Getting Started with Data Contracts

data management & architecture Apr 14, 2024

Data Contracts, in essence, aim to establish formal agreements on the structure, content, and management of data between different parties. They promise to enhance data quality, reliability, and interoperability by defining clear standards and expectations. However, the practical implementation and widespread acceptance of Data Contracts face several challenges.

One of the primary obstacles to the adoption of Data Contracts is the complexity of fully articulating their scope and utility in a concise manner. The focus of Data Contracts often leans heavily towards Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which, while crucial, do not encompass the entire spectrum of data management practices. Moreover, existing data quality tools, which have been deemed "good enough" by many in the industry, pose competition to the adoption of Data Contracts. Additionally, the economic considerations have become more pressing than in previous years, with cost-effectiveness becoming a pivotal factor in the adoption of new technologies or frameworks.

The implementation of Data Contracts frequently mirrors software engineering practices, which may not align well with the skill sets and preferences of most Data Engineers and their teams. The tools suggested for encoding Data Contracts, such as Google's Protocol Buffers and Apache Avro, have not been widely embraced within the data engineering community. This reluctance can be attributed to a preference for more universally adopted languages and tools, such as SQL and Python, which are more integral to the daily workflows of data professionals.

Despite the potential benefits of Data Contracts in promoting data integrity and facilitating better data management practices, their adoption has been limited. Community feedback, such as that found on platforms like Reddit’s r/dataengineering, indicates a lack of substantial discussion or interest in Data Contracts, suggesting that the concept has not yet resonated widely within the professional community.

Key Components of Data Contracts

  • Data Structure: Defines the expected structure of the data, including the organization of data fields and data types.
  • Validation Rules: Specifies any constraints or rules for data fields, such as required fields, maximum length, or permissible values.
  • Serialization Instructions: Outlines how data should be converted to a format suitable for transmission (e.g., JSON, XML) and deserialization back into the original or a compatible structure.
  • Versioning Information: Manages changes to the data contract over time to ensure backward compatibility and smooth transitions between different versions of the contract.


Implementing Data Contracts

1. Define the Data Structure

Start by identifying the data entities and their attributes that are involved in the communication process. For each entity, define a class or a structure with clear, descriptive properties matching the expected data fields.

class Product: def __init__(self, product_id, name, price): self.product_id = product_id = name self.price = price

2. Specify Serialization and Deserialization

Choose a data format (e.g., JSON, XML) for transmitting data. Implement serialization and deserialization processes using libraries specific to your programming language that can convert your data objects to and from the chosen format.

import json # Serialization product_data = json.dumps(product.__dict__) # Deserialization product_obj = Product(**json.loads(product_data))

3. Apply Validation Rules

Implement validation logic to ensure the data meets your contract's requirements before it is sent or processed. This can include checking for required fields, validating data types, and ensuring values fall within acceptable ranges.

validate_product(product): if not raise ValueError("Product name is required") if product.price <= 0: raise ValueError("Product price must be greater than 0")

4. Manage Versioning

Introduce versioning for your data contracts to handle changes over time. Versioning allows consumers to continue using an older version of the contract while new consumers can use the updated version. This can be achieved by maintaining different endpoints, adding version information in the data, or using headers.

# Example of versioning in the data structure class ProductV2(Product): # Extends the original Product class def __init__(self, product_id, name, price, category): super().__init__(product_id, name, price) self.category = category

5. Document the Contract

Clearly document your data contract, including the data structure, validation rules, and any serialization/deserialization guidelines. This documentation should be accessible to all parties involved in the data exchange.

Good Practices

  • Automate Testing: Implement automated tests to verify that data exchanges adhere to the contract, including tests for validation rules and error handling.
  • Use Contract-First Development: Consider defining your data contracts before implementing the logic of your services or applications. This approach encourages clear communication and can reduce the risk of misunderstandings between teams.
  • Monitor and Log Data Transactions: Logging data exchanges can help with debugging and monitoring compliance with the data contract.


While Data Contracts hold the promise of enhancing data quality and management, their adoption faces hurdles in terms of complexity, focus, cost considerations, and alignment with the tools and technologies commonly used by Data Engineers. For Data Contracts to gain broader acceptance, they must offer practical, easily integrated solutions that align with the existing workflows and technologies favored by data professionals. The future of Data Contracts will depend on their ability to adapt to these requirements and truly address the needs of the data engineering community.


Do not miss out on our premium content!

Join our mailing list to receive free premium content and updates from our team.Ā 
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.