Use liquid clustering for Delta tables

Liquid clustering improves the existing partitioning and ZORDER techniques by simplifying data layout decisions in order to optimize query performance. Liquid clustering provides flexibility to redefine clustering columns without rewriting existing data, allowing data layout to evolve alongside analytic needs over time.


This feature is available in Delta Lake 3.1.0 and above. This feature is in experimental support mode with Limitations.

What is liquid clustering used for?

The following are examples of scenarios that benefit from clustering:

  • Tables often filtered by high cardinality columns.

  • Tables with significant skew in data distribution.

  • Tables that grow quickly and require maintenance and tuning effort.

  • Tables with access patterns that change over time.

  • Tables where a typical partition column could leave the table with too many or too few partitions.

Enable liquid clustering

You must enable liquid clustering when creating a table. Clustering is not compatible with partitioning or ZORDER. Once enabled, run OPTIMIZE jobs as normal to cluster data. See How to trigger clustering.

To enable liquid clustering, add the CLUSTER BY phrase to a table creation statement, as in the examples below:

-- Create an empty table
CREATE TABLE table1(col0 int, col1 string) USING DELTA CLUSTER BY (col0);

-- Using a CTAS statement
CREATE TABLE table2 CLUSTER BY (col0)  -- specify clustering after table name, not in subquery
AS SELECT * FROM table1;


Tables created with liquid clustering have Clustering and DomainMetadata table features enabled (both writer features) and use Delta writer version 7 and reader version 1. Table protocol versions cannot be downgraded. See How does Delta Lake manage feature compatibility?.

Choose clustering columns

Clustering columns can be defined in any order. If two columns are correlated, you only need to add one of them as a clustering column.

If you’re converting an existing table, consider the following recommendations:

Current data optimization technique

Recommendation for clustering columns

Hive-style partitioning

Use partition columns as clustering columns.

Z-order indexing

Use the ZORDER BY columns as clustering columns.

Hive-style partitioning and Z-order

Use both partition columns and ZORDER BY columns as clustering columns.

Generated columns to reduce cardinality (for example, date for a timestamp)

Use the original column as a clustering column, and don’t create a generated column.

Write data to a clustered table

You must use a Delta writer client that supports Clustering and DomainMetadata table features.

How to trigger clustering

Use the OPTIMIZE command on your table, as in the following example:

OPTIMIZE table_name;

Read data from a clustered table

You can read data in a clustered table using any Delta Lake client that supports reader version 1. For best query results, include clustering columns in your query filters, as in the following example:

SELECT * FROM table_name WHERE clustering_column_name = "some_value";


The following limitations exist:

  • In Delta Lake 3.1, users needs to enable the feature flag to use liquid clustering. The following features are not supported in this preview:

    • ZCube based incremental clustering

    • ALTER TABLE ... CLUSTER BY to change clustering columns

    • DESCRIBE DETAIL to inspect the current clustering columns

  • You can only specify columns with statistics collected for clustering columns. By default, the first 32 columns in a Delta table have statistics collected.

  • You can specify up to 4 clustering columns.