Spark Broadcast Joins: What They Are and When to Use Them

Joins are one of the most frequently used operations in data processing. They allow us to combine multiple datasets into a single one based on a common column or set of columns. However, joining large datasets can be a slow and expensive operation, especially if the datasets are not distributed evenly across the cluster. Spark Broadcast Joins offer a solution to this problem, allowing us to efficiently join large datasets with much smaller ones.

What are Broadcast Joins?

In Spark, a Broadcast Join is a type of join that allows us to use a small dataset to broadcast it to all worker nodes and perform a join operation with a much larger dataset. Instead of shipping the entire large dataset to all worker nodes, we can efficiently broadcast a smaller dataset to them, thus minimizing data shuffling and reducing network traffic.

Broadcast Joins work by storing the smaller dataset in memory as a read-only broadcast variable, which is then replicated to every node in the cluster. When Spark performs the join operation, it first checks to see if the smaller dataset has been broadcasted, and if it has, it uses that data to perform the join.

When to Use Broadcast Joins?

Broadcast Joins are most effective when we need to join a large dataset with a much smaller one. For example, if we have a large dataset of customer orders and a much smaller dataset of customer information, we can use a broadcast join to efficiently join these two datasets based on a common column such as customer ID.

On the other hand, if both datasets are of similar size, or if the smaller dataset is still too large to fit into memory, a broadcast join may not be the best option. In such cases, we can use other types of joins such as Sort-Merge Joins or Hash Joins to perform the join operation.

How to Use Broadcast Joins?

Using Broadcast Joins in Spark is quite simple. We just need to create a broadcast variable for the smaller dataset, and then perform the join operation using the larger dataset.

Here's an example of how to use a Broadcast Join in Spark using Scala:

import org.apache.spark.sql.functions.broadcast 
val ordersDf ="path/to/orders") 
val customersDf ="path/to/customers") 

val broadcastCustomers = broadcast(customersDf) 

val joinedDf = ordersDf.join(broadcastCustomers, Seq("customer_id")) 

In this example, we first read in two CSV files as DataFrames (ordersDf and customersDf). We then create a broadcast variable from customersDf using the broadcast function, which tells Spark to replicate the data of customersDf to each executor node.

Next, we perform a join between ordersDf and the broadcasted customersDf on the common "customer_id" using the join function. Finally, we display the resulting DataFrame using the show function.


Spark Broadcast Joins are a powerful tool for joining large and small datasets efficiently. By minimizing data shuffling and reducing network traffic, broadcast joins can significantly improve the performance of join operations in Spark. However, it's important to use broadcast joins only when appropriate, and to keep in mind the size of the datasets being joined.