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Auto-populated tables are used to define, execute, and coordinate computations in a DataJoint pipeline.

Tables in the initial portions of the pipeline are populated from outside the pipeline. In subsequent steps, computations are performed automatically by the DataJoint pipeline in auto-populated tables.

Computed tables belong to one of the two auto-populated data tiers: dj.Imported and dj.Computed. DataJoint does not enforce the distinction between imported and computed tables: the difference is purely semantic, a convention for developers to follow. If populating a table requires access to external files such as raw storage that is not part of the database, the table is designated as imported. Otherwise it is computed.

Auto-populated tables are defined and queried exactly as other tables. (See Manual Tables.) Their data definition follows the same definition syntax.


For auto-populated tables, data should never be entered using insert directly. Instead these tables must define the callback method make(self, key). The insert method then can only be called on self inside this callback method.

Imagine that there is a table test.Image that contains 2D grayscale images in its image attribute. Let us define the computed table, test.FilteredImage that filters the image in some way and saves the result in its filtered_image attribute.

The class will be defined as follows.

class FilteredImage(dj.Computed):
    definition = """
    # Filtered image
    -> Image
    filtered_image : longblob

    def make(self, key):
        img = (test.Image & key).fetch1('image')
        key['filtered_image'] = myfilter(img)

The make method receives one argument: the dict key containing the primary key value of an element of key source to be worked on.

The make method received one argument: the key of type struct in MATLAB and dict in Python. The key represents the partially filled entity, usually already containing the primary key attributes of the key source.

The make callback does three things:

  1. Fetches data from tables upstream in the pipeline using the key for restriction.

  2. Computes and adds any missing attributes to the fields already in key.

  3. Inserts the entire entity into self.

make may populate multiple entities in one call when key does not specify the entire primary key of the populated table.


The inherited populate method of dj.Imported and dj.Computed automatically calls make for every key for which the auto-populated table is missing data.

The FilteredImage table can be populated as


The progress of long-running calls to populate() in datajoint-python can be visualized by adding the display_progress=True argument to the populate call.

Note that it is not necessary to specify which data needs to be computed. DataJoint will call make, one-by-one, for every key in Image for which FilteredImage has not yet been computed.

Chains of auto-populated tables form computational pipelines in DataJoint.

Populate options

The populate method accepts a number of optional arguments that provide more features and allow greater control over the method’s behavior.

  • restrictions - A list of restrictions, restricting as (tab.key_source & AndList(restrictions)) - tab.proj(). Here target is the table to be populated, usually tab itself.

  • suppress_errors - If True, encountering an error will cancel the current make call, log the error, and continue to the next make call. Error messages will be logged in the job reservation table (if reserve_jobs is True) and returned as a list. See also return_exception_objects and reserve_jobs. Defaults to False.

  • return_exception_objects - If True, error objects are returned instead of error messages. This applies only when suppress_errors is True. Defaults to False.

  • reserve_jobs - If True, reserves job to indicate to other distributed processes. The job reservation table may be access as Errors are logged in the jobs table. Defaults to False.

  • order - The order of execution, either "original", "reverse", or "random". Defaults to "original".

  • display_progress - If True, displays a progress bar. Defaults to False.

  • limit - If not None, checks at most this number of keys. Defaults to None.

  • max_calls - If not None, populates at most this many keys. Defaults to None, which means no limit.


The method table.progress reports how many key_source entries have been populated and how many remain. Two optional parameters allow more advanced use of the method. A parameter of restriction conditions can be provided, specifying which entities to consider. A Boolean parameter display (default is True) allows disabling the output, such that the numbers of remaining and total entities are returned but not printed.

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