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Apache Phoenix


10 May 2015

Apache Phoenix


Apache Phoenix is a relational database layer over HBase delivered as a client-embedded JDBC driver targeting low latency queries over HBase data. Apache Phoenix takes your SQL query, compiles it into a series of HBase scans, and orchestrates the running of those scans to produce regular JDBC result sets. The table metadata is stored in an HBase table and versioned, such that snapshot queries over prior versions will automatically use the correct schema. Direct use of the HBase API, along with coprocessors and custom filters, results in performance on the order of milliseconds for small queries, or seconds for tens of millions of rows.

Who is using Apache Phoenix? Read more here…


Become the standard means of accessing HBase data through a well-defined, industry standard API.

Quick Start

Tired of reading already and just want to get started? Take a look at our FAQs, listen to the Apache Phoenix talks from Hadoop Summit 2014, review the overview presentation, and jump over to our quick start guide here.

SQL Support

To see what’s supported, go to our language reference. It includes all typical SQL query statement clauses, including SELECT, FROM, WHERE, GROUP BY, HAVING, ORDER BY, etc. It also supports a full set of DML commands as well as table creation and versioned incremental alterations through our DDL commands. We try to follow the SQL standards wherever possible.

Use JDBC to get a connection to an HBase cluster like this:

Connection conn = DriverManager.getConnection("jdbc:phoenix:server1,server2:3333");

where the connection string is composed of:

jdbc:phoenix [ :<zookeeper quorum> [ :<port number> ] [ :<root node> ] ]

For any omitted part, the relevant property value, hbase.zookeeper.quorum,, and zookeeper.znode.parent will be used from hbase-site.xml configuration file.

Here’s a list of what is currently not supported:

  • Full Transaction Support. Although we allow client-side batching and rollback as described here, we do not provide transaction semantics above and beyond what HBase gives you out-of-the-box.
  • Relational operators. Union, Intersect, Minus.
  • Miscellaneous built-in functions. These are easy to add - read this blog for step by step instructions.


Apache Phoenix supports table creation and versioned incremental alterations through DDL commands. The table metadata is stored in an HBase table.

A Phoenix table is created through the CREATE TABLE DDL command and can either be:

  1. built from scratch, in which case the HBase table and column families will be created automatically.
  2. mapped to an existing HBase table, by creating either a read-write TABLE or a read-only VIEW, with the caveat that the binary representation of the row key and key values must match that of the Phoenix data types (see Data Types reference for the detail on the binary representation).
    • For a read-write TABLE, column families will be created automatically if they don’t already exist. An empty key value will be added to the first column family of each existing row to minimize the size of the projection for queries.
    • For a read-only VIEW, all column families must already exist. The only change made to the HBase table will be the addition of the Phoenix coprocessors used for query processing. The primary use case for a VIEW is to transfer existing data into a Phoenix table, since data modification are not allowed on a VIEW and query performance will likely be less than as with a TABLE.

All schema is versioned, and prior versions are stored forever. Thus, snapshot queries over older data will pick up and use the correct schema for each row.


A table could also be declared as salted to prevent HBase region hot spotting. You just need to declare how many salt buckets your table has, and Phoenix will transparently manage the salting for you. You’ll find more detail on this feature here, along with a nice comparison on write throughput between salted and unsalted tables here.

Schema at Read-time

Another schema-related feature allows columns to be defined dynamically at query time. This is useful in situations where you don’t know in advance all of the columns at create time. You’ll find more details on this feature here.

Mapping to an Existing HBase Table

Apache Phoenix supports mapping to an existing HBase table through the CREATE TABLE and CREATE VIEW DDL statements. In both cases, the HBase metadata is left as-is, except for with CREATE TABLE the KEEP_DELETED_CELLS option is enabled to allow for flashback queries to work correctly. For CREATE TABLE, any HBase metadata (table, column families) that doesn’t already exist will be created. Note that the table and column family names are case sensitive, with Phoenix upper-casing all names. To make a name case sensitive in the DDL statement, surround it with double quotes as shown below:


For CREATE TABLE, an empty key value will also be added for each row so that queries behave as expected (without requiring all columns to be projected during scans). For CREATE VIEW, this will not be done, nor will any HBase metadata be created. Instead the existing HBase metadata must match the metadata specified in the DDL statement or a ERROR 505 (42000): Table is read only will be thrown.

The other caveat is that the way the bytes were serialized in HBase must match the way the bytes are expected to be serialized by Phoenix. For VARCHAR,CHAR, and UNSIGNED_* types, Phoenix uses the HBase Bytes utility methods to perform serialization. The CHAR type expects only single-byte characters and the UNSIGNED types expect values greater than or equal to zero.

Our composite row keys are formed by simply concatenating the values together, with a zero byte character used as a separator after a variable length type. For more information on our type system, see the Data Type.


The DML commands of Apache Phoenix, UPSERT VALUES, UPSERT SELECT and DELETE, batch pending changes to HBase tables on the client side. The changes are sent to the server when the transaction is committed and discarded when the transaction is rolled back. The only transaction isolation level we support is TRANSACTION_READ_COMMITTED. This includes not being able to see your own uncommitted data as well. Phoenix does not providing any additional transactional semantics beyond what HBase supports when a batch of mutations is submitted to the server. If auto commit is turned on for a connection, then Phoenix will, whenever possible, execute the entire DML command through a coprocessor on the server-side, so performance will improve.

Most commonly, an application will let HBase manage timestamps. However, under some circumstances, an application needs to control the timestamps itself. In this case, a long-valued “CurrentSCN” property may be specified at connection time to control timestamps for any DDL, DML, or query. This capability may be used to run snapshot queries against prior row values, since Phoenix uses the value of this connection property as the max timestamp of scans.


The catalog of tables, their columns, primary keys, and types may be retrieved via the java.sql metadata interfaces: DatabaseMetaData, ParameterMetaData, and ResultSetMetaData. For retrieving schemas, tables, and columns through the DatabaseMetaData interface, the schema pattern, table pattern, and column pattern are specified as in a LIKE expression (i.e. % and _ are wildcards escaped through the character). The table catalog argument to the metadata APIs deviates from a more standard relational database model, and instead is used to specify a column family name (in particular to see all columns in a given column family).

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