Improving Computational Performance

Feature engineering is a computationally expensive task. While Featuretools comes with reasonable default settings for feature calculation, there are a number of built-in approaches to improve computational performance based on dataset and problem specific considerations.

Reduce number of unique cutoff times

Each row in a feature matrix created by Featuretools is calculated at a specific cutoff time that represents the last point in time that data from any entity in an entity set can be used to calculate the feature. As a result, calculations incur an overhead in finding the subset of allowed data for each distinct time in the calculation.


Featuretools is very precise in how it deals with time. For more information, see Handling Time.

If there are many unique cutoff times, it is often worthwhile to figure out how to have fewer. This can be done manually by figuring out which unique times are necessary for the prediction problem or automatically using approximate.

Adjust chunk size

By default, Featuretools calculates rows with the same cutoff time simultaneously. The chunk_size parameter limits the maximum number of rows that will be grouped and then calculated together. If calculation is done using parallel processing, the default chunk size is set to be 1 / n_jobs to ensure the computation can be spread across available workers. Normally, this behavior works well, but if there are only a few unique cutoff times it can lead to higher peak memory usage (due to more intermediate calculations stored in memory) or limited parallelism (if the number of chunks is less than n_jobs).

By setting chunk_size, we can limit the maximum number of rows in each group to specific number or a percentage of the overall data when calling ft.dfs or ft.calculate_feature_matrix:

# use maximum  100 rows per chunk
feature_matrix, features_list = ft.dfs(entityset=es,

We can also set chunk size to be a percentage of total rows:

# use maximum 5% of all rows per chunk
feature_matrix, features_list = ft.dfs(entityset=es,

Partition and Distribute Data

When an entire dataset is not required to calculate the features for a given set of instances, we can split the data into independent partitions and calculate on each partition. For example, imagine we are calculating features for customers and the features are “number of other customers in this zip code” or “average age of other customers in this zip code”. In this case, we can load in data partitioned by zip code. As long as we have all of the data for a zip code when calculating, we can calculate all features for a subset of customers.

An example of this approach can be seen in the Predict Next Purchase demo notebook. In this example, we partition data by customer and only load a fixed number of customers into memory at any given time. We implement this easily using Dask, which could also be used to scale the computation to a cluster of computers. A framework like Spark could be used similarly.

An additional example of partitioning data to distribute on multiple cores or a cluster using Dask can be seen in the Featuretools on Dask notebook. This approach is detailed in the Parallelizing Feature Engineering with Dask article on the Feature Labs engineering blog. Dask allows for simple scaling to multiple cores on a single computer or multiple machines on a cluster.

For a similar partition and distribute implementation using Apache Spark with PySpark, refer to the Feature Engineering on Spark notebook. This implementation shows how to carry out feature engineering on a cluster of EC2 instances using Spark as the distributed framework. A write-up of this approach is described in the Featuretools on Spark article on the Feature Labs engineering blog.

Featuretools Enterprise

If you don’t want to build it yourself, Featuretools Enterprise has native integrations with Apache Spark and Dask. More information is available here.

If you would like to test Featuretools Enterprise APIs for running Featuretools natively on Apache Spark or Dask, please let us know here.