The Free Hive Book 19

The Free Apache Hive Book explains how to access big data with Hadoop and HDFS using HiveQL, a SQL like language. This free and open ebook is written for SQL savvy business users, data analysts, data scientists, developers and with some advanced tips for devops.

You can find the markdown source for the book on GitHub.


The Free Hive Book

by Christian Prokopp, @prokopp, Google+

About This Book


The Little Apache Hive Book is licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.

You are free to share (copy, distribute and transmit the book), you can change the book (extend, fix, shorten, translate, …).
However, you need to attribute the work to the author, Christian Prokopp @prokopp.
Lastly, you can not use the work commercially. You can contact me if you like to do so though.

Thank you.

About The Author

Christian Prokopp is a Data Scientist at Rangespan, and writes as Blogger and Data Journalist in his spare time. Christian holds a BSc, MCom, PhD and has lived, worked and researched in three continents.

Why this book?

This book was sparked by the need to give some tutorial material to business users at Rangespan. Christian has been working with Hive and Hadoop for the last two years. Giving access to Big Data to business stakeholder through a SQL-like interface has proved extremely valuable and popular. Facebook, a company with one of the largest data sets world-wide for example, heavily relies on Hive and Hadoop for data processing, insight and reporting with thousands of users accessing data spread across thousands of computers.

In that spirit this book provides an example driven introduction to working with Hive. The book helps SQL experienced users to apply their knowledge when working with Hive. At the end of the book are also some more advanced tips for power-users, dev-ops or sysadmins.

Original and Latest Version

The original with the latest updates is available as the The Free Hive Book.

Table of Contents

The book is work in progress and the TOC as well as the actual chapters will evolve.

  1. Introduction – What is Hive

  2. Getting Started – Setup Hive

  3. Create, Load, Select, Drop – The basics
    • Managed Table
    • External Table
  4. Setting up the example table

  5. Query
    • SELECT … WHERE …
    • SELECT … SORT BY …
  6. Normalize Tables

  7. Joining Tables
    • JOIN
  8. Data Storage Formats
    • TextFile
    • SequenceFile
    • RCFile
    • ORC
    • Parquet
  9. Tuning Tips
    • Controlling File and Split Size
    • Data Storage Formats
    • Compression
    • Partitioning
    • Bucketing
    • Limit
    • Parallel Execution

1. Introduction – What is Hive

(⇪ Table of Contents)

(If you know Hive and Hadoop you can safely skip the introduction.)

Apache Hive is a data warehouse system build on top of Hadoop to query Big Data. Hive originated at Facebook and was open sourced in August 2008. The challenge Facebook had to address is one faced by many companies since then. Eventually data growth in a company challenges the capabilities of deployed RDBMS or NoSQL systems. Reports and analytics start to take minutes, then hours, and eventually overlap with other queries and the whole system grinds to a halt. Another common scenario companies start processing big data with Hadoop discovers the value of making the data accessible beyond the development team capable of writing complex map-reduce jobs.

What is Big Data

The term Big Data is freely used in this context. A colleague defined Big Data jokingly as anything beyond one million rows – Microsoft Excels row limit. The underlying point is that Big Data is a point of view and can be generalised as the point where simple solutions and deployed technology fail.

The subsequent question is if scaling and investing heavily in it is the most economical solution. Commercial large-scale data warehouse solutions are very expensive. Furthermore, some of the data collected today, e.g. poorly structured or highly denormalized data, can be impractical to manage with these systems. The Hadoop ecosystem regularly is utilised to scale data processing in a feasible manner. Hadoop becomes either a replacement or a batch process addition to the existing infrastructure for data analysis, extraction, loading, transformation, reporting, and machine learning.

Accessing Big Data

The downside, which Facebook encountered, was that data stored in Hadoop is inaccessible to business users. There are higher-level languages like Pig, Cascading, Crunch or Scalding. They are, however, geared towards software developers that want to avoid the verbosity of pure Java map-reduce development. Even Pig, a popular data-flow language, still requires users to learn a completely new skill. Facebook realised that most of their users already had a common skill – they knew SQL. Hive was developed to give access to data stored in Hadoop translating SQL-like statements into complex map-reduce jobs reading and processing data on large distributed scale.

