Writing custom datasets

Follow this guide to create a new dataset (either in TFDS or in your own repository).

Check our list of datasets to see if the dataset you want is already present.


The easiest way to write a new dataset is to use the TFDS CLI:

cd path/to/my/project/datasets/
tfds new my_dataset  # Create `my_dataset/my_dataset.py` template files
# [...] Manually modify `my_dataset/my_dataset_dataset_builder.py` to implement your dataset.
cd my_dataset/
tfds build  # Download and prepare the dataset to `~/tensorflow_datasets/`

To use the new dataset with tfds.load('my_dataset'):

  • tfds.load will automatically detect and load the dataset generated in ~/tensorflow_datasets/my_dataset/ (e.g. by tfds build).
  • Alternatively, you can explicitly import my.project.datasets.my_dataset to register your dataset:
import my.project.datasets.my_dataset  # Register `my_dataset`

ds = tfds.load('my_dataset')  # `my_dataset` registered


Datasets are distributed in all kinds of formats and in all kinds of places, and they're not always stored in a format that's ready to feed into a machine learning pipeline. Enter TFDS.

TFDS process those datasets into a standard format (external data -> serialized files), which can then be loaded as machine learning pipeline (serialized files -> tf.data.Dataset). The serialization is done only once. Subsequent access will read from those pre-processed files directly.

Most of the preprocessing is done automatically. Each dataset implements a subclass of tfds.core.DatasetBuilder, which specifies:

  • Where the data is coming from (i.e. its URLs);
  • What the dataset looks like (i.e. its features);
  • How the data should be split (e.g. TRAIN and TEST);
  • and the individual examples in the dataset.

Write your dataset

Default template: tfds new

Use TFDS CLI to generate the required template python files.

cd path/to/project/datasets/  # Or use `--dir=path/to/project/datasets/` below
tfds new my_dataset

This command will generate a new my_dataset/ folder with the following structure:

    README.md # Markdown description of the dataset.
    CITATIONS.bib # Bibtex citation for the dataset.
    TAGS.txt # List of tags describing the dataset.
    my_dataset_dataset_builder.py # Dataset definition
    my_dataset_dataset_builder_test.py # Test
    dummy_data/ # (optional) Fake data (used for testing)
    checksum.tsv # (optional) URL checksums (see `checksums` section).

Search for TODO(my_dataset) here and modify accordingly.

Dataset example

All datasets are implemented subclasses of tfds.core.DatasetBuilder, which takes care of most boilerplate. It supports:

  • Small/medium datasets which can be generated on a single machine (this tutorial).
  • Very large datasets which require distributed generation (using Apache Beam, see our huge dataset guide)

Here is a minimal example of a dataset builder that is based on tfds.core.GeneratorBasedBuilder:

class Builder(tfds.core.GeneratorBasedBuilder):
  """DatasetBuilder for my_dataset dataset."""

  VERSION = tfds.core.Version('1.0.0')
      '1.0.0': 'Initial release.',

  def _info(self) -> tfds.core.DatasetInfo:
    """Dataset metadata (homepage, citation,...)."""
    return self.dataset_info_from_configs(
            'image': tfds.features.Image(shape=(256, 256, 3)),
            'label': tfds.features.ClassLabel(
                names=['no', 'yes'],
                doc='Whether this is a picture of a cat'),

  def _split_generators(self, dl_manager: tfds.download.DownloadManager):
    """Download the data and define splits."""
    extracted_path = dl_manager.download_and_extract('http://data.org/data.zip')
    # dl_manager returns pathlib-like objects with `path.read_text()`,
    # `path.iterdir()`,...
    return {
        'train': self._generate_examples(path=extracted_path / 'train_images'),
        'test': self._generate_examples(path=extracted_path / 'test_images'),

  def _generate_examples(self, path) -> Iterator[Tuple[Key, Example]]:
    """Generator of examples for each split."""
    for img_path in path.glob('*.jpeg'):
      # Yields (key, example)
      yield img_path.name, {
          'image': img_path,
          'label': 'yes' if img_path.name.startswith('yes_') else 'no',

Note that, for some specific data formats, we provide ready-to-use dataset builders to take care of most data processing.

Let's see in detail the 3 abstract methods to overwrite.

