About this tutorial

The best way to learn to use any tool is to actually use it. In this tutorial we will answer some basic questions about a dataset using agate.

The data will be using is a copy of the National Registery of Exonerations made on August 28th, 2015. This dataset lists individuals who are known to have been exonerated after having been wrongly convicted. At the time the data was exported there were 1,651 entries in the registry.

Installing agate

Installing agate is easy:

pip install agate


You should be installing agate inside a virtualenv. If for some crazy reason you aren’t using virtualenv you will need to add a sudo to the previous command.

Getting the data

Let’s start by creating a clean workspace:

mkdir agate_tutorial
cd agate_tutorial

Now let’s download the data:

curl -L -O https://github.com/onyxfish/agate/raw/master/examples/realdata/exonerations-20150828.csv

You will now have a file named exonerations-20150828.csv in your agate_tutorial directory.

Getting setup

First launch the Python interpreter:


Now let’s import our dependencies:

import csv
import agate


You should really be using csvkit to load CSV files, but here we stick with the builtin csv module because it comes with Python so everyone already has it.

I also strongly suggest taking a look at proof for building data processing pipelines, but we won’t use it in this tutorial to keep things simple.

Defining the columns

There are two ways to specify column types in agate. You can specify a particular type one-by-one, which gives you complete control over how the data is processed, or you can use agate’s TypeTester to infer types from the data. The latter is more convenient, but it is imperfect, so it’s wise to check that the types in infers are reasonable. (For instance, some date formats look exactly like numbers and some numbers are really text.)

You can create a TypeTester like this:

tester = agate.TypeTester()

If you prefer to specify your columns manually you will need to create instances of each type that you are using:

text_type = agate.Text()
number_type = agate.Number()
boolean_type = agate.Boolean()

Then you define the names and types of the columns that are in our dataset as a sequence of pairs. For the exonerations dataset, you would define:

columns = (
    ('last_name', text_type),
    ('first_name', text_type),
    ('age', number_type),
    ('race', text_type),
    ('state', text_type),
    ('tags', text_type),
    ('crime', text_type),
    ('sentence', text_type),
    ('convicted', number_type),
    ('exonerated', number_type),
    ('dna', boolean_type),
    ('dna_essential', text_type),
    ('mistaken_witness', boolean_type),
    ('false_confession', boolean_type),
    ('perjury', boolean_type),
    ('false_evidence', boolean_type),
    ('official_misconduct', boolean_type),
    ('inadequate_defense', boolean_type),


If specifying column names manually they do not necessarily need to match those found in your CSV file. I’ve kept them consistent in this example for clarity. If using TypeTester column names will be inferred from the headers of your CSV.

Loading data from a CSV

The Table is the basic class in agate. A time-saving method is included to create a table from CSV. To infer column types automatically while reading the data:

exonerations = agate.Table.from_csv('exonerations-20150828.csv', tester)


For larger datasets the TypeTester can be slow to evaluate the data. It’s best to use it with a tool such as proof so you don’t have to run it everytime you work with your data.

Or, to use the column types we created manually:

exonerations = agate.Table.from_csv('exonerations-20150828.csv', columns)

In either case the exonerations variable will now be an instance of Table.


If you have data that you’ve generated in another way you can always pass it in the Table constructor directly.

Aggregating column data

With the basics out of the way, let’s do some actual analysis. Analysis begins with questions, so that’s how we’ll learn about agate.

Question: How many exonerations involved a false confession?

Answering this question involves counting the number of “True” values in the false_confession column. When we created the table we specified that the data in this column contained Boolean data. Because of this, agate has taken care of coercing the original text data from the CSV into Python’s True and False values.

We’ll answer the question using Count which is a type of Aggregation. Aggregations in agate are used to perform “column-wise” calculations. That is, they derive a new single value from the contents of a column. In the case of Count, it will tell us how many times a particular value appears in the column.

An Aggregation is applied to a column of a table. You can access the columns of a table using the Table.columns attribute.

Putting it together looks like this:

num_false_confessions = exonerations.columns['false_confession'].aggregate(agate.Count(True))


Let’s look at another example, this time using a numerical aggregation.