Democratising Big Data

Hive is a success story. Today, Facebook’s largest Hadoop cluster consists of thousands of computers providing a combined storage of 150 Petabytes – roughly 150,000,000 Gigabytes. Hive provides access to literally thousands of employees to the data running together thousands of map-reduce jobs every day using Hive. The additional training for employees knowing SQL to use Hive is minimal. Most statements can be expressed equivalently and full SQL support is coming to Hive very soon.

What Hive is not

Hive does not use sophisticated indexes like many RDBMS which are able to answer queries in seconds. Hive queries usually take minutes or hours. However, Hive scales very well and can execute queries across data of the magnitude of Petabytes. The Hadoop ecosystem and Hive are under very active development, however, and speedups are achieved with every new iteration. In 2013 many new developments are due to be introduced, a new Hadoop framework that goes beyond map-reduce and manages resources better, and Hive improvements that will make queries on smaller data faster and interactive.

What this book will teach

You will learn how to access data with Hive.

2. Getting Started – Setup Hive

(⇪ Table of Contents)

(You can skip this section if you have access to a Hive CLI (Command Line Interface) or a Hue and Beeswax web interface to Hive.)

Installing Hive for evaluation purposes is best done with a virtual machine provided by one of the popular Hadoop distributions:

The examples in this book are based on the Hortonworks Sandbox version 1.2.

3. Create, Load, Select, Drop – The basics

(⇪ Table of Contents)

Hive uses a metastore – a database – to store information about the tables it knows. Tables to Hive often are not much more than storing the information where the data is stored and how it is formatted. We do not have to know much about the metastore itself to use Hive though.

Managed Table

Managed tables’s data is controlled by Hive. It will create a directory for the data on HDFS and when we drop the table it will delete the data. Later in this chapter we will see that we can manage the data ourselves with an EXTERNAL table.

Creating an empty table

Let us create a table, which will be a simple list of all names of all countries. Go to the Beeswax query editor and execute the following query:

CREATE TABLE country_list (name STRING);

You can now find the table in the Beeswax table list. Once you selected the table you can view the file location on HDFS which Hive automatically selected and created for you. The table and directory are empty. Note: We can define the location of a new table as we will learn later.

Describing a table

We can get all the information we need about a table through a query too. Go back to the query editor and execute:


The result describes the schema of the table and detailed table information. This includes the location of the table and the information that it uses TextInputFormat which is default setting in the Hortonworks Hive setup.

Loading data into a table

We want to load data to the table so we need to upload it to HDFS. We know the table has single column of country name, uses a simple text format, and Hive always uses new line characters to as row delimiters. All we need to do to add data is upload one or several files into the directory linked with the table. The files have to be formatted to have one country name on each line.

Go back to the table list and select the country_list table. Select View File Location and you will be viewing the HDFS directory of where the able stores its data. Upload the coutry_example.tsv file into the directory using the file upload function on the top right of the interface.

Query a table

Hive is very flexible and checks the table’s data location for every query. Adding or removing data on the file system is reflected on the table. After adding the file its content is now automatically retrieved as table data. Try it out. Go back to the Beeswax table list and select the country_list again. Click on browse data on the left. You should see four countries which are read from the file. You can also query the table to get the same result. Go tot he query editor and execute:

SELECT * FROM country_list;

Drop a table

You can drop the table in the table view of Beeswax through the graphic interface. Go to the query editor and execute the equivalent query to drop the table:

DROP TABLE country_list;

The table and the HDFS directory and file(s) are deleted.

External Table

So far the queries and behaviour of Hive has not been very different to SQL systems. Hive’s separation of data location and storing the schema in a metastore enables it to create tables pointing to existing data, to read, query, and transform it, and then drop the tables without touching the original data on HDFS.

These unmanaged tables make Hive powerful as a tool that queries outputs from other processes and systems. The terminology used is an extension of the SQL CREATE TABLE statement. Let us do the above example again with an external table instead to illustrate the difference.

