Exploring the VARIANT data type in Snowflake


Snowflake, a leading cloud data platform, has a unique feature that distinguishes it from traditional relational databases. It offers a data type named VARIANT, which is specifically designed to store semi-structured data like JSON, Avro, Parquet, and XML. Using the VARIANT data type can be incredibly beneficial when working with data that doesn’t fit into the traditional row and column format. In this article, we will dive deep into understanding the VARIANT data type and how to use it effectively in Snowflake.

Introduction to VARIANT data type

The VARIANT data type is a flexible way to handle semi-structured data. In contrast to traditional relational databases where you would typically normalize the data into separate tables and columns, VARIANT allows storing nested and diverse data in a single column. This flexibility becomes particularly useful when you’re not sure of the data’s schema ahead of time or when the schema is likely to change frequently.

How to define and use VARIANT in tables

Defining a table with a VARIANT column:

CREATE TABLE variant_sample (
    id INTEGER,
    data VARIANT

Inserting data into a VARIANT column:

You can directly insert JSON data or any semi-structured data into the VARIANT column.

INSERT INTO variant_sample (id, data)
SELECT 1, PARSE_JSON('{ "name": "Sachin", "age": 30, "city": "New York" }')
SELECT 2, PARSE_JSON('{ "name": "Ganguly", "age": 25, "city": "London", "hobbies": ["reading", "hiking"] }');

Querying fields within a VARIANT

Querying data within a VARIANT column is straightforward with Snowflake’s dot notation.

Fetching a specific attribute from the JSON data:

SELECT id, data:name::STRING AS name
FROM variant_sample;
| id | name |
|  1 | Sachin |
|  2 | Ganguly |

Digging deeper into nested arrays or objects:

For data with nested structures like arrays or objects, you can use the bracket notation.

SELECT id, data:hobbies[0]::STRING AS first_hobby
FROM variant_sample
WHERE data:hobbies IS NOT NULL;
| id | first_hobby|
|  2 | reading    |

It’s crucial to note that the VARIANT data type stores data as it is without parsing or interpreting its content. Therefore, ensure you understand the structure of your data before querying it.¬†Working with the VARIANT data type in Snowflake opens up new possibilities in handling and analyzing semi-structured data. By understanding how to define, insert, and query VARIANT columns, you can leverage the power and flexibility of Snowflake to manage diverse datasets effectively.

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