Question: What was the median age of exonerated indviduals at time of arrest?

median_age = exonerations.columns['age'].aggregate(agate.Median())



/Users/onyxfish/src/agate/agate/warns.py:17: NullCalculationWarning: Column "age" contains nulls. These will be excluded from Median calculation.
  ), NullCalculationWarning)
/Users/onyxfish/src/agate/agate/warns.py:17: NullCalculationWarning: Column "age" contains nulls. These will be excluded from Percentiles calculation.
  ), NullCalculationWarning)

The answer to our question is “26 years old”, however, as the warnings indicate, not every exonerated individual in the data has a value for the age column. The Median statistical operation has no standard way of accounting for null values, so it removes them before running the calculation. (If you’re wondering about that Percentage warning, medians are calculated as the 50th percentile.)

Question: How many individuals do not have an age specified in the data?

In order to be more rigorous, we might want to first investigate and remove those individuals that don’t have an age. (What if that’s most of the dataset?)

num_without_age = exonerations.columns['age'].aggregate(agate.Count(None))




Only nine rows in this dataset don’t have age, so it’s certainly still useful to compute a median. In the next section you’ll see how we could filter these 9 rows out, if we needed to.

Different aggregations can be applied depending on the type of data in each column. If none of the provided aggregations suit your needs you can use Summary to apply a function to a column. If that still doesn’t suit your needs you can also create your own from scratch by subclassing Aggregation.

Selecting and filtering data

So what if those rows with no age were going to flummox our analysis? Agate’s Table class provides a full suite of these SQL-like operations, including Table.select() for grabbing specific columns, Table.where() for selecting particular rows and Table.group_by() for grouping rows by common values.

Let’s use Table.where() to filter our exonerations table to only those individuals that have an age specified.

with_age = exonerations.where(lambda row: row['age'] is not None)

You’ll notice we provide a lambda (anonymous) function to the Table.where(). This function is applied to each row and if it returns True, then the row is included in the output table.

A crucial thing to understand about these table methods is that they return new tables. In our example above exonerations was a Table instance and we applied Table.where(), so with_age is a Table too. The tables themselves are immutable. You can create new tables with these methods, but you can’t modify them in-place. (If this seems weird, just trust me. There are lots of good computer science-y reasons to do it this way.)

We can verify this did what we expected by counting the rows in the original table and rows in the new table:

old = len(exonerations.rows)
new = len(with_age.rows)

print(old - new)

Nine rows were removed, which is the number of nulls we had already identified were in the column.

Now if we calculate the median age of these individuals, we don’t see the warning anymore.

median_age = with_age.columns['age'].aggregate(agate.Median())


Computing new columns

In addition to “column-wise” aggregations there are also “row-wise” computations. Computations go through a Table row-by-row and derive a new column using the existing data. To perform row computations in agate we use subclasses of Computation.

When one or more instances of Computation are applied with the Table.compute() method, a new table is created with additional columns.

Question: How long did individuals remain in prison before being exonerated?

To answer this question we will apply the Change computation to the convicted and exonerated columns. All that Change does is compute the difference between two numbers. (In this case each of these columns contain is Number type, but this will also work with Date or DateTime)

with_years_in_prison = exonerations.compute([
    (agate.Change('convicted', 'exonerated'), 'years_in_prison')

median_years = with_years_in_prison.columns['years_in_prison'].aggregate(agate.Median())


The median number of years an exonerated individual spent in prison was 8 years.

Sometimes, the built-in computations, such as Change won’t suffice. In this case, you can use the generic Formula to compute new values based on an arbitrary function. This is somewhat analogous to Excel’s cell formulas.

For example, this code will create a full_name column from the first_name and last_name columns in the data:

full_names = exonerations.compute([
    (agate.Formula(text_type, lambda row: '%(first_name)s %(last_name)s' % row), 'full_name')

For efficiency’s sake, agate allows you to perform several computations at once.

with_computations = exonerations.compute([
    (agate.Formula(text_type, lambda row: '%(first_name)s %(last_name)s' % row), 'full_name'),
    (agate.Change('convicted', 'exonerated'), 'years_in_prison')

However, it should be noted that computations in the list can not depend on the values produced by those that came before. Each is applied to the original Table.

