Parquet Vs. Avro: Choosing Between two Serialization Formats

Sharing is caring

Parquet and Avro are two popular open-source file formats used for serializing large datasets in big-data environments. Parquet was developed by Cloudera in collaboration with Twitter as an efficient columnar storage format optimized for distributed computing platforms such as Apache Hadoop. Avro was developed by Apache Software Foundation as a binary serialization system designed for high-performance messaging systems and real-time streaming applications.

Both formats provide ways to serialize complex types using well-defined schemas, but they differ in their approach to data compression, schema evolution, and interoperability. In the next sections, we will explore each format in more detail and compare their advantages and disadvantages.

Importance of Choosing the Right Data Serialization Format

Choosing the right serialization format is crucial for efficient communication between distributed systems. A good serialization format should be able to handle large amounts of complex data efficiently while ensuring compatibility with different programming languages and platforms. A poorly chosen serialization format can lead to problems such as slow performance, increased network traffic, and compatibility issues.

Serialization formats also differ in their support for schema evolution – changes made to the structure of the serialized data over time. Some formats support schema evolution well while others may require significant effort to maintain backward compatibility.

What is Parquet?

Parquet is a columnar storage format that was designed for efficient and fast data processing. It was developed by Cloudera, Twitter, and other tech giants in the big data industry.

Parquet is built on top of Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) and Apache Spark, making it a popular choice for big data analytics. Parquet stores data in a columnar format instead of a row-based format like traditional databases.

This means that each column stores values of the same data type, which allows for more efficient compression, encoding, and decoding. The schema definition is stored separately from the individual data files, allowing for easy schema evolution support.

Advantages of using Parquet for Data Serialization

Columnar Storage Format: As mentioned earlier, Parquet’s columnar storage format enables high-performance analytics by reducing I/O requirements. During processing, only the needed columns are read into memory instead of reading entire rows from disk. Compression Techniques: Parquet supports different types of compression techniques such as Snappy, Gzip or LZO.

These compression techniques provide improved space efficiency along with faster read speeds since fewer bytes need to be transferred over the network or loaded into memory. Schema Evolution Support: Changes in schema can be easily supported since metadata is stored separately from the actual set of records.

This allows users to add or remove columns without breaking compatibility with older code or applications. Efficient Querying and Processing: With its optimized storage format specifically designed to store large amounts of structured data efficiently on-disk and in-memory systems such as Apache Spark can perform queries faster than traditional databases on structured tabular datasets due to their ability to parallelize operations among distributed clusters

Use Cases for Parquet

Big Data Analytics: Parquet is a popular choice for big data analytics because of its ability to handle large volumes of data and provide faster query results. It is used in various industries such as finance, healthcare, and retail to analyze customer behavior, detect fraud, or insight generation from petabytes of data. Machine Learning Applications: Parquet’s efficient storage format makes it a good choice for machine learning applications.

It can store vast amounts of structured and semi-structured data in a way that is easy to read by machine learning algorithms. Additionally, the ability to query specific columns means that machine-learning models can be built quickly with minimal overhead.

Overall, Parquet’s columnar storage format provides significant benefits over traditional row-based formats by improving performance while reducing I/O overhead. This makes it an ideal solution for big data analytics and machine learning applications where processing speeds are critical.

What is Avro?

Avro is another popular data serialization format that was developed by Apache Software Foundation. Avro is a compact binary format that supports both rich data structures and dynamic typing.

It also has built-in schema support, which means that it can store the schema with the data. This makes it possible to evolve the schema over time without requiring changes to the code.

Advantages of using Avro for Data Serialization

There are several advantages to using Avro for data serialization: Schema Evolution Support: Avro allows for schema evolution, which enables you to modify your data models over time without breaking compatibility with existing consumers of your data.

Dynamic Typing: Unlike Parquet, which requires a predefined schema before writing data, Avro supports dynamic typing. This means that you can write and read records without defining a schema beforehand.