Create an external table

Create the external table by simply adding EXTERNAL to the statement:


Everything will appear to be the same as in the previous example, i.e. the table will look the same in the Beeswax interface and behave the same as the previous one. Only the detailed description reveals a difference:


The table description now mentions tableType:EXTERNAL_TABLE which previously was tableType:MANAGED_TABLE. The managed table meant that Hive would delete the data on dropping the table – managing it. The external table type means that Hive on dropping a table will remove the schema information only – it disappears from Hive but the data remains on HDFS – Hive considers it external.

Go ahead and try it out. If you repeat our previous example and upload the country_example.tsv file to the table’s HDFS location the data will appears as table data as before. If you drop the table the data will remain:

DROP TABLE country_list;

Go to the HDFS directory /apps/hive/warehouse/country_list to see the data and directory still intact.

(Re)Creating an external table

This means that we can create a table with the data on HDFS with a single statement:


Query the table to see that the data on HDFS has been linked back to the table:

SELECT * FROM country_list;

4. Setting up the example table

(⇪ Table of Contents)

The following examples are based on World Bank data of development indicators of the last four decades. The data is freely available on the World Bank website. The data distributed with the book for the examples has been modified for use with Hive.

Create external table

country_name STRING,
country_code STRING,
indicator_name STRING,
indicator_code STRING,
`1960` FLOAT, `1961` FLOAT, `1962` FLOAT, `1963` FLOAT, `1964` FLOAT,
`1965` FLOAT, `1966` FLOAT, `1967` FLOAT, `1968` FLOAT, `1969` FLOAT,
`1970` FLOAT, `1971` FLOAT, `1972` FLOAT, `1973` FLOAT, `1974` FLOAT,
`1975` FLOAT, `1976` FLOAT, `1977` FLOAT, `1978` FLOAT, `1979` FLOAT,
`1980` FLOAT, `1981` FLOAT, `1982` FLOAT, `1983` FLOAT, `1984` FLOAT,
`1985` FLOAT, `1986` FLOAT, `1987` FLOAT, `1988` FLOAT, `1989` FLOAT,
`1990` FLOAT, `1991` FLOAT, `1992` FLOAT, `1993` FLOAT, `1994` FLOAT,
`1995` FLOAT, `1996` FLOAT, `1997` FLOAT, `1998` FLOAT, `1999` FLOAT,
`2000` FLOAT, `2001` FLOAT, `2002` FLOAT, `2003` FLOAT, `2004` FLOAT,
`2005` FLOAT, `2006` FLOAT, `2007` FLOAT, `2008` FLOAT, `2009` FLOAT,
`2010` FLOAT, `2011` FLOAT, `2012` FLOAT
LOCATION '/user/sandbox/wdi';

The table is empty since we have not loaded any data yet. Hive created a folder at /user/sandbox/wdi on HDFS for us and we can copy data there to appear in the tables.

Put the data on HDFS

We first place the data on HDFS for Hive and then create an external table for the data. Upload the wdi_data.tsv.gz file to the new HDFS /user/sandbox/wdi folder. The file is now located on the distributed HDFS file system and can be read by Hadoop and Hive. The file is Gzip compressed as indicated by the .gz postfix. Hive recognises this format and automatically decompresses the file at query time.

5. Query

(⇪ Table of Contents)

We can check if the schema from the create statement aligns with the data we uploaded by either browsing the data from the Beeswax table interface or querying it:


The above statement returns all columns and all rows from the table wdi.