If Formula still is not flexible enough (for instance, if you need to compute a new row based on the distribution of data in a column) you can always implement your own subclass of Computation. See the API documentation for computations to see all of the supported ways to compute new data.

Sorting and slicing

Question: Who are the ten exonerated individuals who were youngest at the time they were arrested?

Remembering that methods of tables return tables, we will use Table.order_by() to sort our table:

sorted_by_age = exonerations.order_by('age')

We can then use Table.limit() get only the first ten rows of the data.

youngest_ten = sorted_by_age.limit(10)

Now let’s use Table.print_table() to help us pretty the results in a way we can easily review:

|  last_name | first_name | age | race      | state | tags    | crime   | ...  |
|  Murray    | Lacresha   | 11  | Black     | TX    | CV, F   | Murder  | ...  |
|  Adams     | Johnathan  | 12  | Caucasian | GA    | CV, P   | Murder  | ...  |
|  Harris    | Anthony    | 12  | Black     | OH    | CV      | Murder  | ...  |
|  Edmonds   | Tyler      | 13  | Caucasian | MS    |         | Murder  | ...  |
|  Handley   | Zachary    | 13  | Caucasian | PA    | A, CV   | Arson   | ...  |
|  Jimenez   | Thaddeus   | 13  | Hispanic  | IL    |         | Murder  | ...  |
|  Pacek     | Jerry      | 13  | Caucasian | PA    |         | Murder  | ...  |
|  Barr      | Jonathan   | 14  | Black     | IL    | CDC, CV | Murder  | ...  |
|  Brim      | Dominique  | 14  | Black     | MI    | F       | Assault | ...  |
|  Brown     | Timothy    | 14  | Black     | FL    |         | Murder  | ...  |

If you find it impossible to believe that an eleven year-old was convicted of murder, I encourage you to read the Registry’s description of the case.


In the previous example we could have omitted the Table.limit() and passed a max_rows=10 to Table.print_table() instead.

What if we were more curious about the distribution of ages, rather than the highest or lowest? agate includes the Table.counts() and Table.bins() methods for counting data individually or by ranges. Let’s try binning the ages. Then, instead of using Table.print_table(), we’ll use Table.print_bars() to generate a simple, text bar chart.

binned_ages = table.bins('age', 10, 0, 100)
binned_ages.print_bars('age', 'count', width=80)
age        count
[0 - 10)       0 ▓
[10 - 20)    307 ▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░
[20 - 30)    718 ▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░
[30 - 40)    377 ▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░
[40 - 50)    176 ▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░
[50 - 60)     53 ▓░░░░
[60 - 70)     10 ▓░
[70 - 80)      0 ▓
[80 - 90)      1 ▓
[90 - 100]     0 ▓
None           9 ▓░
                 0              200            400            600            800

Notice that we specify we want 10 bins spanning the range 0 to 100. If these values are omitted agate will attempt to infer good defaults. We also specify that we want our bar chart to span a width of 80 characters. This can be adjusted to a suitable width for your terminal or document.


If you use a monospaced font, such as Courier, you can copy and paste agate bar charts into emails or documents. No screenshots required.

Grouping and aggregating

Question: Which state has seen the most exonerations?

This question can’t be answered by operating on a single column. What we need is the equivalent of SQL’s GROUP BY. agate supports a full set of SQL-like operations on tables. Unlike SQL, agate breaks grouping and aggregation into two discrete steps.

First, we use Table.group_by() to group the data by state.

by_state = exonerations.group_by('state')

This takes our original Table and groups it into a TableSet, which contains one table per county. Now we need to aggregate the total for each state. This works in a very similar way to how it did when we were aggregating columns of a single table, except that we’ll use the Length aggregation to count the total number of values in the column.

state_totals = by_state.aggregate([
    ('state', agate.Length(), 'count')

sorted_totals = state_totals.order_by('count', reverse=True)

|  state | count  |
|  TX    | 212    |
|  NY    | 202    |
|  CA    | 154    |
|  IL    | 153    |
|  MI    | 60     |
|  ...   | ...    |

You’ll notice we pass a list of tuples to TableSet.aggregate(). Each one includes three elements. The first is the column name to aggregate. The second is an instance of some Aggregation. The third is the new column name. Unsurpringly, in this case the results appear roughly proportional to population.

