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Delta Transaction Log Protocol



This document is a specification for the Delta Transaction Protocol, which brings ACID properties to large collections of data, stored as files, in a distributed file system or object store. The protocol was designed with the following goals in mind:

  • Serializable ACID Writes - multiple writers can concurrently modify a Delta table while maintaining ACID semantics.
  • Snapshot Isolation for Reads - readers can read a consistent snapshot of a Delta table, even in the face of concurrent writes.
  • Scalability to billions of partitions or files - queries against a Delta table can be planned on a single machine or in parallel.
  • Self describing - all metadata for a Delta table is stored alongside the data. This design eliminates the need to maintain a separate metastore just to read the data and also allows static tables to be copied or moved using standard filesystem tools.
  • Support for incremental processing - readers can tail the Delta log to determine what data has been added in a given period of time, allowing for efficient streaming.

Delta's transactions are implemented using multi-version concurrency control (MVCC). As a table changes, Delta's MVCC algorithm keeps multiple copies of the data around rather than immediately replacing files that contain records that are being updated or removed.

Readers of the table ensure that they only see one consistent snapshot of a table at time by using the transaction log to selectively choose which data files to process.

Writers modify the table in two phases: First, they optimistically write out new data files or updated copies of existing ones. Then, they commit, creating the latest atomic version of the table by adding a new entry to the log. In this log entry they record which data files to logically add and remove, along with changes to other metadata about the table.

Data files that are no longer present in the latest version of the table can be lazily deleted by the vacuum command after a user-specified retention period (default 7 days).

Delta Table Specification

A table has a single serial history of atomic versions, which are named using contiguous, monotonically-increasing integers. The state of a table at a given version is called a snapshot and is defined by the following properties:

  • Version of the Delta log protocol that is required to correctly read or write the table
  • Metadata of the table (e.g., the schema, a unique identifier, partition columns, and other configuration properties)
  • Set of files present in the table, along with metadata about those files
  • Set of tombstones for files that were recently deleted
  • Set of applications-specific transactions that have been successfully committed to the table

File Types

A Delta table is stored within a directory and is composed of four different types of files.

Here is an example of a Delta table with three entries in the commit log, stored in the directory mytable.


Data Files

Data files can be stored in the root directory of the table or in any non-hidden subdirectory (i.e., one whose name does not start with an _). By default, the reference implementation stores data files in directories that are named based on the partition values for data in that file (i.e. part1=value1/part2=value2/...). This directory format is only used to follow existing conventions and is not required by the protocol. Actual partition values for a file must be read from the transaction log.

Delta Log Entries

Delta files are stored as JSON in a directory at the root of the table named _delta_log, and together make up the log of all changes that have occurred to a table. Delta files are the unit of atomicity for a table, and are named using the next available version number, zero-padded to 20 digits.

For example:


A delta file, n.json, contains an atomic set of actions that should be applied to the previous table state, n-1.json, in order to the construct nth snapshot of the table. An action changes one aspect of the table's state, for example, adding or removing a file.


Checkpoints are also stored in the _delta_log directory, and can be created for any version of the table.

A checkpoint contains the complete replay of all actions up until this version, with invalid actions removed. Invalid actions are those that have been canceled out by a subsequent ones (for example removing a file that has been added), using the [rules for reconciliation](#Action Reconciliation) Checkpoints allow readers to short-cut the cost of reading the log up-to a given point in order to reconstruct a snapshot.

By default, the reference implementation creates a checkpoint every 10 commits.

The checkpoint file name is based on the version of the table that the checkpoint contains. The format of the checkpoint file name can take one of two forms:

  1. A single checkpoint file for version n of the table will be named n.checkpoint.parquet. For example:
  1. A multi-part checkpoint for version n can be fragmented into p files. Fragment o of p is named n.checkpoint.o.p.parquet. For example:

Since it is possible that a writer will fail while writing out one or more parts of a multi-part checkpoint, readers must only use a complete checkpoint, wherein all fragments are present. For performance reasons, readers should search for the most recent earlier checkpoint that is complete.

Checkpoints for a given version must only be created after the associated delta file has been successfully written.

Last Checkpoint File

The Delta transaction log will often contain many (e.g. 10,000+) files. Listing such a large directory can be prohibitively expensive. The last checkpoint file can help reduce the cost of constructing the lastest snapshot of the table by providing a pointer to near the end of the log.

