind of grand, Jia Tan-style jedi mind trick on the maintainers of these dataframe libraries, secretly sneaking csvbase-specific code into their repos?

I haven't. All of these dataframe libraries (and probably others I haven't thought of) use a standard filesystem interface library, called fsspec. csvbase-client just implements an adaptor for fsspec:

from fsspec.spec import AbstractFileSystem, AbstractBufferedFile

class CSVBaseFileSystem(AbstractFileSystem):
    def _open(self, path, mode="rb"):
        return CSVBaseFile(self, path, mode)

class CSVBaseFile(AbstractBufferedFile):
    def _fetch_range(self, start: int, end: int) -> bytes:

fsspec already comes with built-in adaptors for object stores, webdav, Github, Dropbox and lots more. It's a pretty nice abstraction layer. csvbase's client is just one more adaptor.

For whatever reason, fsspec is not that well known. It has less than 800 stars on github. But it is well used: it's downloaded more than 8 million times a day, usually as an automatically installed dependency of other libraries. That actually makes it the 20th most popular Python package - bigger in fact than Pandas.

At any rate, after my classes are written it just takes a short setuptools incantation to wire my classes into place upon package install:

from setuptools import setup
  ..., # [snip]
    "fsspec.specs": [

Or in pyproject.toml:

csvbase = "csvbase_client.fsspec.CSVBaseFileSystem"

With all this working, the csvbase:// url scheme becomes real and you can use it inside anything which relies on fsspec, which is a surprisingly large number of things.

How to use fsspec in your own programs

fsspec is pretty nice. It's very useful when you want, for example, to write a cli program that can write both to a file, and then later an S3 object.

Instead of calling the Python built-in open, you call fsspec.open. It is a mostly drop-in replacement.

import fsspec

with fsspec.open("csvbase://calpaterson/onion-vox-pops") as vox_pops_f:

That's it. It is extremely simple to integrate against.

There isn't just open, either, but touch, rm, cp, mv - the whole gang. csvbase-client's support doesn't cover all of these yet, but that is planned.

And there's a cli tool

I can't get out of writing a cli tool for csvbase. There is no way to avoid that - but I did make it a thin veneer over fsspec.

$ csvbase-client table get calpaterson/alphabet
[you know the rest]

But other examples are more fun:

$ csvbase-client table get calpaterson/eurofxref-hist | \
grep USD | \
cut -d, -f 2,4 | \
gnuplot -e "set datafile separator ','; set term dumb; \
plot '-' using 1:2 with lines title 'usd'"

a gnuplot graph in drawn in the

The bytes on the internet are free and you can take them home with you

As with csvbase proper, csvbase-client is open source, so you can just take my code as a starting point and write your own fsspec APIs.

I'm looking forward to expanding on it in future. I'm particularly keen to use fsspec to mount csvbase.com as a filesystem via FUSE. That sounds fun.

Help me out:

Stay up to date

Get alerted about new posts via RSS, or: quickly register an account and leave the checkbox ticked:

Usernames should start with a letter, and then have only letters, numbers and dashes (-).
Optional - used only for password reset & blog posts.
An alternative to RSS. Don't leave your email blank.