Spill to Disk

Impala 2.2.0 for MapR introduces the "spill to disk" feature which prevents queries that use memory-intensive operations, such as large sort, join, aggregation, or analytic function operations, from failing with out-of-memory errors. Impala automatically writes data to disk when queries with memory-intensive operations exceed the set memory limit on an Impala node. You can enable or disable the spill to disk feature in /opt/mapr/impala/impala-<version>/conf/env.sh. You can also change the DISABLE_UNSAFE_SPILLS setting at the session level to allow or prevent data spills.

Impala reserves a certain amount of memory for memory-intensive operations that reach the set memory threshold. This memory reserve serves as a buffer that slows an operation's use of memory and in some instances prevents operations from exceeding the memory limit on a node. If the amount of memory used exceeds the set memory limit, Impala starts writing data to disk (spilling to disk).

Impala writes data to a temporary work area on disk. The default location of this work area is /tmp/impala-scratch. You can start the impalad daemon with the --scratch_dirs="path_to_directory" configuration option to change the directory location, however the scratch directory must reside on the local file system. You can specify a single directory, or a comma-separated list of directories. If there is less than 1 GB of available space on the filesystem where the scratch directory resides, Impala writes a warning message to its log when it runs. When an operation completes, the data is removed from the disk.

Prevent Data from Spilling to Disk

Spilling to disk can have significant performance implications due to the additional I/O required. Ideally, you want to optimize queries, system parameters, and the hardware configurations to prevent data from spilling to disk. The following points describe some techniques that can prevent data from spilling to disk:

  • View the query profile after you run queries to determine how often they spill to disk and how much temporary data is written to disk. You can run the PROFILE command from the impala-shell or you can view the Impala debug web user interface to see the profile for the query.
  • Increase the number of Impala nodes in the cluster to increase the aggregate memory available.
  • Increase the overall memory capacity of each node at the hardware level.
  • On a multi-tenant cluster, use resource management features to allocate more memory for Impala.
  • If you are running concurrent queries rather than a few memory-intensive ones, use the admission control feature to lower the limit on the number of concurrent queries. You can schedule the most resource-intensive queries to avoid spikes in memory usage and improve overall response times. See Admission Control.
  • Use the following techniques to tune the queries with the highest memory requirements:
    • Run the COMPUTE STATS statement for all tables involved in large-scale joins and aggregation queries.
    • Minimize the use of STRING columns in join columns. Use numeric values instead.
    • Evaluate the EXPLAIN plan to see the execution plan used for the most resource-intensive queries.
    • Add hints to the most resource-intensive queries to select the right execution strategy.
    • If your queries experience substantial performance overhead due to spilling, enable the DISABLE_UNSAFE_SPILLS query option to prevent queries from spilling to disk.


You can categorize queries that spill to disk as safe or unsafe. A spill that results from optimized queries may represent a safe spill, whereas a spill that results from running large ad-hoc queries with unknown performance implications may represent an unsafe spill. For example, if a query does not include a hint to set the most efficient mechanism for a join or an INSERT ... SELECT into a partitioned table, these tables will most likely result in suboptimal execution plans that could cause unnecessary spilling.

When DISABLE_UNSAFE_SPILLS is enabled (set to "true"), you can run the COMPUTE STATS statement on large tables involved in join queries and resource-intensive operations. The COMPUTE STATS statement collects table and column statistics to help estimate memory usage for each query before you allow data to spill to disk.

If you have determined that your queries will spill safely to disk, run the following command to turn the DISABLE_UNSAFE_SPILLS option off:

Disable the Spill to Disk Feature

You can disable the spill to disk feature if spilling to disk negatively affects performance or you do not know the performance implications or memory usage of queries in advance.

To disable the spill to disk feature, complete the following steps:

  1. On each node running the Impala server, edit /opt/mapr/impala/impala-<version>/conf/env.sh , and set the following options to “false”:
  2. Save the env.sh file and then run the following commands to restart the Impala service and instances:
    1. Run the following command to restart the Impala server:
      $ sudo maprcli node services -name impalaserver -action restart -nodes <IP address where impala server is installed>
    2. Run the following command to restart the Impala statestore:
      $ sudo maprcli node services -name impalastore -action restart -nodes <IP address where impala statestore is installed>
    3. Run the following command to restart the Impala catalog:
      $ sudo maprcli node services -name impalacatalog -action restart -nodes <IP address where impala catalog is installed>