Rather than list the entire directory, readers can locate a recent checkpoint by looking at the _delta_log/_last_checkpoint file. Due to the zero-padded encoding of the files in the log, the version id of this recent checkpoint can be used on storage systems that support lexigraphically-sorted, paginated directory listing to enumerate any delta files or newer checkpoints that comprise more recent versions of the table.

This last checkpoint file is encoded as JSON and contains the following information:

Field Description
version the version of the table when the last checkpoint was made.
size The number of actions that are stored in the checkpoint.
parts The number of fragments if the last checkpoint was written in multiple parts.


Actions modify the state of the table and they are stored both in delta files and in checkpoints. This section lists the space of available actions as well as their schema.

Change Metadata

The metaData action changes the current metadata of the table. The first version of a table must contain a metaData action. Subsequent metaData actions completely overwrite the current metadata of the table.

There can be at most one metadata action in a given version of the table.

The schema of the metaData action is as follows:

Field Name Data Type Description
id GUID Unique identifier for this table
name String User-provided identifier for this table
description String User-provided description for this table
format Format Struct Specification of the encoding for the files stored in the table
schemaString Schema Struct Schema of the table
partitionColumns Array[String] An array containing the names of columns by which the data should be partitioned

Format Specification

Field Name Data Type Description
provider String Name of the encoding for files in this table
options Map[String, String] A map containing configuration options for the format

In the reference implementation, the provider field is used to instantiate a Spark SQL FileFormat. As of Spark 2.4.3 there is built-in FileFormat support for parquet, csv, orc, json, and text.

As of Delta Lake 0.3.0, user-facing APIs only allow the creation of tables where format = 'parquet' and options = {}. Support for reading other formats is present both for legacy reasons and to enable possible support for other formats in the future (See #87).

The following is an example metaData action:

      "appendOnly": "true"

Add File and Remove File

The add and remove actions are used to modify the data in a table by adding or removing individual data files respectively.

The path of a file acts as the primary key for the entry in the set of files. When an add action is encountered for a path that is already present in the table, statistics and other information from the latest version should replace that from any previous version. As such, additional statistics can be added for a path already present in the table by adding it again.

The remove action includes a timestamp that indicates when the removal occurred. Physical deletion of the file can happen lazily after some user-specified expiration time threshold. This delay allows concurrent readers to continue to execute against a stale snapshot of the data. A remove action should remain in the state of the table as a tombstone until it has expired. A tombstone expires when the creation timestamp of the delta file exceeds the expiration threshold added to the remove action timestamp.

Since actions within a given Delta file are not guaranteed to be applied in order, it is not valid for multiple file operations with the same path to exist in a single version.

The dataChange flag on either an add or a remove can be set to false to indicate that an action when combined with other actions in the same atomic version only rearranges existing data or adds new statistics. For example, streaming queries that are tailing the transaction log can use this flag to skip actions that would not affect the final results.

The schema of the add action is as follows:

Field Name Data Type Description
path String A relative path, from the root of the table, to a file that should be added to the table
partitionValues Map[String, String] A map from partition column to value for this file. See also Partition Value Serialization
size Long The size of this file in bytes
modificationTime Long The time this file was created, as milliseconds since the epoch
dataChange Boolean When false the file must already be present in the table or the records in the added file must be contained in one or more remove actions in the same version
stats Statistics Struct Contains statistics (e.g., count, min/max values for columns) about the data in this file
tags Map[String, String] Map containing metadata about this file

The following is an example add action:

  "add": {

The schema of the remove action is as follows:

Field Name Data Type Description
path String An absolute or relative path to a file that should be removed from the table
deletionTimestamp Long The time the deletion occurred, represented as milliseconds since the epoch
dataChange Boolean When false the records in the removed file must be contained in one or more add file actions in the same version

The following is an example remove action.


Transaction Identifiers

Incremental processing systems (e.g., streaming systems) that track progress using their own application-specific versions need to record what progress has been made, in order to avoid duplicating data in the face of failures and retries during a write. Transaction identifiers allow this information to be recorded atomically in the transaction log of a delta table along with the other actions that modify the contents of the table.

Transaction identifiers are stored in the form of appId version pairs, where appId is a unique identifier for the process that is modifying the table and version is an indication of how much progress has been made by that application. The atomic recording of this information along with modifications to the table enables these external system can make their writes into a Delta table idempotent.

