BINARY data type

This release adds support for BINARY columns for all table formats with the exception of Kudu.


The BINARY data type is an arbitrary-length byte array data type that can be used in CREATE TABLE and SELECT statements. This data type can contain data like images. The BINARY data type is very similar to the STRING data type except that the BINARY data type is not affected by UTF8_mode.


The BINARY data type is defined in the column as shown here:

create table binary_table (v varchar, b binary);


Take the following considerations for BINARY lengths:

  • The hard limit on the size of a BINARY and the total size of a row is 512KB. If a query tries to process or create a BINARY larger than this limit, it will return an error to the user.
  • The limit is 1 GB on BINARY when writing to Parquet files.
  • Queries operating on BINARYs with 32 KB or less will work reliably and will not cause significant performance or memory problems (unless you have very complex queries, very many columns, etc.)
  • Performance and memory consumption may degrade with BINARYs larger than 32 KB.
  • The row size, i.e. the total size of all BINARY and other columns, is subject to lower limits at various points in query execution that support spill-to-disk. A few examples for lower row size limits are:
    • Rows coming from the right side of any hash join

    • Rows coming from either side of a hash join that spills to disk

    • Rows being sorted by the SORT operator without a limit

    • Rows in a grouping aggregation

Conversions:The only possible conversion for binary is explicit CAST from/to STRING.

Supported built-in functions

The following list contains some of the supported built-in functions.

  • Scalar functions: length, concat, typeof, murmur_hash
  • Conditional functions: if, coalesce
  • Aggregate functions: min, max, count

Restrictions on BINARY columns

  • For both table types PARQUET and ORC min/max stat filtering can not be used for BINARY columns, while it can be used for STRING columns.
  • Currently, this data type cannot be used with Kudu tables.

Text table considerations:In textfiles Impala writes BINARY columns base64 encoded.

PARQUET considerations:BINARY columns are stored as BYTE_ARRAY in Parquet similar to string. For BINARY columns converted_type/logical type are never set, while they are set for STRINGs if the query option parquet_annotate_strings_utf8 is set to true.

ORC considerations:In ORC file format, there is an exclusive BINARY column type but Impala reads STRING/VARCHAR/CHAR ORC columns also as BINARY.

KUDU considerations:Currently, this data type cannot be used with Kudu tables.

Differences between Impala and Hive

As part of this release, behavior for Impala BINARY type is made to be consistent with Hive in most cases. However, some differences were not resolved to be backward compatible with older releases. You must be aware of these changes to run Hive queries, if needed, without modifying them.

Impala Hive

Impala doesn't treat STRINGs as UTF8, so BINARY and STRING become nearly identical.

In Hive, the main difference between STRING and BINARY is that STRING is assumed to be UTF8 encoded, while BINARY can be any byte array.
The only possible conversion for binary is explicit CAST from/to STRING. BINARY can be only implicitly cast from/to STRING

INSERT ... VALUES () string literals need to be explicitly cast to BINARY in Impala.

In Hive, no explici t conversion needed

Impala supports a small subset of built-in STRING functions for the BINARY type.

If the query option UTF8_MODE is set to FALSE, then the STRING values behave like BINARY values. So you can store binary values as STRINGs and have all built-in functions available for them.

Only a small subset of built-in STRING functions support BINARY.
In textfiles Impala writes BINARY columns base64 encoded In several file formats (e.g. text) BINARY is base64 encoded.

No NDV is calculated during COMPUTE STATISTICS.

No NDV is calculated during COMPUTE STATISTICS.

All kinds of UDFs (native, Hive legacy, Hive generic) support BINARY

In Hive UDFs is only supported if the argument and return types are set explicitly


The following example demonstrates calls to string manipulation functions to concatenate binary columns.

select concat( cast("a" as binary), cast("b" as binary));

The following examples demonstrate how to use the aggregate functions. These functions calculate a return value across all the items in a result set, so they require a FROM clause in the query.

select count(a) from product_catalog;
select max(height), avg(height) from census_data where age > 20;