Debugging Apache Beam Pipelines: Tips and Tricks

If you're working with Apache Beam, chances are you've faced some tricky bugs and spent countless hours trying to debug them. Don't worry, you're not alone! Debugging Beam pipelines can be a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. In this article, we'll go over some tips and tricks that will help you identify and fix issues in your pipelines quickly.

What is Apache Beam, anyway?

Before we dive into debugging strategies, let's quickly recap what Apache Beam is. Apache Beam is an open-source unified programming model that allows you to write batch and streaming data processing pipelines. It's built on top of Google's Dataflow SDK and provides a simple, powerful, and expressive way to process and analyze large datasets.

Apache Beam abstracts away the complexity of parallel and distributed processing, allowing you to focus on the business logic of your pipeline. Beam pipelines are written in a language-agnostic manner, meaning you can use the language of your choice.

Debugging Apache Beam Pipelines

Debugging Beam pipelines can be a challenging task as data flows through multiple steps, and issues may arise at any point of the pipeline. However, with these tips and tricks, you'll be able to find and fix bugs quickly.

Start with Logging

Logging is one of the most effective ways to debug Beam pipelines. Apache Beam provides built-in support for logging via the logging module. You can use the logging module to log messages with different levels of severity.

import logging


def my_pipeline():
    logging.debug('Debug message')'Info message')
    logging.warning('Warning message')

In the above code snippet, we've set the logging level to DEBUG, which means all messages with a severity level of DEBUG and above will be printed. You can also set the logging level to INFO or WARNING.

You can use logging to print the state of your pipeline at different stages. For example, you could log the input data, output data, and intermediate results of a transform. This information can help you detect issues in your code.

Use pdb for Interactive Debugging

Sometimes, logging is not enough. You may need to perform interactive debugging to figure out what's going on in your pipeline. Fortunately, Beam pipelines can be debugged interactively using the pdb debugger.

To start debugging a Beam pipeline, you need to add the following line to your code wherever you want to start the debugger:

import pdb; pdb.set_trace()

When the pipeline runs, it will pause execution at the line with the pdb.set_trace() statement. You can use the pdb commands to inspect the state of your code and narrow down the source of your issue.

Use --direct_runner for Faster Feedback

One of the challenges of debugging Beam pipelines is that distributed runners can be slow to provide feedback. If you're not dealing with distributed data, you can use the --direct_runner flag to run your pipeline locally. The --direct_runner flag simulates a distributed runner but runs the pipeline entirely in memory on your local machine.

Using the --direct_runner flag can significantly speed up your development cycle as you can quickly iterate on your code and get feedback on your pipeline's behavior.

Check Input and Output Types

Beam pipelines require that input and output types match between transforms. Sometimes, type mismatches can lead to hard-to-debug errors. It's essential to check that you're providing the correct input and output types for each transform.

Beam provides a type checking mechanism to help you catch these issues early. You can use Beam's TypeCheck transform to verify that the input and output of a transform match the expected types.

import apache_beam as beam

class MyTransform(beam.DoFn):
    def process(self, element):
        # This transform expects a string input and outputs a tuple of two integers
        assert isinstance(element, str)
        return (len(element), element.count('e'))

 | beam.Create(['hello', 'world'])
 | beam.ParDo(MyTransform())
 | beam.Map(print))

In this example, we've added a type check to the MyTransform transform. If the input to the transform is not a string, the pipeline will fail, and an exception will be raised.

Use --sdk_location for Version Issues

Beam is an open-source project that is continuously being developed and improved. Sometimes, issues can arise if you're running a pipeline with an incompatible version of the SDK. To ensure that you're running your pipeline with the correct version of the SDK, you can use the --sdk_location flag.

The --sdk_location flag allows you to specify the path to the SDK you want to use. For example, if you're using version 2.15.0 of the SDK, you can add the following flag to your command:

python --sdk_location=/path/to/apache-beam-2.15.0.tar.gz

Using the --sdk_location flag ensures that you're running your pipeline with the correct version of the SDK and helps you avoid version-related issues.

Use Test Data to Reproduce Issues

Reproducing issues can be a challenging task, especially if your pipeline is processing a large volume of data. To make it easier to reproduce issues, you can use test data that showcases the problem you're trying to solve.

Test data can be created manually or using tools like faker or pytest. Creating test data ensures that you have a well-defined dataset that you can use to reproduce issues consistently.

Use Stack Traces to Identify Issues

When an error occurs in your pipeline, Beam will print a stack trace that will help you pinpoint the location and nature of the issue. The stack trace will show you the line of code that caused the error and the function that triggered it.

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "", line 13, in <module>
    | beam.GroupByKey()
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/", line 532, in __exit__
    self.result = self.runner.run_pipeline(self)
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/direct/", line 369, in run_pipeline
    return runner.run_pipeline(pipeline, options)
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/direct/", line 387, in run_pipeline
    result = super(DirectRunner, self).run_pipeline(pipeline, options)
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/", line 167, in run_pipeline
    return runner.run_pipeline(pipeline, options)
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/dataflow/", line 901, in run_pipeline
    self.dataflow_client.create_job(self.job), self)
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/dataflow/internal/", line 974, in create_job
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/dataflow/internal/", line 1006, in create_job_description
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/dataflow/internal/", line 1117, in populate_job_resources
    self._populate_step_resources(job_request, steps_resource)
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/dataflow/internal/", line 1209, in _populate_step_resources
    step_proto.transforms = [transform_proto(step) for step in steps]
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/dataflow/internal/", line 1209, in <listcomp>
    step_proto.transforms = [transform_proto(step) for step in steps]
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/apache_beam/runners/dataflow/internal/", line 1176, in transform_proto
    elif isinstance(op, ViewFn):
TypeError: isinstance() arg 2 must be a type or tuple of types

The stack trace above shows that the issue is caused by the isinstance() function. It also shows the path of the code execution, starting from the entry point and going through the different Beam components.

Use Beam Validators

Beam provides validators as a way to validate the correctness of your pipeline's graph. You can use validators to verify that your pipeline conforms to certain requirements. Validators can also catch hard-to-debug issues before the pipeline is executed.

To use the validators, you need to import the PipelineOptionsValidator and pass it your pipeline's options. Here's an example:

from apache_beam.options.pipeline_options_validator import PipelineOptionsValidator
from my_options import MyOptions

options = MyOptions()
validator = PipelineOptionsValidator()
errors = validator.validate(options)

if errors:
    raise ValueError(errors)

In this example, we're importing the PipelineOptionsValidator and validating the MyOptions object. If there are any validation errors, we're raising a ValueError with the error message.


Debugging Beam pipelines requires a combination of logging, interactive debugging, type checking, and a good understanding of how the pipeline works. By following these tips and tricks, you'll be able to identify and fix issues in your pipelines quickly.

It's important to remember that debugging is an iterative process. You may need to try different approaches to identify and fix an issue. With time and experience, you'll become more proficient at debugging Beam pipelines, and you'll be able to tackle even the most complex bugs.

If you're interested in learning more about Apache Beam, be sure to check out our website, We provide tutorials, examples, and resources to help you master Apache Beam and Dataflow. Happy debugging!

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