Unlocking the Power of Hive UDFs: A Comprehensive Guide with Examples

User Defined Functions (UDFs) are a significant feature of Apache Hive that allows you to extend Hive's built-in functionality, enabling you to process data in more customized ways. This blog post will provide a detailed guide on Hive UDFs, their types, and how to create and use them, along with some practical examples.

Understanding Hive UDFs

link to this section

Hive UDFs allow you to create custom functions that can be used in HiveQL queries. This is particularly useful when you need to perform operations that are not covered by Hive's built-in functions.

Hive supports three types of UDFs:

  1. UDF (User Defined Function): These are simple functions that take one or more columns from a single row as input and return a single output value for the input row.

  2. UDAF (User Defined Aggregate Function): These functions take multiple rows as input and return a single aggregated output value. They are used with the GROUP BY clause in Hive queries.

  3. UDTF (User Defined Table-Generating Function): These functions take one row as input and generate multiple rows as output.

Creating a Simple UDF in Hive

link to this section

Creating a UDF in Hive involves writing a Java class that extends the org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.exec.UDF class, then registering the UDF with Hive. Here's a simple example of creating a UDF that converts a string to uppercase:

Step 1: Write the Java class:

import org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.exec.UDF; 
import org.apache.hadoop.io.Text; 

public final class UpperCase extends UDF { 
    public Text evaluate(final Text s) { 
        if (s == null) { 
            return null; 
        return new Text(s.toString().toUpperCase()); 

Step 2: Compile the Java class and create a JAR file:

javac -classpath $HIVE_HOME/lib/hive-exec-*.jar UpperCase.java 
jar cf upper_case.jar UpperCase.class 

Step 3: Register the UDF with Hive:

ADD JAR /path/to/upper_case.jar; 
CREATE TEMPORARY FUNCTION upper_case as 'UpperCase'; 

Now, you can use the upper_case UDF in your Hive queries:

SELECT upper_case(name) FROM employees; 

When to Use UDFs

link to this section

While Hive provides a wide array of built-in functions, there are cases where you may need to perform more complex transformations or calculations that are not possible with the built-in functions. This is where UDFs come in handy. They allow you to write custom logic and use it in your Hive queries, making your data processing tasks more flexible and powerful.

Best Practices for Hive UDFs

link to this section

Here are some best practices to follow when using UDFs in Hive:

  1. Use Built-In Functions When Possible: While UDFs are powerful, they can add complexity to your Hive queries and may impact performance. If a built-in function can achieve the same result, it's usually better to use it.

  2. Avoid Complex Operations in UDFs: UDFs should be kept as simple as possible. Complex operations can slow down your Hive queries.

  3. Test Your UDFs: As with any custom code, you should thoroughly test your UDFs to ensure they work correctly and efficiently.


link to this section

UDAFs (User Defined Aggregate Functions) are more complex than simple UDFs. They take multiple rows as input and return a single output value. A typical use case for a UDAF is to perform a custom aggregation operation that isn't supported by Hive's built-in aggregate functions.

For example, suppose you want to calculate the median of a column. Hive doesn't provide a built-in function for this, so you can write a UDAF to calculate the median. The UDAF would take all the rows in the column as input and return the median value.

Writing a UDAF or UDTF is more complex than writing a simple UDF because you need to define multiple methods that control how the function processes the input rows.

For a UDAF, you would typically need to define an init method that initializes the function, an iterate method that processes each input row, a merge method that combines results from different nodes in a cluster, and a terminate method that produces the final result.

Let's create a UDAF to calculate the median of a column. In Java, the UDAF class would look like this:

import org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.udf.generic.GenericUDAFEvaluator; 
import org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.udf.generic.GenericUDAFParameterInfo; 
import org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.udf.generic.GenericUDAFResolver2; 
import org.apache.hadoop.hive.serde2.objectinspector.ObjectInspector; 
// ... additional imports ... 

public class Median implements GenericUDAFResolver2 { 
    @Override public GenericUDAFEvaluator getEvaluator(GenericUDAFParameterInfo info) { 
        // implementation goes here 

    @Override public GenericUDAFEvaluator getEvaluator(TypeInfo[] types) throws SemanticException { 
        // implementation goes here 
    public static class MedianUDAFEvaluator extends GenericUDAFEvaluator { 
        // Define the object inspector for input and output data, and implement the required methods 

This is a skeleton for a UDAF. The actual implementation of the getEvaluator methods and the methods in the MedianUDAFEvaluator class would depend on the specifics of the calculation you're performing.


link to this section

UDTFs (User Defined Table-Generating Functions) are the most complex type of UDF. They take a single row as input and generate multiple rows as output.

One common use case for UDTFs is to "explode" a column that contains array or map data types into multiple rows. Hive provides a built-in UDTF called explode for this purpose, but if you need to perform a more complex operation, you can write a custom UDTF.

For example, suppose you have a column that contains JSON strings, and you want to parse the JSON and generate a new row for each key-value pair. You could write a UDTF that takes the JSON string as input, parses it, and returns multiple rows.

For a UDTF, you would typically need to define an initialize method that sets up the function, a process method that processes each input row, and a close method that finalizes the output.

Let's create a UDTF to explode a JSON string into multiple rows. The Java code would look like this:

import org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.exec.UDFArgumentException; 
import org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.metadata.HiveException; 
import org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.udf.generic.GenericUDTF; 
import org.apache.hadoop.hive.serde2.objectinspector.ObjectInspector; 
import org.apache.hadoop.hive.serde2.objectinspector.primitive.PrimitiveObjectInspectorFactory; 
// ... additional imports ... 

public class ExplodeJson extends GenericUDTF { 
    @Override public StructObjectInspector initialize(ObjectInspector[] args) throws UDFArgumentException { 
    // implementation goes here 
    @Override public void process(Object[] args) throws HiveException { 
        // implementation goes here 
    @Override public void close() throws HiveException { 
        // implementation goes here 

Again, this is just a skeleton. The actual implementation of the initialize , process , and close methods would depend on how you want to parse and explode the JSON string.