Hive’s RCFile was the standard format for storing tabular data in Hadoop for several years. However, RCFile has limitations because it treats each column as a binary blob without semantics. In Hive 0.11 we added a new file format named Optimized Row Columnar (ORC) file that uses and retains the type information from the table definition. ORC uses type specific readers and writers that provide light weight compression techniques such as dictionary encoding, bit packing, delta encoding, and run length encoding – resulting in dramatically smaller files. Additionally, ORC can apply generic compression using zlib, or Snappy on top of the lightweight compression for even smaller files. However, storage savings are only part of the gain. ORC supports projection, which selects subsets of the columns for reading, so that queries reading only one column read only the required bytes. Furthermore, ORC files include light weight indexes that include the minimum and maximum values for each column in each set of 10,000 rows and the entire file. Using pushdown filters from Hive, the file reader can skip entire sets of rows that aren’t important for this query.

ORC file structure