Question: What state has the longest median time in prison prior to exoneration?

This is a much more complicated question that’s going to pull together a lot of the features we’ve been using. We’ll repeat the computations we applied before, but this time we’re going to roll those computations up in our group and take the Median of each group. Then we’ll sort the data and see where people have been stuck in prison the longest.

with_years_in_prison = exonerations.compute([
    (agate.Change('convicted', 'exonerated'), 'years_in_prison')

state_totals = with_years_in_prison.group_by('state')

medians = state_totals.aggregate([
    ('years_in_prison', agate.Length(), 'count'),
    ('years_in_prison', agate.Median(), 'median_years_in_prison')

sorted_medians = medians.order_by('median_years_in_prison', reverse=True)

|  state | count | median_years_in_prison  |
|  DC    | 15    | 27                      |
|  NE    | 9     | 20                      |
|  ID    | 2     | 19                      |
|  VT    | 1     | 18                      |
|  LA    | 45    | 16                      |
|  ...   | ...   | ...                     |

DC? Nebraska? What accounts for these states having the longest times in prison before exoneration? I have no idea. Given that the group sizes are small, it would probably be wise to look for outliers.

As with Table.aggregate() and Table.compute(), the TableSet.aggregate(): method takes a list of aggregations to perform. You can aggregate as many columns as you like in a single step and they will all appear in the output table.

Multi-dimensional aggregation

Before we wrap up, let’s try one more thing. I’ve already shown you that you can use TableSet to group instances of Table. However, you can also use a TableSet to group other instances of TableSet. To put that another way, instances of TableSet can be nested.

The key to nesting data in this way is to use TableSet.group_by(). Before we used Table.group_by() to split data up into a group of tables. Now we’ll use TableSet.group_by() to further subdivide that data. Let’s look at a concrete example.

Question: Is there a collective relationship between race, age and time spent in prison prior to exoneration?

I’m not going to explain every stage of this analysis as most of it repeats patterns used previously. The key part to look for is the two separate calls to group_by:

# Filters rows without age data
only_with_age = with_years_in_prison.where(
    lambda r: r['age'] is not None

# Group by race
race_groups = only_with_age.group_by('race')

# Sub-group by age cohorts (20s, 30s, etc.)
race_and_age_groups = race_groups.group_by(
    lambda r: '%i0s' % (r['age'] // 10),

# Aggregate medians for each group
medians = race_and_age_groups.aggregate([
    ('years_in_prison', agate.Length(), 'count'),
    ('years_in_prison', agate.Median(), 'median_years_in_prison')

# Sort the results
sorted_groups = medians.order_by('median_years_in_prison', reverse=True)

# Print out the results
|  race            | age_group | count | median_years_in_prison  |
|  Native American | 20s       | 2     | 21.5                    |
|                  | 20s       | 1     | 19                      |
|  Native American | 10s       | 2     | 15                      |
|  Native American | 30s       | 2     | 14.5                    |
|  Black           | 10s       | 188   | 14                      |
|  Black           | 20s       | 358   | 13                      |
|  Asian           | 20s       | 4     | 12                      |
|  Black           | 30s       | 156   | 10                      |
|  Caucasian       | 10s       | 76    | 8                       |
|  Caucasian       | 20s       | 255   | 8                       |
|  ...             | ...       | ...   | ...                     |

Well, what are you waiting for? It’s your turn!

Where to go next

This tutorial only scratches the surface of agate’s features. For many more ideas on how to apply agate, check out the Cookbook, which includes dozens of examples showing how to substitute agate for common patterns used in Excel, SQL, R and more. Also check out the agate’s Extensions which add support for reading/writing SQL tables, rendering charts and more.

Also, if you’re going to be doing data processing in Python you really ought to check out proof, a library for building data processing pipelines that are repeatable and self-documenting. It will make your code cleaner and save you tons of time.