Tools For Building Blocks: The UP42 Blockutils Python Package

Rodrigo Almeida

If you are developing blocks on UP42, the UP42 blockutils Python package will make your development faster and your code more reliable. In this Python package, we have included a series of modules that abstract away some block functions so you can focus on delivering your results.

In this blog post, we will be doing a deep dive into 5 of the modules of this package:

  • blocks;
  • windows;
  • datapath;
  • exceptions;
  • syntheticimage.

The UP42 blockutils python package is available via PyPi. In order to install it you can run:

pip install up42-blockutils

You should then be able to access the entire package directly from python:

python -c "import blockutils; help(blockutils)"

Use :q to exit the help window.

As a starting point, we will use the quickstart processing block (see the code example below). This quickstart block is a processing block that returns the squared input raster values.

from pathlib import Path
import rasterio as rio
from geojson import FeatureCollection
import blockutils

logger = blockutils.logging.get_logger(__name__)

class AProcessingBlock(blockutils.blocks.ProcessingBlock):
    def process(
        self, input_fc: FeatureCollection)
    ) -> FeatureCollection:
        output_fc = FeatureCollection([])

        if not input_fc.features:
            raise blockutils.exceptions.UP42Error(

        for feat in input_fc["features"]:
  "Processing {feat}...")
            input_path = Path("/tmp/input/") / Path(blockutils.datapath.get_data_path(feat))
            with as src:
                src_win =
                ) = blockutils.datapath.get_output_filename_and_path(
          , postfix="processed"
                dst_meta = src.meta.copy()
                with, "w", **dst_meta) as dst:
                    for win in src_win.windows_regular():
                        exp = ** 2
                        dst.write(exp, window=win)

                out_feat = Feature(bbox=feat.bbox, geometry=feat.geometry)
                out_feat["properties"] = self.get_metadata(feat)
                out_feat = blockutils.datapath.set_data_path(out_feat, output_name)
      "Processed {out_feat}...")
            return output_fc


blocks: Base Classes Rules

Using object-oriented programming in Python provides ways to extend and adapt code functionalities according to your needs. In the UP42 data science team, when we are building blocks, we define a class that inherits from the base classes provided in the up42-blockutils package (either ProcessingBlock or DataBlock). These base classes provide the elementary functionality to make a block work, e.g. methods to get the user input parameters or run the block. By doing this, we avoid code duplication when it comes to shared methods between blocks. If you want to quickly set up an entire block, check out the data block template and the processing block template.

For instance, all the processing blocks in UP42 can read in the job parameters provided by the user from an environment variable, load the input data.json file (providing information about intermediate output from previous blocks) and save an output data.json file. The base ProcessingBlock class offers a method that does just that, the run method that you can easily use:

from blockutils.block import ProcessingBlock

class MyCustomBlock(ProcessingBlock):
    # Fill in methods here

if __name__ == "__main__":

The run method will, as you can see in the reference, create all necessary directories (i.e. /tmp/output/), load the parameters into a dictionary, load data.json, instantiate the class with the parameters (using the from_dict method of the base class), call the process method of the class with the data.json metadata as input and finally save the resulting data.json into a file in the correct location:

def run(cls):
    This method is the main entry point for the processing block.
    params: dict = load_params()
    input_metadata: FeatureCollection = load_metadata()
    processing_block = cls.from_dict(params)
    result: FeatureCollection = processing_block.process(input_metadata)

The run method is a class method which means that it accepts a class instance as a parameter, in this case returning nothing since all the results are written to disk.

This method is typically the entry point of the block. This means that when a job is run in UP42, the execution of this block is started with a call to the run method. We usually separate the entry point of the block in a basic file like this:

import MyCustomBlock

if __name__ == "__main__":

And then you should make sure that the Dockerfile you created for this block uses this file as the entry point:

# Invoke
CMD ["python", ""]

windows: Nothing Is Too Big To Chew

One very common issue when processing satellite or aerial acquired data is hitting a memory limit. Sentinel-1 radar images are, for instance, very large (almost 2GB in disk). With most machines you won’t be able to load the entire array into memory at once. That’s exactly why rasterio offers the windows module, to allow for reading and writing of raster files in chunks.

We have wrapped this functionality in our own windows module for ease of use (see reference) It has been extended to allow for buffered window operations, which is especially useful when the operation to be applied suffers from boundary conditions (e.g. any kernel-based operation).

windows Window by window writing of imagery with 768 x 768 pixels, written in windows of 368 x 368 pixels.

In the quickstart example, we make use of the windows module to create a reliable computation, regardless of the size of the input image:

from pathlib import Path
from import WindowsUtil

input_path = Path("/tmp/input/a_file.tif")
output_path = Path("/tmp/output/a_file_processed.tif")
with as src:
    src_win = WindowsUtil(src)
    dst_meta = src.meta.copy()
    with, "w", **dst_meta) as dst:
        for win in src_win.windows_regular():
            exp = ** 2
            dst.write(exp, window=win)

datapath: It’s About The Destination

In UP42, blocks share results between each other via the data.json file. Each data.json file is a FeatureCollection with each feature representing a single result of a given block. If a block results in an artifact (e.g. a file, set of files, etc) then each feature should have a property - up42.data_path that points to the location of the results. This is the relative path from the /tmp/output/ folder to the location of the resulting file or set of files.

When building your own custom block, we have some utility functions to help you handle data_path fetching and setting.

