Optimize performance with file management

To improve query speed, Delta Lake on Databricks supports the ability to optimize the layout of data stored in cloud storage. Delta Lake on Databricks supports two layout algorithms: bin-packing and Z-Ordering.

This article describes how to run the optimization commands, how the two layout algorithms work, and how to clean up stale table snapshots.

  • The FAQ explains why optimization is not automatic and includes recommendations for how often to run optimize commands.
  • For notebooks that demonstrate the benefits of optimization, see Optimization examples.
  • For reference information on Delta Lake on Databricks SQL optimization commands, see Optimize (Delta Lake on Databricks).

Compaction (bin-packing)

Delta Lake on Databricks can improve the speed of read queries from a table by coalescing small files into larger ones. You trigger compaction by running the OPTIMIZE command:

OPTIMIZE delta.`/data/events`



If you have a large amount of data and only want to optimize a subset of it, you can specify an optional partition predicate using WHERE:

OPTIMIZE events WHERE date >= '2017-01-01'


  • Bin-packing optimization is idempotent, meaning that if it is run twice on the same dataset, the second run has no effect.
  • Bin-packing aims to produce evenly-balanced data files with respect to their size on disk, but not necessarily number of tuples per file. However, the two measures are most often correlated.

Readers of Delta tables use snapshot isolation, which means that they are not interrupted when OPTIMIZE removes unnecessary files from the transaction log. OPTIMIZE makes no data related changes to the table, so a read before and after an OPTIMIZE has the same results. Performing OPTIMIZE on a table that is a streaming source does not affect any current or future streams that treat this table as a source. OPTIMIZE returns the file statistics (min, max, total, and so on) for the files removed and the files added by the operation. Optimize stats also contains the Z-Ordering statistics, the number of batches, and partitions optimized.


Optimize statistics are available in Databricks Runtime 6.0 and above.

You can also compact small files automatically using Auto Optimize.

Data skipping

Data skipping information is collected automatically when you write data into a Delta table. Delta Lake on Databricks takes advantage of this information (minimum and maximum values) at query time to provide faster queries. You do not need to configure data skipping; the feature is activated whenever applicable. However, its effectiveness depends on the layout of your data. For best results, apply Z-Ordering.

For an example of the benefits of Delta Lake on Databricks data skipping and Z-Ordering, see the notebooks in Optimization examples. By default Delta Lake on Databricks collects statistics on the first 32 columns defined in your table schema. You can change this value using the table property dataSkippingNumIndexedCols. Adding more columns to collect statistics would add additional overhead as you write files.

Collecting statistics on long strings is an expensive operation. To avoid collecting statistics on long strings, you can either configure the table property dataSkippingNumIndexedCols to avoid columns containing long strings or move columns containing long strings to a column greater than dataSkippingNumIndexedCols using ALTER TABLE CHANGE COLUMN. For the purposes of collecting statistics, each field within a nested column is considered as an individual column.

You can read more on this article in the blog post: Processing Petabytes of Data in Seconds with Databricks Delta.

Z-Ordering (multi-dimensional clustering)

Z-Ordering is a technique to colocate related information in the same set of files. This co-locality is automatically used by Delta Lake on Databricks data-skipping algorithms to dramatically reduce the amount of data that needs to be read. To Z-Order data, you specify the columns to order on in the ZORDER BY clause:

WHERE date >= current_timestamp() - INTERVAL 1 day
ZORDER BY (eventType)

If you expect a column to be commonly used in query predicates and if that column has high cardinality (that is, a large number of distinct values), then use ZORDER BY.

You can specify multiple columns for ZORDER BY as a comma-separated list. However, the effectiveness of the locality drops with each additional column. Z-Ordering on columns that do not have statistics collected on them would be ineffective and a waste of resources as data skipping requires column-local stats such as min, max, and count. You can configure statistics collection on certain columns by re-ordering columns in the schema or increasing the number of columns to collect statistics on. See the section Data skipping for more details.


  • Z-Ordering is not idempotent but aims to be an incremental operation. The time it takes for Z-Ordering is not guaranteed to reduce over multiple runs. However, if no new data was added to a partition that was just Z-Ordered, another Z-Ordering of that partition will not have any effect.

  • Z-Ordering aims to produce evenly-balanced data files with respect to the number of tuples, but not necessarily data size on disk. The two measures are most often correlated, but there can be situations when that is not the case, leading to skew in optimize task times.

    For example, if you ZORDER BY date and your most recent records are all much wider (for example longer arrays or string values) than the ones in the past, it is expected that the OPTIMIZE job’s task durations will be skewed, as well as the resulting file sizes. This is, however, only a problem for the OPTIMIZE command itself; it should not have any negative impact on subsequent queries.

Improving performance for interactive queries

At the beginning of each query Delta tables auto-update to the latest version of the table. This process can be observed in notebooks when the command status reports: Updating the Delta table's state. However, when running historical analysis on a table, you may not necessarily need up-to-the-last-minute data, especially for tables where streaming data is being ingested frequently. In these cases, queries can be run on stale snapshots of your Delta table. This can lower your latency in getting results from queries that you execute.

You can configure how stale your table can go by setting the Spark session configuration spark.databricks.delta.stalenessLimit using a time string, for example 1h, 15m, 1d for 1 hour, 15 minutes, and 1 day respectively. This configuration is a session specific configuration, therefore won’t affect how other users are accessing this table from different notebooks, jobs, or BI tools. In addition, this setting doesn’t prevent your table from updating. It just prevents a query from having to wait for the table to update. The update still occurs in the background, and will share resources fairly across the cluster. If the staleness limit is exceeded, then the query will block on the table state update.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Why isn’t OPTIMIZE automatic?

The OPTIMIZE operation starts up many Spark jobs in order to optimize the file sizing via compaction (and optionally perform Z-Ordering). Since much of what OPTIMIZE does is compact small files, you must first accumulate many small files before this operation has an effect. Therefore, the OPTIMIZE operation is not run automatically.

Moreover, running OPTIMIZE, especially with ZORDER, is an expensive operation in time and resources. If Databricks ran OPTIMIZE automatically or waited to write out data in batches, it would remove the ability to run low-latency Delta Lake streams (where a Delta table is the source). Many customers have Delta tables that are never optimized because they only stream data from these tables, obviating the query benefits that OPTIMIZE would provide.

Lastly, Delta Lake automatically collects statistics about the files that are written to the table (whether through an OPTIMIZE operation or not). This means that reads from Delta tables leverage this information whether or not the table or a partition has had the OPTIMIZE operation run on it.

How often should I run OPTIMIZE?

When you choose how often to run OPTIMIZE, there is a trade-off between performance and cost. You should run OPTIMIZE more often if you want better end-user query performance (necessarily at a higher cost because of resource usage). You should run it less often if you want to optimize cost.

We recommend you start by running OPTIMIZE on a daily basis (preferably at night when spot prices are low). Then modify your job from there.

What’s the best instance type to run OPTIMIZE (bin-packing and Z-Ordering) on?

Both operations are CPU intensive operations doing large amounts of Parquet decoding and encoding.

For these workloads we recommend the c5d series.