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Spark Style Guide

Spark is an amazingly powerful big data engine that's written in Scala.

This document draws on the Spark source code, the Spark examples, and popular open source Spark libraries to outline coding conventions and best practices.

Comprehensive Scala style guides already exist and this document focuses specifically on the style issues for Spark programmers. Reader beware:

Any style guide written in English is either so brief that it’s ambiguous, or so long that no one reads it.

Table of Contents

  1. Scala Style Guides
  2. Variables
  3. Columns
  4. Chained Method Calls
  5. Spark SQL
  6. Writing Functions
  7. null
  8. JAR Files
  9. Documentation
  10. Testing
  11. Open Source

Scala Style Guides

There is an official Scala style guide and a Databricks Scala style guide. The founders of Databricks created Spark, so you should follow the Databricks scala-style-guide.

You can create an amazing open source project like Spark and haters still gonna hate!

Automated Code Formatting Tools

Scalafmt and scalariform are automated code formatting tools. scalariform's default settings format code similar to the Databricks scala-style-guide and is a good place to start. The sbt-scalariform plugin automatically reformats code upon compile and is the best way to keep code formatted consistely without thinking. Here are some scalariform settings that work well with Spark code.


ScalariformKeys.preferences := ScalariformKeys.preferences.value
  .setPreference(DoubleIndentConstructorArguments, true)
  .setPreference(SpacesAroundMultiImports, false)
  .setPreference(DanglingCloseParenthesis, Force)


Variables should use camelCase. Variables that point to DataFrames, Datasets, and RDDs should be suffixed to make your code readable:

  • Variables pointing to DataFrames should be suffixed with DF (following conventions in the Spark Programming Guide)
  • Variables pointing to Datasets should be suffixed with DS
val stringsDS = {
  case Row(key: Int, value: String) => s"Key: $key, Value: $value"
  • Variables pointing to RDDs should be suffixed with RDD
val peopleRDD = spark.sparkContext.textFile("examples/src/main/resources/people.txt")

Use the variable col for Column arguments.

def min(col: Column)

Use col1 and col2 for methods that take two Column arguments.

def corr(col1: Column, col2: Column)

Use cols for methods that take an arbitrary number of Column arguments.

def array(cols: Column*)

Use colName for methods that take a String argument that refers to the name of a Column.

def sqrt(colName: String): Column

Use colName1 and colName2 for methods that take multiple column name arguments.

Collections should use plural variable names.

var animals = List("dog", "cat", "goose")

var animalList = List("dog", "cat", "goose")

Singluar nouns should be used for single objects.

val myCarColor = "red"

Chained Method Calls

Spark methods are often deeply chained and should be broken up on multiple lines.

  .option("url", "jdbc:postgresql:dbserver")
  .option("dbtable", "schema.tablename")
  .option("user", "username")
  .option("password", "password")

Here's an example of a well formatted extract:

val extractDF ="someS3Path")
    "Date of Birth"
  .withColumnRenamed("Date of Birth", "date_of_birth")
    col("date_of_birth") > "1999-01-02"

Spark SQL

Use multiline strings to write properly indented SQL code:

val coolDF = spark.sql("""
from people


Columns have name, type, nullable, and metadata properties.

Columns that contain boolean values should use predicate names like is_nice_person or has_red_hair. Use snake_case for column names, so it's easier to write SQL code.

You can write (col("is_summer") && col("is_europe")) instead of (col("is_summer") === true && col("is_europe") === true). The predicate column names make the concise syntax readable.

Columns should be typed properly. Don't overuse StringType in your schema.

Columns should only be nullable if null values are allowed. Code written for nullable columns should always address null values gracefully.

Use acronyms when needed to keep column names short. Define any acronyms used at the top of the data file, so other programmers can follow along.

Use the following shorthand notation for columns that perform comparisons.

  • gt: greater than
  • lt: less than
  • leq: less than or equal to
  • geq: greater than or equal to
  • eq: equal to
  • between

Here are some example column names:

  • player_age_gt_20
  • player_age_gt_15_leq_30
  • player_age_between_13_19
  • player_age_eq_45

Immutable Columns

Custom transformations shouldn't overwrite an existing field in a schema during a transformation. Add a new column to a DataFrame instead of mutating the data in an existing column.