_info: dataset metadata

_info returns the tfds.core.DatasetInfo containing the dataset metadata.

def _info(self):
  # The `dataset_info_from_configs` base method will construct the
  # `tfds.core.DatasetInfo` object using the passed-in parameters and
  # adding: builder (self), description/citations/tags from the config
  # files located in the same package.
  return self.dataset_info_from_configs(
          'image_description': tfds.features.Text(),
          'image': tfds.features.Image(),
          # Here, 'label' can be 0-4.
          'label': tfds.features.ClassLabel(num_classes=5),
      # If there's a common `(input, target)` tuple from the features,
      # specify them here. They'll be used if as_supervised=True in
      # builder.as_dataset.
      supervised_keys=('image', 'label'),
      # Specify whether to disable shuffling on the examples. Set to False by default.

Most fields should be self-explanatory. Some precisions:

Writing the BibText CITATIONS.bib file:

  • Search the dataset website for citation instruction (use that in BibTex format).
  • For arXiv papers: find the paper and click the BibText link on the right-hand side.
  • Find the paper on Google Scholar and click the double-quotation mark underneath the title and on the popup, click BibTeX.
  • If there is no associated paper (for example, there's just a website), you can use the BibTeX Online Editor to create a custom BibTeX entry (the drop-down menu has an Online entry type).

Updating the TAGS.txt file:

  • All allowed tags are pre-filled in the generated file.
  • Remove all tags which do not apply to the dataset.
  • Valid tags are listed in tensorflow_datasets/core/valid_tags.txt.
  • To add a tag to that list, please send a PR.

Maintain dataset order

By default, the records of the datasets are shuffled when stored in order to make the distribution of classes more uniform across the dataset, since often records belonging to the same class are contiguous. In order to specify that the dataset should be sorted by the key generated provided by _generate_examples the field disable_shuffling should be set to True. By default it is set to False.

def _info(self):
  return self.dataset_info_from_configs(
    # [...]
    # [...]

Keep in mind that disabling shuffling has a performance impact as shards cannot be read in parallel anymore.

_split_generators: downloads and splits data

Downloading and extracting source data

Most datasets need to download data from the web. This is done using the tfds.download.DownloadManager input argument of _split_generators. dl_manager has the following methods:

  • download: supports http(s)://, ftp(s)://
  • extract: currently supports .zip, .gz, and .tar files.
  • download_and_extract: Same as dl_manager.extract(dl_manager.download(urls))

All those methods returns tfds.core.Path (aliases for epath.Path), which are pathlib.Path-like objects.

Those methods supports arbitrary nested structure (list, dict), like:

extracted_paths = dl_manager.download_and_extract({
    'foo': 'https://example.com/foo.zip',
    'bar': 'https://example.com/bar.zip',
# This returns:
assert extracted_paths == {
    'foo': Path('/path/to/extracted_foo/'),
    'bar': Path('/path/extracted_bar/'),

Manual download and extraction

Some data cannot be automatically downloaded (e.g. require a login), in this case, user will manually download the source data and place it in manual_dir/ (defaults to ~/tensorflow_datasets/downloads/manual/).

Files can then be accessed through dl_manager.manual_dir:

class MyDataset(tfds.core.GeneratorBasedBuilder):

  Register into https://example.org/login to get the data. Place the `data.zip`
  file in the `manual_dir/`.

  def _split_generators(self, dl_manager):
    # data_path is a pathlib-like `Path('<manual_dir>/data.zip')`
    archive_path = dl_manager.manual_dir / 'data.zip'
    # Extract the manually downloaded `data.zip`
    extracted_path = dl_manager.extract(archive_path)

The manual_dir location can be customized with tfds build --manual_dir= or using tfds.download.DownloadConfig.

Read archive directly

dl_manager.iter_archive reads an archives sequentially without extracting them. This can save storage space and improve performances on some file systems.

for filename, fobj in dl_manager.iter_archive('path/to/archive.zip'):

fobj has the same methods as with open('rb') as fobj: (e.g. fobj.read())

Specifying dataset splits

If the dataset comes with pre-defined splits (e.g. MNIST has train and test splits), keep those. Otherwise, only specify a single all split. Users can dynamically create their own subsplits with the subsplit API (e.g. split='train[80%:]'). Note that any alphabetical string can be used as split name, apart from the aforementioned all.

def _split_generators(self, dl_manager):
  # Download source data
  extracted_path = dl_manager.download_and_extract(...)

