Generating surrogate keys

You can use the built-in SURROGATE_KEY user-defined function (UDF) to automatically generate numerical Ids for rows as you enter data into a table. The generated surrogate keys can replace wide, multiple composite keys.

Hive supports the surrogate keys on ACID tables only, as described in the following matrix of table types:
Table Type ACID Surrogate Keys File Format INSERT UPDATE/DELETE
Managed: CRUD transactional Yes Yes ORC Yes Yes
Managed: Insert-only transactional Yes Yes Any Yes No
Managed: Temporary No No Any Yes No
External No No Any Yes No
The table you want to join using surrogate keys cannot have column types that need casting. These data types must be primitives, such as INT or STRING.

Joins using the generated keys are faster than joins using strings. Using generated keys does not force data into a single node by a row number. You can generate keys as abstractions of natural keys. Surrogate keys have an advantage over UUIDs, which are slower and probabilistic.

The SURROGATE_KEY UDF generates a unique Id for every row that you insert into a table. It generates keys based on the execution environment in a distributed system, which includes a number of factors, such as internal data structures, the state of a table, and the last transaction id. Surrogate key generation does not require any coordination between compute tasks.

The UDF takes either no arguments or two arguments:

  • Write Id bits
  • Task Id bits
  1. Create a students table in the default ORC format that has ACID properties.
    CREATE TABLE students (row_id INT, name VARCHAR(64), dorm INT);
  2. Insert data into the table. For example:
    INSERT INTO TABLE students VALUES (1, 'fred flintstone', 100), (2, 'barney rubble', 200);
  3. Create a version of the students table using the SURROGATE_KEY UDF.
    CREATE TABLE students_v2 
     row_id INT,
     name VARCHAR(64), 
     dorm INT, 
  4. Insert data, which automatically generates surrogate keys for the primary keys.
    INSERT INTO students_v2 (row_id, name, dorm) SELECT * FROM students;
  5. Take a look at the surrogate keys.
    SELECT * FROM students_v2;
    |  | students_v2.row_id  |  | students_v2.dorm  |
    | 1099511627776   | 1                   | fred flintstone   | 100               |
    | 1099511627777   | 2                   | barney rubble     | 200               |
  6. Add the surrogate keys as a foreign key to another table, such as a student_grades table, to speed up subsequent joins of the tables.
    ALTER TABLE student_grades ADD COLUMNS (gen_id BIGINT);
    MERGE INTO student_grades g USING students_v2 s ON g.row_id = s.row_id
    Now you can achieve fast joins on the surrogate keys.