Suppose you have a DataFrame with name and nickname columns and would like a column that coalesces the name and nickname columns.

| name|nickname|
|  joe|    null|
| null|   crazy|
|frank|    bull|

Don't overwrite the name field and create a DataFrame like this:

| name|nickname|
|  joe|    null|
|crazy|   crazy|
|frank|    bull|

Create a new column, so column immutability is preserved.

| name|nickname|name_meow|
|  joe|    null|      joe|
| null|   crazy|    crazy|
|frank|    bull|    frank|

Writing functions

Custom SQL Functions

Here's an example of a custom SQL function that returns child when the age is less than 13, teenager when the age is between 13 and 18, and adult when the age is above 18.

import org.apache.spark.sql.Column

def lifeStage(col: Column): Column = {
  when(col < 13, "child")
    .when(col >= 13 && col <= 18, "teenager")
    .when(col > 18, "adult")

The lifeStage() function will return null when col is null. All built-in Spark functions gracefully handle the null case, so we don't need to write explicit null logic in the lifeStage() function.

Custom SQL functions can also be optimized by the Spark compiler, so this is a good way to write code. Read this blog post for a full discussion on custom SQL functions.

User Defined Functions

You can write User Defined Functions (UDFs) when you need to write code that leverages advanced Scala programming features or Java libraries.

Here's an example of a UDF that downcases and removes the whitespace of a string:

def betterLowerRemoveAllWhitespace(s: String): Option[String] = {
  val str = Option(s).getOrElse(return None)
  Some(str.toLowerCase().replaceAll("\\s", ""))

val betterLowerRemoveAllWhitespaceUDF = udf[Option[String], String](betterLowerRemoveAllWhitespace)

The betterLowerRemoveAllWhitespace() function explicity handles null input, so the function won't error out with a NullPointerException. You should always write UDFs that handle null input gracefully.

In this case, a custom SQL function can provide the same functionality, but with less code:

def bestLowerRemoveAllWhitespace()(col: Column): Column = {
  lower(regexp_replace(col, "\\s+", ""))

UDFs are a black box from the Spark compiler's perspective and should be avoided whenever possible.

Most logic can be coded as a custom SQL function. Only revert to UDFs when the native Spark API isn't sufficient.

See this blog post for more information about UDFs.

Custom transformations

Use multiple parameter lists when defining custom transformations, so they can be chained with the Dataset#transform method. The Databricks Scala style guide says to "Avoid using multiple parameter lists. They complicate operator overloading, and can confuse programmers less familiar with Scala", but this suggestion should be ignored when writing custom DataFrame transformations.

You need to use multiple parameter lists to write awesome code like this:

def withCat(name: String)(df: DataFrame): DataFrame = {
  df.withColumn("cats", lit(s"$name meow"))

The withCat() custom transformation can be used as follows:

val niceDF = df.transform(withCat("puffy"))

Naming conventions

  • with precedes transformations that add columns:

    • withCoolCat() adds the column cool_cat to a DataFrame

    • withIsNicePerson adds the column is_nice_person to a DataFrame.

  • filter precedes transformations that remove rows:

    • filterNegativeGrowthPath() removes the data rows where the growth_path column is negative

    • filterBadData() removes the bad data

  • enrich precedes transformations that clobber columns. DataFrame transformations should not be clobbered and enrich transformations should ideally never be used.

  • explode precedes transformations that add rows to a DataFrame by "exploding" a row into multiple rows.

Schema Dependent DataFrame Transformations

Schema dependent DataFrame transformations make assumptions about the underlying DataFrame schema. Schema dependent DataFrame transformations should explicitly validate DataFrame dependencies to make the code and error messages more readable.

The following withFullName() DataFrame transformation assumes that the underlying DataFrame has first_name and last_name columns.

def withFullName()(df: DataFrame): DataFrame = {
    concat_ws(" ", col("first_name"), col("last_name"))

You should use spark-daria to validate the schema requirements of a DataFrame transformation.

def withFullName()(df: DataFrame): DataFrame = {
  validatePresenceOfColumns(df, Seq("first_name", "last_name"))
    concat_ws(" ", col("first_name"), col("last_name"))

See this blog post for a detailed description on validating DataFrame dependencies.

Schema Independent DataFrame Transformations

Schema independent DataFrame transformations do not depend on the underlying DataFrame schema, as discussed in this blog post.

def withAgePlusOne(
  ageColName: String,
  resultColName: String
)(df: DataFrame): DataFrame = {
  df.withColumn(resultColName, col(ageColName) + 1)

What type of DataFrame transformation should be used

Schema dependent transformations should be used for functions that rely on a large number of columns or functions that are only expected to be run on a certain schema (e.g. a data lake with a schema that doensn't change).

Schema independent transformations should be run for functions that will be run on a variety of DataFrame schemas.


null should be used in DataFrames for values that are unknown, missing, or irrelevant.

Spark core functions frequently return null and your code can also add null to DataFrames (by returning None or explicitly returning null).

In general, it's better to keep all null references out of UDFs and use Option[T] instead. Option is a bit slower and explicit null references may be required for performance sensitve code. Start with Option and only use explicit null references if Option becomes a performance bottleneck. Or better yet, avoid using UDFs completely so you don't have to either None or null in your code.