For example, the Delta Sink for Apache Spark's Structured Streaming ensures exactly-once semantics when writing a stream into a table using the following process:

  1. Record in a write-ahead-log the data that will be written, along with a monotonically increasing identifier for this batch.
  2. Check the current version of the transaction with appId = streamId in the target table. If this value is greater than or equal to the batch being written, then this data has already been added to the table and processing can skip to the next batch.
  3. Write the data optimistically into the table.
  4. Attempt to commit the transaction containing both the addition of the data written out and an updated appId version pair.

The semantics of the application-specific version are left up to the external system. Delta only ensures that the latest version for a given appId is available in the table snapshot. The Delta transaction protocol does not, for example, assume monotonicity of the version and it would be valid for the version to decrease, possibly representing a "rollback" of an earlier transaction.

The schema of the txn action is as follows:

Field Name Data Type Description
appId String A unique identifier for the application performing the transaction
version Long An application-specific numeric identifier for this transaction

The following is an example txn action:

  "txn": {

Protocol Evolution

The protocol action is used to increase the version of the Delta protocol that is required to read or write a given table. Protocol versioning allows a newer client to exclude older readers and/or writers that are missing features required to correctly interpret the transaction log. The protocol version will be increased whenever non-forward-compatible changes are made to this specification. In the case where a client is running an invalid protocol version, an error should be thrown instructing the user to upgrade to a newer protocol version of their Delta client library.

Since breaking changes must be accompanied by an increase in the protocol version recorded in a table, clients can assume that unrecognized fields or actions are never required in order to correctly interpret the transaction log.

The schema of the protocol action is as follows:

Field Name Data Type Description
minReaderVersion Int The minimum version of the Delta read protocol that a client must implement in order to correctly read this table
minWriterVersion Int The minimum version of the Delta write protocol that a client must implement in order to correctly write this table

The current version of the Delta protocol is:


Commit Provenance Information

A delta file can optionally contain additional provenance information about what higher-level operation was being performed as well as who executed it.

Implementations are free to store any valid JSON-formatted data via the commitInfo action.

An example of storing provenance information related to an INSERT operation:


Requirements for Writers

This section documents additional requirements that writers must follow in order to preserve some of the higher level guarantees that Delta provides.

Creation of New Log Entries

  • Writers MUST never overwrite an existing log entry. When ever possible they should use atomic primitives of the underlying filesystem to ensure concurrent writers do not overwrite each others entries.

Consistency Between Table Metadata and Data Files

  • Any column that exists in a data file present in the table MUST also be present in the metadata of the table.
  • Values for all partition columns present in the schema MUST be present for all files in the table.
  • Columns present in the schema of the table MAY be missing from data files. Readers SHOULD fill these missing columns in with null.

Delta Log Entries

  • A single log entry MUST NOT include more than one action that reconcile with each other.
    • Add / Remove actions with the same path
    • More than one Metadata action
    • More than one protocol action
    • More than one SetTransaction with the same appId


  • A checkpoint MUST only be written after the corresponding log entry has been completely written.
  • TODO(marmbrus): Describe partitioning requirements of multi-part checkpoints.

Data Files

  • Data files MUST be uniquely named and MUST NOT be overwritten. The reference implementation uses a GUID in the name to ensure this property.

Append-only Tables

When the table property delta.appendOnly is set to true:

  • New log entries MUST NOT change or remove data from the table.
  • New log entries may rearrange data (i.e. add and remove actions where dataChange=false).

Column Invariants

  • The schema for a given column MAY the metadata delta.invariants.
  • This column SHOULD be parsed as a boolean SQL expression.
  • Writers MUST abort any transaction that adds a row to the table, where a present invariant evaluates to false or null.


Per-file Statistics

add actions can optionally contain statistics about the data in the file being added to the table. These statistics can be used for eliminating files based on query predicates or as inputs to query optimization.

Global statistics record information about the entire file. The following global statistic is currently supported:

Name Description
numRecords The number of records in this file.

Per-column statistics record information for each column in the file and they are encoded mirroring the schema of the actual data. For example, given the following data schema:

|-- a: struct
|    |-- b: struct
|    |    |-- c: long

Statistics could be stored with the following schema:

|-- stats: struct
|    |-- numRecords: long
|    |-- minValues: struct
|    |    |-- a: struct
|    |    |    |-- b: struct
|    |    |    |    |-- c: long
|    |-- maxValues: struct
|    |    |-- a: struct
|    |    |    |-- b: struct
|    |    |    |    |-- c: long

The following per-column statistics are currently supported:

Name Description
nullCount The number of null values for this column
minValues A value smaller than all values present in the file for this column
maxValues A value larger than all values present in the file for this column

Partition Value Serialization

Partition values are stored as strings, using the following formats. An empty string for any type translates to a null partition value.