  # Specify the splits
  return {
      'train': self._generate_examples(
          images_path=extracted_path / 'train_imgs',
          label_path=extracted_path / 'train_labels.csv',
      'test': self._generate_examples(
          images_path=extracted_path / 'test_imgs',
          label_path=extracted_path / 'test_labels.csv',

_generate_examples: Example generator

_generate_examples generates the examples for each split from the source data.

This method will typically read source dataset artifacts (e.g. a CSV file) and yield (key, feature_dict) tuples:

  • key: Example identifier. Used to deterministically shuffle the examples using hash(key) or to sort by key when shuffling is disabled (see section Maintain dataset order). Should be:
    • unique: If two examples use the same key, an exception will be raised.
    • deterministic: Should not depend on download_dir, os.path.listdir order,... Generating the data twice should yield the same key.
    • comparable: If shuffling is disabled the key will be used to sort the dataset.
  • feature_dict: A dict containing the example values.
    • The structure should match the features= structure defined in tfds.core.DatasetInfo.
    • Complex data types (image, video, audio,...) will be automatically encoded.
    • Each feature often accept multiple input types (e.g. video accept /path/to/vid.mp4, np.array(shape=(l, h, w, c)), List[paths], List[np.array(shape=(h, w, c)], List[img_bytes],...)
    • See the feature connector guide for more info.
def _generate_examples(self, images_path, label_path):
  # Read the input data out of the source files
  with label_path.open() as f:
    for row in csv.DictReader(f):
      image_id = row['image_id']
      # And yield (key, feature_dict)
      yield image_id, {
          'image_description': row['description'],
          'image': images_path / f'{image_id}.jpeg',
          'label': row['label'],

File access and tf.io.gfile

In order to support Cloud storage systems, avoid the use of the Python built-in I/O ops.

Instead, the dl_manager returns pathlib-like objects directly compatible with Google Cloud storage:

path = dl_manager.download_and_extract('http://some-website/my_data.zip')

json_path = path / 'data/file.json'


Alternatively, use tf.io.gfile API instead of built-in for file operations:

Pathlib should be prefered to tf.io.gfile (see rational.

Extra dependencies

Some datasets require additional Python dependencies only during generation. For example, the SVHN dataset uses scipy to load some data.

If you're adding dataset into the TFDS repository, please use tfds.core.lazy_imports to keep the tensorflow-datasets package small. Users will install additional dependencies only as needed.

To use lazy_imports:

  • Add an entry for your dataset into DATASET_EXTRAS in setup.py. This makes it so that users can do, for example, pip install 'tensorflow-datasets[svhn]' to install the extra dependencies.
  • Add an entry for your import to LazyImporter and to the LazyImportsTest.
  • Use tfds.core.lazy_imports to access the dependency (for example, tfds.core.lazy_imports.scipy) in your DatasetBuilder.

Corrupted data

Some datasets are not perfectly clean and contain some corrupt data (for example, the images are in JPEG files but some are invalid JPEG). These examples should be skipped, but leave a note in the dataset description how many examples were dropped and why.

Dataset configuration/variants (tfds.core.BuilderConfig)

Some datasets may have multiple variants, or options for how the data is preprocessed and written to disk. For example, cycle_gan has one config per object pairs (cycle_gan/horse2zebra, cycle_gan/monet2photo,...).

This is done through tfds.core.BuilderConfigs:

  1. Define your configuration object as a subclass of tfds.core.BuilderConfig. For example, MyDatasetConfig.

    class MyDatasetConfig(tfds.core.BuilderConfig):
      img_size: Tuple[int, int] = (0, 0)
  2. Define the BUILDER_CONFIGS = [] class member in MyDataset that lists MyDatasetConfigs that the dataset exposes.

    class MyDataset(tfds.core.GeneratorBasedBuilder):
      VERSION = tfds.core.Version('1.0.0')
      # pytype: disable=wrong-keyword-args
          # `name` (and optionally `description`) are required for each config
          MyDatasetConfig(name='small', description='Small ...', img_size=(8, 8)),
          MyDatasetConfig(name='big', description='Big ...', img_size=(32, 32)),
      # pytype: enable=wrong-keyword-args
  3. Use self.builder_config in MyDataset to configure data generation (e.g. shape=self.builder_config.img_size). This may include setting different values in _info() or changing download data access.


