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Discussion of materialization

Returning to the Unix analogy, we saw that MapReduce is like writing the output of each command to a temporary file, whereas dataflow engines look much more like Unix pipes. Flink especially is built around the idea of pipelined execution- that is, incrementally passing the output of an operator to other operators, and not waiting for the input to be complete before starting to process it.

A sorting operation inevitably needs to consume its entire input before it can produce any output, because it’s possible that the very last input record is the one with the lowest key and thus needs to be the very first output record. Any operator that requires sorting will thus need to accumulate state, at least temporarily. But many other parts of a workflow can be executed in a pipelined manner.

When the job completes, its output needs to go somewhere durable so that users can find it and use it—most likely, it is written to the distributed filesystem again. Thus, when using a dataflow engine, materialized datasets on HDFS are still usually the inputs and the final outputs of a job. Like with MapReduce, the inputs are immutable and the output is completely replaced. The improvement over MapReduce is that you save yourself writing all the intermediate state to the filesystem as well.

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