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Spark provides built-in support to read from and write DataFrame to Avro file using “spark-avro” library. In this tutorial, you will learn reading and writing Avro file along with schema, partitioning data for performance with Scala example.

If you are using Spark 2.3 or older then please use this URL.

Table of the contents:

Related: Spark from_avro() and to_avro() usage

1. What is Apache Avro?

Apache Avro is an open-source, row-based, data serialization and data exchange framework for Hadoop projects, originally developed by databricks as an open-source library that supports reading and writing data in Avro file format. it is mostly used in Apache Spark especially for Kafka-based data pipelines. When Avro data is stored in a file, its schema is stored with it, so that files may be processed later by any program.

It has build to serialize and exchange big data between different Hadoop based projects. It serializes data in a compact binary format and schema is in JSON format that defines the field names and data types.

It is similar to Thrift and Protocol Buffers, but does not require the code generation as it’s data always accompanied by a schema that permits full processing of that data without code generation. This is one of the great advantages compared with other serialization systems.

2. Apache Avro Advantages

  • Supports complex data structures like Arrays, Map, Array of map and map of array elements.
  • A compact, binary serialization format which provides fast while transferring data.
  • row-based data serialization system.
  • Support multi-languages, meaning data written by one language can be read by different languages.
  • Code generation is not required to read or write data files.
  • Simple integration with dynamic languages.

3. Spark Avro dependencies

Since Spark 2.4, Spark SQL provides built-in support for reading and writing Apache Avro data files, however, the spark-avro module is external and by default, it’s not included in spark-submit or spark-shell hence, accessing Avro file format in Spark is enabled by providing a package.

3.1 maven dependencies.

// Maven dependencies  

3.2 spark-submit

While using spark-submit, provide spark-avro_2.12 and its dependencies directly using --packages, such as,

// Spark-submit
./bin/spark-submit --packages org.apache.spark:spark-avro_2.12:2.4.4

3.3 spark-shell

While working with  spark-shell, you can also use --packages to add spark-avro_2.12 and its dependencies directly,

// Spark-shell
./bin/spark-shell --packages org.apache.spark:spark-avro_2.12:2.4.4

4. Write Spark DataFrame to Avro Data File

Since Avro library is external to Spark, it doesn’t provide avro() function on DataFrameWriter , hence we should use DataSource “avro” or “org.apache.spark.sql.avro” to write Spark DataFrame to Avro file.

// Write Spark DataFrame to Avro Data File

5. Read Avro Data File to Spark DataFrame

Similarly avro() function is not provided in Spark DataFrameReader  hence, we should use DataSource format as “avro” or “org.apache.spark.sql.avro” and load() is used to read the Avro file.

// Read Avro Data File to Spark DataFrame 
val personDF="avro").load("person.avro")

6. Writing Avro Partition Data

Spark DataFrameWriter provides partitionBy() function to partition the Avro at the time of writing. Partition improves performance on reading by reducing Disk I/O.

// Writing Avro Partition Data
val data = Seq(("James ","","Smith",2018,1,"M",3000),
      ("Michael ","Rose","",2010,3,"M",4000),
      ("Robert ","","Williams",2010,3,"M",4000),
      ("Maria ","Anne","Jones",2005,5,"F",4000),

val columns = Seq("firstname", "middlename", "lastname", "dob_year",
 "dob_month", "gender", "salary")
import spark.sqlContext.implicits._
val df = data.toDF(columns:_*)


This example creates partition by “date of birth year and month” on person data. As shown in the below screenshot, Avro creates a folder for each partition data.

Spark Avro Example
Avro Partitioned Data on dob_year field. Each of the folders contains dob_month folder.

7. Reading Avro Partition Data

When we try to retrieve the data from partition, It just reads the data from the partition folder without scanning entire Avro files.

// Reading Avro Partition Data
      .where(col("dob_year") === 2010)

8. Using Avro Schema

Avro schemas are usually defined with .avsc extension and the format of the file is in JSON. Will store below schema in person.avsc file and provide this file using option() while reading an Avro file. This schema provides the structure of the Avro file with field names and it’s data types.