  • Each config has a unique name. The fully qualified name of a config is dataset_name/config_name (e.g. coco/2017).
  • If not specified, the first config in BUILDER_CONFIGS will be used (e.g. tfds.load('c4') default to c4/en)

See anli for an example of a dataset that uses BuilderConfigs.


Version can refer to two different meaning:

  • The "external" original data version: e.g. COCO v2019, v2017,...
  • The "internal" TFDS code version: e.g. rename a feature in tfds.features.FeaturesDict, fix a bug in _generate_examples

To update a dataset:

  • For "external" data update: Multiple users may want to access a specific year/version simultaneously. This is done by using one tfds.core.BuilderConfig per version (e.g. coco/2017, coco/2019) or one class per version (e.g. Voc2007, Voc2012).
  • For "internal" code update: Users only download the most recent version. Any code update should increase the VERSION class attribute (e.g. from 1.0.0 to VERSION = tfds.core.Version('2.0.0')) following semantic versioning.

Add an import for registration

Don't forget to import the dataset module to your project __init__ to be automatically registered in tfds.load, tfds.builder.

import my_project.datasets.my_dataset  # Register MyDataset

ds = tfds.load('my_dataset')  # MyDataset available

For example, if you're contributing to tensorflow/datasets, add the module import to its subdirectory's __init__.py (e.g. image/__init__.py.

Check for common implementation gotchas

Please check for the common implementation gotchas.

Test your dataset

Download and prepare: tfds build

To generate the dataset, run tfds build from the my_dataset/ directory:

cd path/to/datasets/my_dataset/
tfds build --register_checksums

Some useful flags for development:

  • --pdb: Enter debugging mode if an exception is raised.
  • --overwrite: Delete existing files if the dataset was already generated.
  • --max_examples_per_split: Only generate the first X examples (default to 1), rather than the full dataset.
  • --register_checksums: Record the checksums of downloaded urls. Should only be used while in development.

See the CLI documentation for full list of flags.


It is recommended to record the checksums of your datasets to guarantee determinism, help with documentation,... This is done by generating the dataset with the --register_checksums (see previous section).

If you are releasing your datasets through PyPI, don't forget to export the checksums.tsv files (e.g. in the package_data of your setup.py).

Unit-test your dataset

tfds.testing.DatasetBuilderTestCase is a base TestCase to fully exercise a dataset. It uses "dummy data" as test data that mimic the structure of the source dataset.

  • The test data should be put in my_dataset/dummy_data/ directory and should mimic the source dataset artifacts as downloaded and extracted. It can be created manually or automatically with a script (example script).
  • Make sure to use different data in your test data splits, as the test will fail if your dataset splits overlap.
  • The test data should not contain any copyrighted material. If in doubt, do not create the data using material from the original dataset.
import tensorflow_datasets as tfds
from . import my_dataset_dataset_builder

class MyDatasetTest(tfds.testing.DatasetBuilderTestCase):
  """Tests for my_dataset dataset."""
  DATASET_CLASS = my_dataset_dataset_builder.Builder
  SPLITS = {
      'train': 3,  # Number of fake train example
      'test': 1,  # Number of fake test example

  # If you are calling `download/download_and_extract` with a dict, like:
  #   dl_manager.download({'some_key': 'http://a.org/out.txt', ...})
  # then the tests needs to provide the fake output paths relative to the
  # fake data directory
      'name1': 'path/to/file1',  # Relative to my_dataset/dummy_data dir.
      'name2': 'file2',

if __name__ == '__main__':

Run the following command to test the dataset.

python my_dataset_test.py

Send us feedback

We are continuously trying to improve the dataset creation workflow, but can only do so if we are aware of the issues. Which issues or errors did you encounter while creating the dataset? Was there a part which was confusing, or wasn't working the first time?

Please share your feedback on GitHub.