Transform complex data types

While working with nested data types, Databricks optimizes certain transformations out-of-the-box. The following code examples demonstrate patterns for working with complex and nested data types in Databricks.

Dot notation for accessing nested data

You can use dot notation (.) to access a nested field."column_name.nested_field")
SELECT column_name.nested_field FROM table_name

Select all nested fields

Use the star operator (*) to select all fields within a given field.


This only unpacks nested fields at the specified depth."column_name.*")
SELECT column_name.* FROM table_name

Create a new nested field

Use the struct() function to create a new nested field.

from pyspark.sql.functions import struct, col"field_to_nest").alias("nested_field")).alias("column_name"))
SELECT struct(field_to_nest AS nested_field) AS column_name FROM table_name

Nest all fields into a column

Use the star operator (*) to nest all fields from a data source as a single column.

from pyspark.sql.functions import struct"*").alias("column_name"))
SELECT struct(*) AS column_name FROM table_name

Select a named field from a nested column

Use square brackets [] to select nested fields from a column.

from pyspark.sql.functions import col"column_name")["field_name"])
SELECT column_name["field_name"] FROM table_name

Explode nested elements from a map or array

Use the explode() function to unpack values from ARRAY and MAP type columns.

ARRAY columns store values as a list. When unpacked with explode(), each value becomes a row in the output.

from pyspark.sql.functions import explode"array_name").alias("column_name"))
SELECT explode(array_name) AS column_name FROM table_name

MAP columns store values as ordered key-value pairs. When unpacked with explode(), each key becomes a column and values become rows.

from pyspark.sql.functions import explode"map_name").alias("column1_name", "column2_name"))
SELECT explode(map_name) AS (column1_name, column2_name) FROM table_name

Create an array from a list or set

Use the functions collect_list() or collect_set() to transform the values of a column into an array. collect_list() collects all values in the column, while collect_set() collects only unique values.


Spark does not guarantee the order of items in the array resulting from either operation.

from pyspark.sql.functions import collect_list, collect_set"column_name").alias("array_name"))"column_name").alias("set_name"))
SELECT collect_list(column_name) AS array_name FROM table_name;
SELECT collect_set(column_name) AS set_name FROM table_name;

Select a column from a map in an array

You can also use dot notation (.) to access fields in maps that are contained within an array. This returns an array of all values for the specified field.

Consider the following data structure:

  "column_name": [
    {"field1": 1, "field2":"a"},
    {"field1": 2, "field2":"b"}

You can return the values from field1 as an array with the following query:"column_name.field1")
SELECT column_name.field1 FROM table_name

Transform nested data to JSON

Use the to_json function to convert a complex data type to JSON.

from pyspark.sql.functions import to_json"column_name").alias("json_name"))
SELECT to_json(column_name) AS json_name FROM table_name

To encode all contents of a query or DataFrame, combine this with struct(*).

from pyspark.sql.functions import to_json, struct"*")).alias("json_name"))
SELECT to_json(struct(*)) AS json_name FROM table_name


Databricks also supports to_avro and to_protobuf for transforming complex data types for interoperability with integrated systems.

Transform JSON data to complex data

Use the from_json function to convert JSON data to native complex data types.


You must specify the schema for the JSON data.

from pyspark.sql.functions import from_json

schema = "column1 STRING, column2 DOUBLE""json_name", schema).alias("column_name"))
SELECT from_json(json_name, "column1 STRING, column2 DOUBLE") AS column_name FROM table_name

Notebook: transform complex data types

The following notebooks provide examples for working with complex data types for Python, Scala, and SQL.

Transforming complex data types Python notebook

Open notebook in new tab

Transforming complex data types Scala notebook

Open notebook in new tab

Transforming complex data types SQL notebook

Open notebook in new tab