# Darts: Time Series Made Easy in Python

Time series simply represent data points over time. They are thus everywhere in nature and in business: temperatures, heartbeats, births, population dynamics, internet traffic, stocks, inventories, sales, orders, factory production — you name it. In countless cases, efficient processing and forecasting of time series has the potential to provide decisive advantages. It can help businesses adapt their strategies ahead of time (e.g. if production can be planned in advance), or improve their operations (e.g. by detecting anomalies in complex systems). Although there exist many models and tools for time series, they are still often nontrivial to work with, because they each have their own intricacies and cannot always be used in the same way. At Unit8, we often work with time series and thus we started developing our own tool to make our lives simpler. We also decided to contribute to the community by open-sourcing it. **In this article, we introduce Darts, our attempt at simplifying time series processing and forecasting in Python.**

# Motivation

If you are a data scientist working with time series you already know this: time series are special beasts. With regular tabular data, you can often just use scikit-learn for doing most ML things — from preprocessing to prediction and model selection. But with time series, the story is different. You can easily end up in situations where you need one library for pre-processing (e.g. Pandas to interpolate missing values and re-sample), another to detect seasonality (e.g. statsmodels), a third one to fit a forecasting model (e.g. Facebook Prophet), and finally more often than not you’ll have to implement your own backtesting and model selection routines. This can be quite tedious, as most libraries use different APIs and data types. And that’s not even mentioning cases involving more complex models based on neural networks, or problems involving external data and more dimensions. In such cases you’d likely have to implement the models yourself for your use-case, for instance using libraries such as Tensorflow or PyTorch. Overall, we feel that the experience of doing machine learning on time series in Python is just not really smooth, yet.

We are big fans of the scikit-learn approach: a single open-source library with consistent API that contains a great set of tools for end-to-end machine learning. Darts attempts to be a scikit-learn for time series, and its primary goal is to simplify the whole time series machine learning experience.

# Show Me!

`darts`

is open source and available here. You can install it in your favourite Python environment as follows:

`pip install u8darts`

The basic data type in Darts is `TimeSeries`

, which represents a multivariate time series. It is mostly a wrapper around Pandas `DataFrame`

, with some additional guarantees to ensure that it represents a well-formed time series, with a proper time index. It can easily be built, for example from a `DataFrame`

:

import pandas as pd

from darts import TimeSeriesdf = pd.read_csv('AirPassengers.csv')series = TimeSeries.from_dataframe(df, 'Month', '#Passengers')

In the above snippet, we first read a `DataFrame`

containing the air passengers dataset. We then build a (univariate) `TimeSeries`

, specifying the time and value columns (`Month`

and `#Passengers`

, respectively).

Let’s now split our series in a training and validation `TimeSeries`

, and train an exponential smoothing model on the training series:

from darts.models import ExponentialSmoothingtrain, val = series.split_before(pd.Timestamp('19580101'))model = ExponentialSmoothing()

model.fit(train)

prediction = model.predict(len(val))

That’s it, we now have a prediction over our validation series. We can plot it, along with the actual series:

import matplotlib.pyplot as pltseries.plot(label='actual')

prediction.plot(label='forecast', lw=3)

plt.legend()

# A Few More Details

As you may have guessed, we are mimicking the scikit-learn `fit()`

and `predict()`

pattern for training models and making forecasts. The `fit()`

function takes in argument a training `TimeSeries`

and the `predict()`

function returns a new `TimeSeries`

representing the forecast. This means that models manipulate `TimeSeries`

, and this is pretty much the only data type being manipulated in Darts. This allows users to easily swap and compare models. For example, we could have just as easily used an auto-ARIMA model (which behind the scenes wraps around pmdarima):

from darts.models import AutoARIMAmodel_aarima = AutoARIMA()

model_aarima.fit(train)

prediction_aarima = model_aarima.predict(len(val))

Basically, Darts is based on the following simple principles:

- There are two kinds of models.
*Forecasting models*predict the future values of a time series given the past values, and*regression models*predict values of a target time series given a set of feature time series. The exponential smoothing and auto-ARIMA model we built above are examples of forecasting models. - Unified
`fit()`

and`predict()`

interface across all forecasting models, from ARIMA to neural networks. - Models consume and produce
`TimeSeries`

, which means for instance that it is easy to have a regression model consume the output of a forecasting model. `TimeSeries`

can be either univariate (1-dimensional) or multivariate (multi-dimensional). Certain models such as those based on neural nets operate on multivariate series, while others are restricted to univariate series.- Immutability: the
`TimeSeries`

class is designed to be immutable.

Darts already contains working implementations of the following forecasting models:

- Exponential smoothing,
- ARIMA & auto-ARIMA,
- Facebook Prophet,
- Theta method,
- FFT (Fast Fourier Transform),
- Recurrent neural networks (vanilla RNNs, GRU, and LSTM variants),
- Temporal Convolutional Networks (TCN),
- and several naive baselines.

The library also contains functionalities to backtest forecasting and regression models, perform grid search on hyper-parameters, evaluate residuals, and even perform automatic model selection.

# Another Example — Backtesting

In our example above, we used Darts to obtain once a forecast over the next 36 months starting in January 1958. However, forecasts often need to be updated as soon as new data becomes available. With Darts, it’s easy to compute the forecasts resulting from such a process, using *backtesting*. For instance, using backtesting to compare two models looks as follows:

from darts.backtesting import backtest_forecasting

from darts.models import Prophetmodels = [ExponentialSmoothing(), Prophet()]backtests = [backtest_forecasting(series,

model,

pd.Timestamp('19550101'),

fcast_horizon_n=3)

for model in models]

The function `backtest_forecasting`

takes a time series, a forecasting model, a timestamp and a forecast horizon. It returns the `TimeSeries`

containing the historical forecasts *would have been obtained* when using the model to forecast the series with the specified forecast horizon (here 3 months), starting at the specified timestamp (using an expanding window strategy).

The return type is a `TimeSeries`

, and so we can quickly compute error metrics — for instance here the mean absolute percentage error:

from darts.metrics import mapeseries.plot(label='data')

for i, m in enumerate(models):

err = mape(backtests[i], series)

backtests[i].plot(lw=3, label='{}, MAPE={:.2f}%'.format(m, err))plt.title('Backtests with 3-months forecast horizon')

plt.legend()

In addition, because the return type of `backtest_forecasting()`

is a `TimeSeries`

, we can also simply consume the outputs features series in regression models, which can serve to ensemble (stack) the forecasts made by several models, and potentially also include external time series data.

There is a lot more that we did not cover here. We provide a series of example notebooks covering more material. For instance, you can look at the intro notebook, or see how to easily train RNNs or TCNs neural networks using the `fit()`

and `predict()`

pattern. In addition, we also recommend consulting the Darts documentation.

# What Next?

We are actively developing Darts and adding new features. For instance here are a few things we would like to add:

- Support for training models on several time series
- Time series embeddings and clustering
- Anomaly detection and alerting

We are welcoming contributions and issues on github.

Finally, Darts is one of the tools we are using internally during our day-to-day AI/ML work for several companies. If you think your company could benefit from time series solutions or have other data-centric issues, don’t hesitate to contact us.