In the quickstart example, we make use of several of these utilities. For example, we fetch the path to the input dataset using get_data_path method and set it in the input data.json with set_data_path:

from blockutils.data_path import get_data_path, set_data_path

for feat in features:
    input_path = Path("/tmp/input/") / Path(get_data_path(feat))
    out_feat = Feature(bbox=feat.bbox, geometry=feat.geometry)
    out_feat = set_data_path(out_feat, output_name)

We can also easily get file names and paths from the input file names, for instance:

from pathlib import Path
from blockutils.datapath import get_output_filename_and_path

input_path = Path("/tmp/input/a_file.tif")
(output_name, output_path) = get_output_filename_and_path(, postfix="processed"
# Output_name is relative to the `/tmp/output/` folder, pass this to set_data_path
# i.e. a_file_processed.tif
# output_path is the full path, pass this to write function
# i.e. /tmp/output/a_file_processed.tif

You can check out the reference for a full overview of all the datapath functions.

exceptions: When Things Go Wrong

If there is one thing that is sure when writing code - at some point it will break! Users will pass wrong parameters, APIs will be down, etc. The important thing is how we handle this in our code. Exception handling can be painful so we included an exceptions module in our blockutils. This module has three main functions: typifying common errors, standardizing exit codes and simplifying exception handling for your block.


We have typified 5 error types and corresponding exit codes, as defined in the reference:

Error   Description   Exit code  
INPUT_PARAMETERS_ERROR   User provided wrong or inconsistent configuration parameters.   2  
NO_INPUT_ERROR   Block did not find input data, e.g. no data in the requested area (data block), no features in data.json (processing block).   3  
WRONG_INPUT_ERROR   Input data is unsuitable, e.g. a processing block expects 16 bit but receives 8 bit.   4  
API_CONNECTION_ERROR   API which is used by the block is down or changed its interface.   5  
NO_OUTPUT_ERROR   After applying all processing steps, no results are provided to the user.   6  

In order to effectively use these exception types you need to raise an UP42Error with the SupportedErrors as an argument, for instance:

from blockutils.exceptions import UP42Error, SupportedErrors

if parameter_is_wrong:
    raise UP42Error(SupportedErrors.INPUT_PARAMETERS_ERROR, "Wrong parameters!")

In addition, you should make sure your block entry point (usually as described in the section above) uses the catch_exceptions decorator. Decorators are Python functions that have a function as the input and also return a function. You can use them to wrap functionality around existing code. In this case, the catch_exceptions decorator makes sure that all exceptions coming from the execution of your code return an appropriate exit code (that is 1 for all generic exceptions, and 2 to 6 for UP42Error).

For example, you can see in the run method of the base ProcessingBlock class that this is already done for you:

from blockutils.exceptions import catch_exceptions

def run(cls):
    This method is the main entry point for the processing block.

The logs will also be more comprehensible for the user. For example, the user would see this in the logs when a NO_OUTPUT_ERROR is raised:

2020-07-08 13:08:12,471 - blockutils.exceptions - ERROR - No output data created.
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/blockutils/", line 111, in wrapper
    return function(*args, **kwargs)
  File "/usr/local/lib/python3.7/site-packages/blockutils/", line 122, in run
    result: FeatureCollection = processing_block.process(input_metadata)
  File "/block/src/", line 180, in process
    raise UP42Error(SupportedErrors.NO_OUTPUT_ERROR)
blockutils.exceptions.UP42Error: [NO_OUTPUT_ERROR]

syntheticimage: Fake It Till You Make It

In the data science team at UP42, we follow a testing-first software development approach and this has helped us ensure consistent code quality among projects and a relatively low number of major bugs. Testing is, however, a pain. We are using Pytest, Mypy and Pylint (Black in addition for formatting), and these tools help tremendously. However, when handling geospatial data, it becomes tricky to test functions end to end without using real data. It’s considered bad practice to check large files into a Git repository since it slows down Git operations, so this can feel like a dead-end street.

For this reason, we recommend using the syntheticimage module. This module allows you to easily mock raster files without the need to include any sort of clunky TIFF or PNG files in your repository. You can then use these mock files for testing your raster operations.

synthetic_images Synthetic images generated with the syntheticimage module using 100, 5000, 1 (from left to right) as seed.

For instance in our quickstart example, we can easily refactor this so we include the power of 2 mathematical operations in a single method, to make testing easier:

import numpy as np
from blockutils.block import ProcessingBlock

class MyCustomBlock(ProcessingBlock):
    def power_of_two(input: np.ndarray) -> np.ndarray:
        return input ** 2

To test this function, let’s set up a test case using the syntheticimage module:

import tempfile
from blockutils.syntheticimage import SyntheticImage

import MyCustomBlock

def test_power_of_two():
    # tempfile context manager ensures all files are deleted after test run
    with tempfile.TemporaryDirectory() as tmpdirname:
        synth_image = SyntheticImage(128, 128, 4, "uint16", out_dir=Path(tmpdirname))
        in_path, in_array = synth_image.create(100)
        result_array = MyCustomBlock.power_of_two(in_array)
        expected_array = in_array ** 2
        assert np.testing.assert_array_almost_equal(result_array, expected_array)

In the reference of the SyntheticImage class you will find you can easily change nodata values, the position of the image with a custom transform object, or even set a specific image pattern.

Wrapping Up

In this blog post, you have learned about some of the basic modules in the UP42 blockutils Python package. We have shared some minimal examples on how to use some functions and what those functions represent in the UP42 context. The package includes other interesting modules, such as a DIMAP and NETCDF utilities or generic geometry operations, for building blocks.

You can find all the information about up42-blockutils in the documentation and PyPi page, and all the blocks that have been built by ourselves and our partners on the UP42 marketplace.

Rodrigo Almeida

Data Science Engineer

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