// Using Avro Schema
  "type": "record",
  "name": "Person",
  "namespace": "com.sparkbyexamples",
  "fields": [
    {"name": "firstname","type": "string"},
    {"name": "middlename","type": "string"},
    {"name": "lastname","type": "string"},
    {"name": "dob_year","type": "int"},
    {"name": "dob_month","type": "int"},
    {"name": "gender","type": "string"},
    {"name": "salary","type": "int"}

You can download Avro schema example from GitHub

val schemaAvro = new Schema.Parser()
      .parse(new File("src/main/resources/person.avsc"))

val df =
              .option("avroSchema", schemaAvro.toString)

Alternatively, we can also specify the StructType using the schema method.

9. Using Avro with Spark SQL

We can also read Avro data files using SQL, to do this, first, create a temporary table by pointing to the Avro data file and run the SQL command on the table.

// Using Avro with Spark SQL
spark.sqlContext.sql("CREATE TEMPORARY VIEW PERSON USING avro 
OPTIONS (path \"person.avro\")")
spark.sqlContext.sql("SELECT * FROM PERSON").show()


We have seen examples of how to write Avro data files and how to read using Spark DataFrame. Also, I’ve explained working with Avro partition and how it improves while reading Avro file. Using Partition we can achieve a significant performance on reading.


Complete Scala example for Reference

Below is complete scala example of how to read & write Spark DataFrame to Avro files that I’ve tested in my development environment.

package com.sparkbyexamples.spark.dataframe


import org.apache.avro.Schema
import org.apache.spark.sql.{SaveMode, SparkSession}
import org.apache.spark.sql.functions._

  * Spark Avro library example
  * Avro schema example
  * Avro file format
object AvroExample {

  def main(args: Array[String]): Unit = {

    val spark: SparkSession = SparkSession.builder().master("local[1]")

    val data = Seq(("James ", "", "Smith", 2018, 1, "M", 3000),
      ("Michael ", "Rose", "", 2010, 3, "M", 4000),
      ("Robert ", "", "Williams", 2010, 3, "M", 4000),
      ("Maria ", "Anne", "Jones", 2005, 5, "F", 4000),
      ("Jen", "Mary", "Brown", 2010, 7, "", -1)

    val columns = Seq("firstname", "middlename", "lastname", "dob_year",
      "dob_month", "gender", "salary")
    import spark.sqlContext.implicits._
    val df = data.toDF(columns: _*)

      * Spark DataFrame Write Avro File

      * Spark DataFrame Read Avro File

      * Write Avro Partition

      * Reading Avro Partition
      .where(col("dob_year") === 2010)

      * Explicit Avro schema
    val schemaAvro = new Schema.Parser()
      .parse(new File("src/main/resources/person.avsc"))
      .option("avroSchema", schemaAvro.toString)

      * Avro Spark SQL
    spark.sqlContext.sql("CREATE TEMPORARY VIEW PERSON USING avro 
OPTIONS (path \"/tmp/spark_out/avro/person.avro\")")
    spark.sqlContext.sql("SELECT * FROM PERSON").show()

Naveen Nelamali

Naveen Nelamali (NNK) is a Data Engineer with 20+ years of experience in transforming data into actionable insights. Over the years, He has honed his expertise in designing, implementing, and maintaining data pipelines with frameworks like Apache Spark, PySpark, Pandas, R, Hive and Machine Learning. Naveen journey in the field of data engineering has been a continuous learning, innovation, and a strong commitment to data integrity. In this blog, he shares his experiences with the data as he come across. Follow Naveen @ LinkedIn and Medium

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. NNK

    Probably you are missing Avro library, what version of Spark are you using?

  2. Anonymous

    I am getting the below error when trying to run to code in IntelliJ

    Provider org.apache.spark.sql.avro.AvroFileFormat could not be instantiated

Comments are closed.