CHAR Data Type (CDH 5.2 or higher only)

A fixed-length character type, padded with trailing spaces if necessary to achieve the specified length. If values are longer than the specified length, Impala truncates any trailing characters.


In the column definition of a CREATE TABLE statement:

column_name CHAR(length)

The maximum length you can specify is 255.

Semantics of trailing spaces:

  • When you store a CHAR value shorter than the specified length in a table, queries return the value padded with trailing spaces if necessary; the resulting value has the same length as specified in the column definition.
  • If you store a CHAR value containing trailing spaces in a table, those trailing spaces are not stored in the data file. When the value is retrieved by a query, the result could have a different number of trailing spaces. That is, the value includes however many spaces are needed to pad it to the specified length of the column.
  • If you compare two CHAR values that differ only in the number of trailing spaces, those values are considered identical.

Partitioning: This type can be used for partition key columns. Because of the efficiency advantage of numeric values over character-based values, if the partition key is a string representation of a number, prefer to use an integer type with sufficient range (INT, BIGINT, and so on) where practical.

HBase considerations: This data type cannot be used with HBase tables.

Parquet considerations:

  • This type can be read from and written to Parquet files.
  • There is no requirement for a particular level of Parquet.
  • Parquet files generated by Impala and containing this type can be freely interchanged with other components such as Hive and MapReduce.
  • Any trailing spaces, whether implicitly or explicitly specified, are not written to the Parquet data files.
  • Parquet data files might contain values that are longer than allowed by the CHAR(n) length limit. Impala ignores any extra trailing characters when it processes those values during a query.

Text table considerations:

Text data files might contain values that are longer than allowed for a particular CHAR(n) column. Any extra trailing characters are ignored when Impala processes those values during a query. Text data files can also contain values that are shorter than the defined length limit, and Impala pads them with trailing spaces up to the specified length. Any text data files produced by Impala INSERT statements do not include any trailing blanks for CHAR columns.

Avro considerations:

The Avro specification allows string values up to 2**64 bytes in length. Impala queries for Avro tables use 32-bit integers to hold string lengths. In CDH 5.7 / Impala 2.5 and higher, Impala truncates CHAR and VARCHAR values in Avro tables to (2**31)-1 bytes. If a query encounters a STRING value longer than (2**31)-1 bytes in an Avro table, the query fails. In earlier releases, encountering such long values in an Avro table could cause a crash.


This type is available using Impala 2.0 or higher under CDH 4, or with Impala on CDH 5.2 or higher. There are no compatibility issues with other components when exchanging data files or running Impala on CDH 4.

Some other database systems make the length specification optional. For Impala, the length is required.

Internal details: Represented in memory as a byte array with the same size as the length specification. Values that are shorter than the specified length are padded on the right with trailing spaces.

Added in: CDH 5.2.0 (Impala 2.0.0)

Column statistics considerations: Because this type has a fixed size, the maximum and average size fields are always filled in for column statistics, even before you run the COMPUTE STATS statement.

UDF considerations: This type cannot be used for the argument or return type of a user-defined function (UDF) or user-defined aggregate function (UDA).


These examples show how trailing spaces are not considered significant when comparing or processing CHAR values. CAST() truncates any longer string to fit within the defined length. If a CHAR value is shorter than the specified length, it is padded on the right with spaces until it matches the specified length. Therefore, LENGTH() represents the length including any trailing spaces, and CONCAT() also treats the column value as if it has trailing spaces.

select cast('x' as char(4)) = cast('x   ' as char(4)) as "unpadded equal to padded";
| unpadded equal to padded |
| true                     |

create table char_length(c char(3));
insert into char_length values (cast('1' as char(3))), (cast('12' as char(3))), (cast('123' as char(3))), (cast('123456' as char(3)));
select concat("[",c,"]") as c, length(c) from char_length;
| c     | length(c) |
| [1  ] | 3         |
| [12 ] | 3         |
| [123] | 3         |
| [123] | 3         |

This example shows a case where data values are known to have a specific length, where CHAR is a logical data type to use.

create table addresses
  (id bigint,
   street_name string,
   state_abbreviation char(2),
   country_abbreviation char(2));

The following example shows how values written by Impala do not physically include the trailing spaces. It creates a table using text format, with CHAR values much shorter than the declared length, and then prints the resulting data file to show that the delimited values are not separated by spaces. The same behavior applies to binary-format Parquet data files.

create table char_in_text (a char(20), b char(30), c char(40))
  row format delimited fields terminated by ',';

insert into char_in_text values (cast('foo' as char(20)), cast('bar' as char(30)), cast('baz' as char(40))), (cast('hello' as char(20)), cast('goodbye' as char(30)), cast('aloha' as char(40)));

-- Running this Linux command inside impala-shell using the ! shortcut.
!hdfs dfs -cat 'hdfs://*.*';

The following example further illustrates the treatment of spaces. It replaces the contents of the previous table with some values including leading spaces, trailing spaces, or both. Any leading spaces are preserved within the data file, but trailing spaces are discarded. Then when the values are retrieved by a query, the leading spaces are retrieved verbatim while any necessary trailing spaces are supplied by Impala.

insert overwrite char_in_text values (cast('trailing   ' as char(20)), cast('   leading and trailing   ' as char(30)), cast('   leading' as char(40)));
!hdfs dfs -cat 'hdfs://*.*';
trailing,   leading and trailing,   leading

select concat('[',a,']') as a, concat('[',b,']') as b, concat('[',c,']') as c from char_in_text;
| a                      | b                                | c                                          |
| [trailing            ] | [   leading and trailing       ] | [   leading                              ] |


Because the blank-padding behavior requires allocating the maximum length for each value in memory, for scalability reasons avoid declaring CHAR columns that are much longer than typical values in that column.

All data in CHAR and VARCHAR columns must be in a character encoding that is compatible with UTF-8. If you have binary data from another database system (that is, a BLOB type), use a STRING column to hold it.

When an expression compares a CHAR with a STRING or VARCHAR, the CHAR value is implicitly converted to STRING first, with trailing spaces preserved.

select cast("foo  " as char(5)) = 'foo' as "char equal to string";
| char equal to string |
| false                |

This behavior differs from other popular database systems. To get the expected result of TRUE, cast the expressions on both sides to CHAR values of the appropriate length:

select cast("foo  " as char(5)) = cast('foo' as char(3)) as "char equal to string";
| char equal to string |
| true                 |

This behavior is subject to change in future releases.

Related information:

STRING Data Type, VARCHAR Data Type (CDH 5.2 or higher only), String Literals, Impala String Functions