Interoperability with Different Programming Languages: Avro has support for multiple programming languages such as Java, C, C++, Python, and Ruby. This makes it a flexible serialization format in heterogeneous environments since different applications written in different languages can exchange messages easily.

Use Cases for Avro

Avro’s flexibility and feature set make it an ideal choice in many scenarios: Real-time Streaming Applications: Companies like LinkedIn use Apache Kafka and Apache Samza to build real-time streaming applications at scale.

These platforms use Avro as their default serialization format when moving messages between various Kafka topics or Samza jobs. Message Queues: Many message queues protocols such as Apache ActiveMQ or RabbitMQ support messaging using different serialization formats including JSON or XML but also support messaging using binary formats like AMQP or STOMP that have built-in support for interoperability with different programming languages based on protocols like Avro under the hood.

Avro is a very robust and flexible serialization format that is popular in big data ecosystems, real-time streaming applications, message queues and other systems that require the ability to evolve schemas over time. Its support for multiple programming languages also makes it ideal for heterogeneous environments with different applications written in different languages.

Parquet Vs. Avro: Key Differences and Similarities

Data Types Supported

One major difference between Parquet and Avro is the data types that they support. Parquet supports a wide range of data types, including primitive data types such as boolean, integer, float, double, and binary. It also supports complex data types such as arrays, maps, and structs.

In addition to these built-in data types, Parquet also allows users to define their own custom data types. On the other hand, Avro has a more limited set of built-in data types, including boolean, integer, float, double, and string.

However, like Parquet, it also supports complex data structures such as arrays and maps. One advantage of Avro is that it allows users to use unions, which enables them to specify multiple acceptable schema types for a field.

Compression Techniques

Both Parquet and Avro offer a variety of compression techniques to improve storage efficiency and reduce I/O times during query processing. Parquet uses two main compression techniques: Snappy compression, which provides fast decompression speeds, and Gzip compression, which offers better compression ratios but slower decompression speeds.

Avro uses a different approach to compression where it first encodes the data in binary format using variable-length codes before applying a specific block-level codec such as Snappy or Deflate for compression. This encoding technique enables efficient use of storage space by minimizing memory overheads.


Parquet’s columnar format makes it well-suited for analytical workloads where only certain columns need to be read or processed at any given time. This significantly improves query performance since only relevant columns are loaded into memory rather than entire rows that may have many unneeded fields.

Avro’s record-based encoding technique is preferred when working with large datasets where there is no need for random access. It is also ideal for use in message queues where large amounts of data need to be transmitted between different systems in real time.

Schema Evolution Support

Both Parquet and Avro offer support for schema evolution, which is the ability to change data structures without breaking backward compatibility with existing data. However, they differ in how they handle schema evolution. Parquet uses a technique called “schema merging,” which allows it to merge multiple versions of a schema together into a single unified schema.

This enables users to add or remove fields without breaking compatibility with existing data. Avro, on the other hand, uses a more flexible approach where it allows you to specify multiple compatible schemas for each record.

This means that records can be written using one version of the schema and read back using another version without any problems as long as both schemas are compatible. It also allows you to define default values for fields that are missing or added later on in the schema.

Overall, both Parquet and Avro have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to handling big data serialization tasks. The choice between them ultimately depends on your specific use case requirements, such as performance needs, data types supported, compression ratio expectations, and how often you will need to change your data structure/schema (i.e., agility).


In this article, we have explored two popular data serialization formats – Parquet and Avro. Both of these formats offer unique features and advantages that make them suitable for different use cases.

Parquet offers columnar storage, efficient querying and processing, compression techniques, and schema evolution support, making it ideal for big data analytics and machine learning applications. On the other hand, Avro’s dynamic typing, schema evolution support, and interoperability with different programming languages make it perfect for real-time streaming applications and message queues.

We have also compared Parquet vs. Avro based on various factors such as data types supported, compression techniques used, performance efficiency, and schema evolution support. While both formats fare well in their respective areas of application, users must carefully consider their specific use case requirements before choosing between the two.

Sharing is caring