The tfds.features.FeatureConnector API:

  • Defines the structure, shapes, dtypes of the final tf.data.Dataset
  • Abstract away serialization to/from disk.
  • Expose additional metadata (e.g. label names, audio sample rate,...)


tfds.features.FeatureConnector defines the dataset features structure (in tfds.core.DatasetInfo):

        'image': tfds.features.Image(shape=(28, 28, 1), doc='Grayscale image'),
        'label': tfds.features.ClassLabel(
            names=['no', 'yes'],
                desc='Whether this is a picture of a cat',
                value_range='yes or no'
        'metadata': {
            'id': tf.int64,
            'timestamp': tfds.features.Scalar(
                doc='Timestamp when this picture was taken as seconds since epoch'),
            'language': tf.string,

Features can be documented by either using just a textual description (doc='description') or by using tfds.features.Documentation directly to provide a more detailed feature description.

Features can be:

During generation, the examples will be automatically serialized by FeatureConnector.encode_example into a format suitable to disk (currently tf.train.Example protocol buffers):

yield {
    'image': '/path/to/img0.png',  # `np.array`, file bytes,... also accepted
    'label': 'yes',  # int (0-num_classes) also accepted
    'metadata': {
        'id': 43,
        'language': 'en',

When reading the dataset (e.g. with tfds.load), the data is automtically decoded with FeatureConnector.decode_example. The returned tf.data.Dataset will match the dict structure defined in tfds.core.DatasetInfo:

ds = tfds.load(...)
ds.element_spec == {
    'image': tf.TensorSpec(shape=(28, 28, 1), tf.uint8),
    'label': tf.TensorSpec(shape=(), tf.int64),
    'metadata': {
        'id': tf.TensorSpec(shape=(), tf.int64),
        'language': tf.TensorSpec(shape=(), tf.string),

Serialize/deserialize to proto

TFDS expose a low-level API to serialize/deserialize examples to tf.train.Example proto.

To serialize dict[np.ndarray | Path | str | ...] to proto bytes, use features.serialize_example:

with tf.io.TFRecordWriter('path/to/file.tfrecord') as writer:
  for ex in all_exs:
    ex_bytes = features.serialize_example(data)

To deserialize to proto bytes to tf.Tensor, use features.deserialize_example:

ds = tf.data.TFRecordDataset('path/to/file.tfrecord')
ds = ds.map(features.deserialize_example)

Access metadata

See the introduction doc to access features metadata (label names, shape, dtype,...). Example:

ds, info = tfds.load(..., with_info=True)

info.features['label'].names  # ['cat', 'dog', ...]
info.features['label'].str2int('cat')  # 0

Create your own tfds.features.FeatureConnector

If you believe a feature is missing from the available features, please open a new issue.

To create your own feature connector, you need to inherit from tfds.features.FeatureConnector and implement the abstract methods.

The tfds.features.FeatureConnector object abstracts away how the feature is encoded on disk from how it is presented to the user. Below is a diagram showing the abstraction layers of the dataset and the transformation from the raw dataset files to the tf.data.Dataset object.

DatasetBuilder abstraction layers

To create your own feature connector, subclass tfds.features.FeatureConnector and implement the abstract methods:

  • encode_example(data): Defines how to encode the data given in the generator _generate_examples() into a tf.train.Example compatible data. Can return a single value, or a dict of values.
  • decode_example(data): Defines how to decode the data from the tensor read from tf.train.Example into user tensor returned by tf.data.Dataset.
  • get_tensor_info(): Indicates the shape/dtype of the tensor(s) returned by tf.data.Dataset. May be optional if inheriting from another tfds.features.
  • (optionally) get_serialized_info(): If the info returned by get_tensor_info() is different from how the data are actually written on disk, then you need to overwrite get_serialized_info() to match the specs of the tf.train.Example
  • to_json_content/from_json_content: This is required to allow your dataset to be loaded without the original source code. See Audio feature for an example.

For more info, have a look at tfds.features.FeatureConnector documentation. It's also best to look at real examples.