The nodes in the provenance graph that are the inputs and outputs of processes are referred to as data and are represented by Data nodes. Since data can come in all shapes and forms, the Data class can be sub classed. AiiDA ships with some basic data types such as the Int which represents a simple integer and the Dict, representing a dictionary of key-value pairs. There are also more complex data types such as the ArrayData which can store multidimensional arrays of numbers. These basic data types serve most needs for the majority of applications, but more specific solutions may be useful or even necessary. In the next sections, we will explain how a new data type can be created and what guidelines should ideally be observed during the design process.

Creating new data types

Creating a new data type is as simple as creating a new sub class of the base Data class.

from aiida.orm import Data

class NewData(Data)
    """A new data type that wraps a single value."""

At this point, our new data type does nothing special. Typically, one creates a new data type to represent a specific type of data. For the purposes of this example, let’s assume that the goal of our NewData type is to store a single numerical value. To allow one to construct a new NewData data node with the desired value, for example:

node = NewData(value=5)

we need to allow passing that value to the constructor of the node class. Therefore, we have to override the constructor __init__():

from aiida.orm import Data

class NewData(Data)
    """A new data type that wraps a single value."""

    def __init__(self, **kwargs)
        value = kwargs.pop('value')
        self.set_attribute('value', value)


For the class to function properly, the signature of the constructor cannot be changed and the constructor of the parent class has to be called.

Before calling the construtor of the base class, we have to remove the value keyword from the keyword arguments kwargs, because the base class will not expect it and will raise an exception if left in the keyword arguments. The final step is to actually store the value that is passed by the caller of the constructor. A new node has two locations to permanently store any of its properties:

  • the database

  • the file repository

The section on design guidelines will go into more detail what the advantages and disadvantages of each option are and when to use which. For now, since we are storing only a single value, the easiest and best option is to use the database. Each node has attributes that can store any key-value pair, as long as the value is JSON serializable. By adding the value to the node’s attributes, they will be queryable in the database once an instance of the NewData node is stored.

node = NewData(value=5)   # Creating new node instance in memory
node.set_attribute('value', 6)  # While in memory, node attributes can be changed  # Storing node instance in the database

After storing the node instance in the database, its attributes are frozen, and node.set_attribute('value', 7) will fail. By storing the value in the attributes of the node instance, we ensure that that value can be retrieved even when the node is reloaded at a later point in time.

Besides making sure that the content of a data node is stored in the database or file repository, the data type class can also provide useful methods for users to retrieve that data. For example, with the current state of the NewData class, in order to retrieve the value of a stored NewData node, one needs to do:

node = load_node(<IDENTIFIER>)

In other words, the user of the NewData class needs to know that the value is stored as an attribute with the name ‘value’. This is not easy to remember and therefore not very user-friendly. Since the NewData type is a class, we can give it useful methods. Let’s introduce one that will return the value that was stored for it:

from aiida.orm import Data

class NewData(Data)
    """A new data type that wraps a single value."""

    def value(self):
        """Return the value stored for this instance."""
        return self.get_attribute('value')

The addition of the instance property value makes retrieving the value of a NewData node a lot easier:

node = load_node(<IDENTIFIER)
value = node.value

As said before, in addition to their attributes, data types can also store their properties in the file repository. Imagine a data type that needs to wrap a single text file.

import os
from aiida.orm import Data

class TextFileData(Data):
    """Data class that can be used to wrap a single text file by storing it in its file repository."""

    def __init__(self, filepath, **kwargs):
        """Construct a new instance and set the contents to that of the file.

        :param file: an absolute filepath of the file to wrap

        filename = os.path.basename(filepath)  # Get the filename from the absolute path
        self.put_object_from_file(filepath, filename)  # Store the file in the repository under the given filename
        self.set_attribute('filename', filename)  # Store in the attributes what the filename is

    def get_content(self):
        """Return the content of the single file stored for this data node.

        :return: the content of the file as a string
        filename = self.get_attribute('filename')
        return self.get_object_content(filename)

To create a new instance of this data type and get its content:

node = TextFileData(filepath='/some/absolute/path/to/file.txt')
node.get_content()  # This will return the content of the file

This example is a simplified version of the SinglefileData data class that ships with aiida-core. If this happens to be your use case (or very close to it), it is of course better to use that class, or you can sub class it and adapt it where needed.

The two new data types we have just implemented are of course trivial and not very useful, but the concepts are flexible and can easily be applied to more complex use-cases. The following section will provide useful guidelines on how to optimally design new data types.

Database or repository?

When deciding where to store a property of a data type, one has to choose between the database and the file repository. The database will make it possible to search in the provenance graph based on criteria based on the property, e.g. all NewData nodes where the property is greater than 0. The downside is that storing too much information in the database can make it sluggish. Therefore, big data (think large files), whose content does not necessarily need to be queried for, is better stored in the file repository. Of course a data type may need to store multiple properties of varying character, but both storage locations can safely be used in parellel. When choosing the database as the storage location, the properties should be stored using the node attributes. To set and retrieve them, use the attribute methods of the Node class.