UNLOAD - Amazon Athena
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Writes query results from a SELECT statement to the specified data format. Supported formats for UNLOAD include Apache Parquet, ORC, Apache Avro, and JSON. CSV is the only output format supported by the Athena SELECT command, but you can use the UNLOAD command, which supports a variety of output formats, to enclose your SELECT query and rewrite its output to one of the formats that UNLOAD supports.

Although you can use the CTAS statement to output data in formats other than CSV, those statements also require the creation of a table in Athena. The UNLOAD statement is useful when you want to output the results of a SELECT query in a non-CSV format but do not require the associated table. For example, a downstream application might require the results of a SELECT query to be in JSON format, and Parquet or ORC might provide a performance advantage over CSV if you intend to use the results of the SELECT query for additional analysis.

Considerations and limitations

When you use the UNLOAD statement in Athena, keep in mind the following points:

  • No global ordering of filesUNLOAD results are written to multiple files in parallel. If the SELECT query in the UNLOAD statement specifies a sort order, each file's contents are in sorted order, but the files are not sorted relative to each other.

  • Orphaned data not deleted – In the case of a failure, Athena does not attempt to delete orphaned data. This behavior is the same as that for CTAS and INSERT INTO statements.

  • Maximum partitions – The maximum number of partitions that can be used with UNLOAD is 100.

  • Metadata and manifest files – Athena generates a metadata file and data manifest file for each UNLOAD query. The manifest tracks the files that the query wrote. Both files are saved to your Athena query result location in Amazon S3. For more information, see Identifying query output files.

  • EncryptionUNLOAD output files are encrypted according to the encryption configuration used for Amazon S3. To set up encryption configuration to encrypt your UNLOAD result, you can use the EncryptionConfiguration API.

  • Prepared statementsUNLOAD can be used with prepared statements. For information about prepared statements in Athena, see Using parameterized queries.

  • Service quotas – UNLOAD uses DML query quotas. For quota information, see Service Quotas.

  • Expected bucket owner – The expected bucket owner setting does not apply to the destination Amazon S3 location specfied in the UNLOAD query. The expected bucket owner setting applies only to the Amazon S3 output location that you specify for Athena query results. For more information, see Specifying a query result location using the Athena console.


The UNLOAD statement uses the following syntax.

UNLOAD (SELECT col_name[, ...] FROM old_table) TO 's3://DOC-EXAMPLE-BUCKET/my_folder/' WITH ( property_name = 'expression' [, ...] )

Except when writing to partitions, the TO destination must specify a location in Amazon S3 that has no data. Before the UNLOAD query writes to the location specified, it verifies that the bucket location is empty. Because UNLOAD does not write data to the specified location if the location already has data in it, UNLOAD does not overwrite existing data. To reuse a bucket location as a destination for UNLOAD, delete the data in the bucket location, and then run the query again.

Note that when UNLOAD writes to partitions, this behavior is different. If you run the same UNLOAD query multiple times that has the same SELECT statement, the same TO location and the same partitions, each UNLOAD query unloads the data into Amazon S3 at the location and partitions specified.


Possible values for property_name are as follows.

format = 'file_format'

Required. Specifies the file format of the output. Possible values for file_format are ORC, PARQUET, AVRO, JSON, or TEXTFILE.

compression = 'compression_format'

Optional. This option is specific to the ORC and Parquet formats. For ORC, the default is zlib, and for Parquet, the default is gzip. For information about supported compression formats, see Athena compression support.


This option does not apply to the AVRO format. Athena uses gzip for the JSON and TEXTFILE formats.

compression_level = compression_level

Optional. The compression level to use for ZSTD compression. This property applies only to ZSTD compression. For more information, see Using ZSTD compression levels in Athena.

field_delimiter = 'delimiter'

Optional. Specifies a single-character field delimiter for files in CSV, TSV, and other text formats. The following example specifies a comma delimiter.

WITH (field_delimiter = ',')

Currently, multicharacter field delimiters are not supported. If you do not specify a field delimiter, the octal character \001 (^A) is used.

partitioned_by = ARRAY[ col_name[,...] ]

Optional. An array list of columns by which the output is partitioned.


In your SELECT statement, make sure that the names of the partitioned columns are last in your list of columns.


The following example writes the output of a SELECT query to the Amazon S3 location s3://DOC-EXAMPLE-BUCKET/unload_test_1/ using JSON format.

UNLOAD (SELECT * FROM old_table) TO 's3://DOC-EXAMPLE-BUCKET/unload_test_1/' WITH (format = 'JSON')

The following example writes the output of a SELECT query in Parquet format using Snappy compression.

UNLOAD (SELECT * FROM old_table) TO 's3://DOC-EXAMPLE-BUCKET/' WITH (format = 'PARQUET',compression = 'SNAPPY')

The following example writes four columns in text format, with the output partitioned by the last column.

UNLOAD (SELECT name1, address1, comment1, key1 FROM table1) TO 's3://DOC-EXAMPLE-BUCKET/ partitioned/' WITH (format = 'TEXTFILE', partitioned_by = ARRAY['key1'])

The following example unloads the query results to the specified location using the Parquet file format, ZSTD compression, and ZSTD compression level 4.

UNLOAD (SELECT * FROM old_table) TO 's3://DOC-EXAMPLE-BUCKET/' WITH (format = 'PARQUET', compression = 'ZSTD', compression_level = 4)

Additional resources