HiveQL supports WHERE constraints on the SELECT statement. Let us reduce the selection to a specific indicator. The following query returns all rows for the indicator named 'Trade (% of GDP)':

WHERE indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)';

We can further restrict the result to return only the country name and the indicator result of the year 2011:

SELECT `country_name`, `2011` AS trade_2011 FROM wdi
WHERE indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)';

We can furthermore limit results to data of the year 2011:

SELECT `country_name`, `2011` AS trade_2011 FROM wdi WHERE
indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)' AND
`2011` IS NOT NULL;


Which countries have the largest and smallest percentage of trade to GDP ratio? The result of the above query can be ordered by column(s) with the ORDER BY ... (ASC|DESC) statement. Postfixing the order statement with ASC or DESC will order it in ascending or descending order:

SELECT `country_name`, `2011` AS trade_2011 FROM wdi WHERE
indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)' AND
`2011` IS NOT NULL
ORDER BY trade_2011 DESC;

The downside on ordering globally with ORDER BY is that it is implemented using a single reducer. Consequently, ordering a large set of data can take a very long time. It


I cases where you only want to approximate the order and investigate the data the SORT BY statement can be used. It sorts the data by reducer and not globally, which can be much faster for large data sets.

SELECT `country_name`, `2011` AS trade_2011 FROM wdi WHERE
indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)' AND
`2011` IS NOT NULL
SORT BY trade_2011 DESC;


DISTRIBUTE BY tells Hive by which column to organise the data when it is sent to the reducers. We could instead of using CLUSTER BY in the previous example use DISTRIBUTE BY to ensure every reducer gets all the data for each indicator.

SELECT country_name, indicator_name, `2011` AS trade_2011 FROM wdi WHERE
(indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)' OR
indicator_name = 'Broad money (% of GDP)') AND
`2011` IS NOT NULL
DISTRIBUTE BY indicator_name;

DISTRIBUTE BY indicator_name

DISTRIBUTE BY indicator_name

If you ran the example on the Hortonworks VM or any other setup with one reducer your query result will look like the rows are not organised by indicator names. The difference is that DISTRIBUTE BY does not sort the result. It ensures that all rows with the same indicator are sent to the same reducer but it does not sort them.

This can be useful if you write a streaming job with a custom reducer. The reducer, for example, could aggregate data based on the distribution key and does not require the data in order as long as it is complete in regard to the distribution key.


Hive queries without custom reducers are more likely to combine a DISTRIBUTE BY with a SORT BY. Together they result in globally distributed and locally sorted results, which is faster than ORDER BY.

SELECT country_name, indicator_name, `2011` AS trade_2011 FROM wdi WHERE
(indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)' OR
indicator_name = 'Broad money (% of GDP)') AND
`2011` IS NOT NULL
DISTRIBUTE BY indicator_name
SORT BY indicator_name;

DISTRIBUTE & SORT BY indicator_name

DISTRIBUTE & SORT BY indicator_name

The result ensures that all rows with the same indicator name are grouped and all groups of a reducer are sorted but the global order of the groups is not guaranteed. This is still a very useful combination of commands since we can extend it by additional fields.

SELECT country_name, indicator_name, `2011` AS trade_2011 FROM wdi WHERE
(indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)' OR
indicator_name = 'Broad money (% of GDP)') AND
`2011` IS NOT NULL
DISTRIBUTE BY indicator_name
SORT BY indicator_name, country_name;

By simply adding country_name to the sorting we now ensure that each group of indicator_names is also sorted by country_name irrespective of the input order.


The combination of DISTRIBUTE BY with a SORT BY is so common that it received its own shorthand in HiveQL – CLUSTER BY.

SELECT country_name, indicator_name, `2011` AS trade_2011 FROM wdi WHERE
(indicator_name = 'Trade (% of GDP)' OR
indicator_name = 'Broad money (% of GDP)') AND
`2011` IS NOT NULL
CLUSTER BY indicator_name;

The above query will return all 2011 results of all countries for the two indicators where the data is available, i.e. not null. The result will be sorted by indicator and since the input was sorted by country already the result is also sorted by country within each indicator.

Using CLUSTER BY enables Hadoop to distribute the data based on the cluster by key across all computational nodes. It is limited by the cardinality of the key though. If you have only two keys then only two reducers can work in parallel independent of you cluster size.

Examples where CLUSTER BY works excellent are the same as before; where global order is irrelevant. Imagine sorting orders by category and then analyse each category of orders. You may have millions of orders and hundreds of categories. Clustering the sorting would provide a tremendous performance improvement since the sort can potentially be done by hundreds of cluster nodes in parallel.

