When you put data into HBase, a timestamp is required.

The timestamp can be generated automatically by the RegionServer or can be supplied by you. The timestamp must be unique per version of a given cell, because the timestamp identifies the version. To modify a previous version of a cell, for instance, you would issue a Put with a different value for the data itself, but the same timestamp.

HBase's behavior regarding versions is highly configurable. The maximum number of versions defaults to 1. You can change the default value for HBase by configuring hbase.column.max.version in hbase-site.xml, either using an advanced configuration snippet if you use Cloudera Manager, or by editing the file directly otherwise.

You can also configure the maximum and minimum number of versions to keep for a given column, or specify a default time-to-live (TTL), which is the number of seconds before a version is deleted. The following examples all use alter statements in HBase Shell to create new column families with the given characteristics, but you can use the same syntax when creating a new table or to alter an existing column family. This is only a fraction of the options you can specify for a given column family.
hbase> alter ‘t1′, NAME => ‘f1′, VERSIONS => 5
    hbase> alter ‘t1′, NAME => ‘f1′, MIN_VERSIONS => 2
    hbase> alter ‘t1′, NAME => ‘f1′, TTL => 15

HBase sorts the versions of a cell from newest to oldest, by sorting the timestamps lexicographically. When a version needs to be deleted because a threshold has been reached, HBase always chooses the "oldest" version, even if it is in fact the most recent version to be inserted. Keep this in mind when designing your timestamps. Consider using the default generated timestamps and storing other version-specific data elsewhere in the row, such as in the row key. If MIN_VERSIONS and TTL conflict, MIN_VERSIONS takes precedence.