Type Serialization Format
string No translation required
numeric types The string representation of the number
date Encoded as {year}-{month}-{day}. For example, 1970-01-01
timestamp Encoded as {year}-{month}-{day} {hour}:{minute}:{second} For example: 1970-01-01 00:00:00
boolean Encoded as the string "true" or "false"
binary Encoded as a string of escaped binary values. For example, "\u0001\u0002\u0003"

Schema Serialization Format

Delta uses a subset of Spark SQL's JSON Schema representation to record the schema of a table in the transaction log. A reference implementation can be found in the catalyst package of the Apache Spark repository.

Primitive Types

Type Name Description
string UTF-8 encoded string of characters
integer 4-byte signed integer. Range: -2147483648 to 2147483647
short 2-byte signed integer numbers. Range: -32768 to 32767
byte 1-byte signed integer number. Range: -128 to 127
float 4-byte single-precision floating point numbers
double 8-byte double-precision floating point numbers
boolean true or false
binary A sequence of binary data.
date A calendar date, represented as a year-month-day triple without a timezone.
timestamp Microsecond precision timestamp without a timezone.

Struct Type

A struct is used to represent both the top-level schema of the table as well as struct columns that contain nested columns. A struct is encoded as a JSON object with the following fields:

Field Name Description
type Always the string "struct"
fields An array of fields

Struct Field

A struct field represents a top level or nested column.

Field Name Description
name Name of this (possibly nested) column
type String containing the name of a primitive type, a struct definition, an array definition or a map definition
nullable Boolean denoting whether this field can be null
metadata A JSON map containing information about this column. Keys prefixed with Delta are reserved for the implementation. See TODO for more information on column level metadata that must clients must handle when writing to a table.

Array Type

An array stores a variable length collection of items of some type.

Field Name Description
type Always the string "array"
elementType The type of element stored in this array represented as a string containing the name of a primitive type, a struct definition, an array definition or a map definition
containsNull Boolean denoting whether this array can contain one or more null values

Map Type

A map stores an arbitrary length collection of key-value pairs with a single keyType and a single valueType.

Field Name Description
type Always the string "map".
keyType The type of element used for the key of this map, represented as a string containing the name of a primitive type, a struct definition, an array definition or a map definition
valueType The type of element used for the key of this map, represented as a string containing the name of a primitive type, a struct definition, an array definition or a map definition


Example Table Schema:

|-- a: integer (nullable = false)
|-- b: struct (nullable = true)
|    |-- d: integer (nullable = false)
|-- c: array (nullable = true)
|    |-- element: integer (containsNull = false)
|-- e: array (nullable = true)
|    |-- element: struct (containsNull = true)
|    |    |-- d: integer (nullable = false)
|-- f: map (nullable = true)
|    |-- key: string
|    |-- value: string (valueContainsNull = true)

JSON Encoded Table Schema:

  "type" : "struct",
  "fields" : [ {
    "name" : "a",
    "type" : "integer",
    "nullable" : false,
    "metadata" : { }
  }, {
    "name" : "b",
    "type" : {
      "type" : "struct",
      "fields" : [ {
        "name" : "d",
        "type" : "integer",
        "nullable" : false,
        "metadata" : { }
      } ]
    "nullable" : true,
    "metadata" : { }
  }, {
    "name" : "c",
    "type" : {
      "type" : "array",
      "elementType" : "integer",
      "containsNull" : false
    "nullable" : true,
    "metadata" : { }
  }, {
    "name" : "e",
    "type" : {
      "type" : "array",
      "elementType" : {
        "type" : "struct",
        "fields" : [ {
          "name" : "d",
          "type" : "integer",
          "nullable" : false,
          "metadata" : { }
        } ]
      "containsNull" : true
    "nullable" : true,
    "metadata" : { }
  }, {
    "name" : "f",
    "type" : {
      "type" : "map",
      "keyType" : "string",
      "valueType" : "string",
      "valueContainsNull" : true
    "nullable" : true,
    "metadata" : { }
  } ]
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