Not too much official documentation can be found on how to define a field delimiter in a create or an alter Apache Hive statement. This setting is requested for delimited text files placed as source of Hive tables. When a field delimiter is not assigned properly, Hive can't split data into columns, and as a result, the first column will contain all data and the rest of columns will have NULL values. Also, it's critical to know a default field delimiter if field delimiter setting is missed in a create statement.

There are 2 major SerDe (Serializer/Deserializer) classes for text data. SerDe defines input/output (IO) interface which handles: (1) read data from a Hive table and (2) write it back out to HDFS. org.apache.hadoop.hive.serde2 is the Hive SerDe library including TEXTFILE formats.

  1. org.apache.hadoop.hive.serde2.lazy.LazySimpleSerDe. The default field delimiter value is '\001'.
  2. org.apache.hadoop.hive.serde2.OpenCSVSerdeThe default field delimiter value is ','.

LazySimpleSerDe is more efficient in terms of performance. OpenCSVSerde has a limitation to handle only string data type in Hive tables. The default format is LazySimpleSerDe.

The main issue with field delimiter is that Java char data type is used as an argument to assign a field delimiter. It can hold only 2 bytes. Java char data type can understand both ASCII and Unicode characters but it can handle Unicode characters which belong to ASCII table. Characters of the first part of ASCII table with codes from 0 to 127 are only accepted as field delimiters. If you need to use the extended ASCII character from 128 to 255 codes, it should be used other SerDe classes, for example, org.apache.hadoop.hive.contrib.serde2.RegexSerDe.

The rules to assign a filed delimiter are.

  1. Any visible ASCII character can be assigned directly, for example, '1', 'a', or '!'.
  2. It can be used special predefined characters, for example. '\t', '\r', and '\n'.
  3. If a character belongs to ASCII set and invisible, it can be used octal or Unicode notations.

Octal starts from back slash and contains 3 digits, for example, '\001'. Character 'a' is '\040'.

Hex has '\u' prefix and includes 4 digits. It represents a Unicode code but you have to use decimal ASCII code, for example, '\u0010' definition is converted to '\000a' Hive table field delimiter. Another sample is visible ASCII character 'a', '\u0032' field delimiter definition is converted to'\0020' in Hive table.

Those commands can be used to retrieve field delimiter for a table from Hive meta data.

  • Show statement.

    SHOW CREATE TABLE sample_table_name;
  • Describe statement #1.

    DESCRIBE FORMATTED sample_table_name;
  • Describe statement #2.

    DESCRIBE EXTENDED sample_table_name;

Field delimiter can be assigned or changed in those Hive statements.

  • CREATE statement with LazySimpleSerDe interface.

    CREATE TABLE sample (
        column1 string,
        column2 string,
        column3 string)
    LOCATION '/folder1/folder2'
  • CREATE statement with OpenCSVSerde interface.

    CREATE TABLE sample (
        column1 string,
        column2 string,
        column3 string)
    ROW FORMAT SERDE 'org.apache.hadoop.hive.serde2.OpenCSVSerde'
    LOCATION '/folder1/folder2'
  • ALTER statement with LazySimpleSerDe interface.

    ALTER TABLE multi_char_field_delim SET SERDEPROPERTIES('field.delim'=',')
  • ALTER statement with OpenCSVSerde interface.

    ALTER TABLE multi_char_field_delim SET SERDEPROPERTIES('separatorChar'=',')


    ALTER TABLE multi_char_field_delim SET SERDEPROPERTIES('field.delim'=',')


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