[Here be dragons]

7. Joining Tables

(⇪ Table of Contents)

Setup Data

Create two tables with list of OECD and NATO countries for the join examples.

CREATE TABLE oecd_countries (name STRING, year STRING)

CREATE TABLE nato_countries (name STRING);

Finally go to /apps/hive/warehouse/nato_countries and /apps/hive/warehouse/oecd_countries in the Hue filebrowser (or use the HDFS put command) and upload nato_countries.tsv and oecd_countries.tsv in the corresponding directories.


Joins are very common operations to combine related tables and join them on a shared value.

NoSQL and big data architectures tend to diverge from traditional table designs and normalisations to reduce JOINs. Until recently duplication of columns in tables was seen as wasteful and hard to change. The wdi table has a country name and country code column. Traditionally tables would only contain an identifier/code and we would store all country relevant information including the full name in a separate country table. Since storage has become cheap and plentiful we can observe a tendency to duplicate commonly used information in tables like country name to reduce the need for JOINs. This simplifies daily operations, analytics, and saves computation on JOINs on the expense of storage.

However, there are plenty of examples where JOINs are needed. The most common example is the inner JOIN. In our OECD and NATO toy example we can join the two list to see which countries are members of both organisations.

FROM oecd_countries o
JOIN nato_countries n

We declared the aliases o and n after mentioning the tables in the query to simplify the query ...ON;.



The results above show only rows that satisfy the JOIN, i.e. have a matching country name in both nato_countries and oecd_countries.


An outer join ensures that the result contains a row for each input table. It does not matter if the left or the right side of the join has null values for a right or left part of the join.

SELECT AS oecd_country, nato_country
FROM oecd_countries o
FULL OUTER JOIN nato_countries n





Optimising Joins



Avoid NULL values in JOIN

... FROM y JOIN x ON y.a=x.a AND y.a IS NOT NULL ...

8. Data Storage Formats

(⇪ Table of Contents)


CREATE TABLE country (
name STRING,
cities_and_size MAP<STRING, INT>,
parties STRUCT<name STRING, votes FLOAT, members INT>

The TextFile format is the default for Hive. It uses four delimiters to split an output or input file into rows, columns and complex data types. It can be explicitly expressed with the STORED AS TextFile expression.

The definition of the delimiters follows the table’s schema definition and has to have ROW FORMAT DELIMITED prepended. Misleadingly LINES TERMINATED BY '\n' is a valid statement. It describes the default splitting of rows by newline character. Unfortunately, this delimiter can not be set to anything else but newline.

Most commonly the field delimiter is changed to comma (FIELDS TERMINATED BY ',') or tab (FIELDS TERMINATED BY '\t'). The default is 0x01 or ^A also known as Ctrl-A. The default for collection items is 0x02 and 0x03 for map keys.

It is important understand that Hive does not support escaped characters. For example, a sheet saved as a CSV file from Excel may be formated with double quotation to escape commas in fields:

"One, two, or three.", 1.01, 2012"

Defining a TEXTFILE input format with comma as a delimiter would not return the expected columns since Hive would parse the row as the following columns:

"One, two, or three.", 1.01, and 2012

Delimiters and Gotchas



CREATE TABLE country (name STRING, population INT)
STORED AS SequenceFile;

The SequenceFile format is the Hadoop default and stores data in a binary key-value pairs. It is optimised for fast and block size IO. Most tools in the Hadoop ecosystem can read SequenceFile format.

Hive stored its row data in the value part of the pairs. This format is more efficient than plain text and it can be compresses with the available formats in Hadoop either by value (row) or block (data chunk). The latter is usually more efficient since a compression is more likely to find reducible patterns in a large data block than in a row.

The disadvantage of this format is that Hive has to read and parse every row for every query (presuming no partitioning) to execute the query conditions against it. This can lead to unnecessary read operations if only some rows or some columns are relevant to the query.


CREATE TABLE country (name STRING, population INT)

The Row Columnar File (RCFile) format combines row and column oriented storage principles. Each file stores one or more row groups, which is a number of rows. The row groups themselves are stored in a columnar structure.