The nullable property of a column should be set to false if the column should not take null values.

JAR Files

You can build projects that support multiple Spark versions or just a single Spark version.

Projects that support a single Spark version

JAR files built for a specific Spark version should be named like this:




If you're using sbt assembly, you can use the following line of code to build a JAR file using the correct naming conventions.

assemblyJarName in assembly := s"${name.value}_${scalaBinaryVersion.value}-${sparkVersion.value}_${version.value}.jar"

If you're using sbt package, you can add this code to your build.sbt file to generate a JAR file that follows the naming conventions.

artifactName := { (sv: ScalaVersion, module: ModuleID, artifact: Artifact) => + "_" + sv.binary + "-" + sparkVersion.value + "_" + module.revision + "." + artifact.extension

Projects that support multiple Spark versions

JAR files built for multiple Spark version should be named like this:




If you're using sbt assembly, you can use the following line of code to build a JAR file using the correct naming conventions.

assemblyJarName in assembly := s"${name.value}_${scalaBinaryVersion.value}-${version.value}.jar"

If you're using sbt package, you can add this code to your build.sbt file to generate a JAR file that follows the naming conventions.

artifactName := { (sv: ScalaVersion, module: ModuleID, artifact: Artifact) => + "_" + sv.binary + "-" + module.revision + "." + artifact.extension

Create a table in the project README that indicates all the Spark versions supported by each project version.


The following documentation guidelines generally copy the documentation in the Spark source code. For example, here's how the rpad method is defined in the Spark source code.

 * Right-pad the string column with pad to a length of len. If the string column is longer
 * than len, the return value is shortened to len characters.
 * @group string_funcs
 * @since 1.5.0
def rpad(str: Column, len: Int, pad: String): Column = withExpr {
  StringRPad(str.expr, lit(len).expr, lit(pad).expr)

Here's an example of the the Column#equalTo() method that contains an example code snippet.

 * Equality test.
 * {{{
 *   // Scala:
 *   df.filter( df("colA") === df("colB") )
 *   // Java
 *   import static org.apache.spark.sql.functions.*;
 *   df.filter( col("colA").equalTo(col("colB")) );
 * }}}
 * @group expr_ops
 * @since 1.3.0
def equalTo(other: Any): Column = this === other

The @since annotation should be used to document when features are added to the API.

The @note annotaion should be used to detail important information about a function, like the following example.

 * Aggregate function: returns the level of grouping, equals to
 * {{{
 *   (grouping(c1) <<; (n-1)) + (grouping(c2) <<; (n-2)) + ... + grouping(cn)
 * }}}
 * @note The list of columns should match with grouping columns exactly, or empty (means all the
 * grouping columns).
 * @group agg_funcs
 * @since 2.0.0
def grouping_id(cols: Column*): Column = Column(GroupingID(

Column Functions

Column functions should be annotated with the following groups, consistent with the Spark functions that return Column objects.

@groupname udf_funcs UDF functions
@groupname agg_funcs Aggregate functions
@groupname datetime_funcs Date time functions
@groupname sort_funcs Sorting functions
@groupname normal_funcs Non-aggregate functions
@groupname math_funcs Math functions
@groupname misc_funcs Misc functions
@groupname window_funcs Window functions
@groupname string_funcs String functions
@groupname collection_funcs Collection functions
@groupname Ungrouped Support functions for DataFrames

Here's an example of a well-documented Column function in the spark-daria project.

  * Removes all whitespace in a string
  * @group string_funcs
  * @since 2.0.0
def removeAllWhitespace(col: Column): Column = {
  regexp_replace(col, "\\s+", "")

DataFrame Transformations

Custom transformations can add/remove rows and columns from a DataFrame. DataFrame transformation documentation should specify how the custom transformation is modifying the DataFrame and list the name of columns added to the DataFrame as appropriate.


Use the spark-fast-tests library for writing DataFrame / Dataset / RDD tests with Spark.

Read this blog post for a gentle introduction to testing Spark code, this blog post on how to design easily testable Spark code, and this blog post on how to cut the run time of a Spark test suite.

Here is an example of a test for the and instance method defined in the functions class as follows:

class FunctionsSpec extends FunSpec with DataFrameComparer {

  import spark.implicits._

  describe("and") {

    it ("returns true if both columns are true") {

      // some code




Open Source

You should write generic open source code whenever possible. Open source code is easily reusable (especially when it's uploaded to Maven) and forces you to design code without business logic.

The org.apache.spark.sql.functions class provides some great examples of open source functions.

The Dataset and Column classes provide great examples of code that facilitates DataFrame transformations.

spark-daria is a good example of a Spark open source library that provides core extensions, like these Column extensions.