For example, a file may store rows 1–1,000 in the first group and row 1,001 to 2,000 in the next and both groups in one RCFile. The row group itself stores all the columns together. The first group then would save the first column of row 1 to 1,000 and then next column and so forth.

The benefit of grouping columns is a more efficient compression since similar data is near to each other. More importantly query conditions can be pushed down to read only relevant parts of a table. This is especially helpful with wide tables and queries that only apply to a few columns. In these cases Hive can skip large parts of the data to save IO and computing time.


The ORC file format became generally available with Hive 0.11 although some of its features are yet to be fully realised.ORC should be considered as an alternative to RCFile. ORC goes beyond RCFile and introduces columnar optimised storage (e.g. variable length encoding for integers), large block sizes (better disk IO and fewer file with lower namenode load), basic statistics on columns in a file and simple file indices to skip whole row groups if they don’t match a query.


9. Partitioning

(⇪ Table of Contents)

date, region, country, category, boolean … IS NULL.

[Here be dragons]

19 thoughts on “The Free Hive Book

  1. Pingback: Introducción a Hive - Java4Developers

  2. Reply Surabhi Oct 10,2014 20:48

    Hi Christian, Thanks for writing this book. It is one of the best introductions i could find on internet. Would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn hive and is looking for resources to begin from.

    I am eagerly waiting to see the next chapters too.

  3. Reply P.P Nov 9,2014 23:36

    I can not agree more to the views from Surabhi.
    Absolutely, bang on content for anyone who wants to dive into the Hive world.

    Thanks Christian.

    You saved me a lot of frustration and money.


  4. Reply Amish Shah Jan 8,2015 14:10

    Thanks for the book. It helped me get insight into how Hive works. Is there settings changes required to execute Distributed by etc.. queries as Hive Editor was asking some info as below.
    INFO : Number of reduce tasks not specified. Estimated from input data size: 2
    INFO : In order to change the average load for a reducer (in bytes):
    INFO : set hive.exec.reducers.bytes.per.reducer=
    INFO : In order to limit the maximum number of reducers:
    INFO : set hive.exec.reducers.max=
    INFO : In order to set a constant number of reducers:
    INFO : set mapreduce.job.reduces=
    Any idea?

    Thanks in advance.
    – Amish

    • Reply Christian Prokopp Jan 10,2015 09:24

      You can ignore this. These are advanced settings and you can leave it to Hive and Hadoop to manage the distribution of tasks unless you want to fine tune it for specific reasons.

  5. Reply Amish Shah Jan 8,2015 14:13

    This indeed is a great work. By any chance do you have similar information to learn using Hbase?

    – Thanks a ton Christian for the great work you have done.
    – Amish

  6. Reply X. Huynh Jan 21,2015 18:11

    This is a great overview. Thanks!

  7. Reply Ashesh Feb 11,2015 03:29

    Great introduction! Like others, has saved me lot of searching to get the hang of HIVE.

    Many Thanks!!!

  8. Reply Manipal Apr 2,2015 11:33

    It is really a nice compilation of what is HIVE. It has provided all the basic information for any one who wants to learn HIVE.
    Thanks a ton Christian. Is there any extension for this book?

    • Reply Christian Prokopp Apr 14,2015 13:26

      Hi Manipal,

      There is none planned at the moment merely due to lack of time on my side. However, the documents are open source and on github for anyone to extend and send pull requests.


  9. Reply gaurav chaudhary Sep 30,2015 07:30

    from where i can download the book

  10. Reply Michael Rajendran Nov 2,2015 01:40

    Short and sweet!!! Thank you.

  11. Reply an st Nov 15,2015 01:34

    Great. Very useful for beginners. Please extend your book and i will buy it. Thanks.

  12. Reply David Nov 17,2015 02:50

    Wonderful, thank you! This is exactly what I needed to start using Hive.

  13. Reply Huzefa May 25,2016 18:47

    Hi Christian,

    Where can I get the sample files outlined in the examples to load into HDFS for this exercise.


  14. Pingback: Hive Tutorials For Hadoop | Hadoop Reference Links

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