Preparing to load data

This topic provides an overview of supported data file formats and data compression. Depending on your data’s structure, you might need to prepare the data before loading it.

Supported data types

See SQL Data Types Reference for descriptions of the data types supported by Snowflake.

Data file compression

We recommend that you compress your data files when you are loading large data sets. See CREATE FILE FORMAT for the compression algorithms supported for each data type.

When loading compressed data, Snowflake will automatically determine the file and codec compression method for your data files. The COMPRESSION file format option describes how your data files are already compressed in the stage. Set the COMPRESSION option in one of the following ways:

  • As a file format option specified directly in the COPY INTO <table> statement.

  • As a file format option specified for a named file format or stage object. The named file format/stage object can then be referenced in the COPY INTO <table> statement.

Supported file formats

The following file formats are supported:





Delimited (CSV, TSV, etc.)

Any valid singlebyte delimiter is supported; default is comma (i.e. CSV).




Includes automatic detection and processing of compressed Avro files.


Includes automatic detection and processing of compressed ORC files.


Includes automatic detection and processing of compressed Parquet files. . . Currently, Snowflake supports the schema of Parquet files produced using the Parquet writer v1. Files produced using v2 of the writer are not supported.


Supported as a preview feature.

File format options specify the type of data contained in a file, as well as other related characteristics about the format of the data. The file format options you can specify are different depending on the type of data you plan to load. Snowflake provides a full set of file format option defaults.

Semi-structured file formats

Snowflake natively supports semi-structured data, which means semi-structured data can be loaded into relational tables without requiring the definition of a schema in advance. Snowflake supports loading semi-structured data directly into columns of type VARIANT (see Semi-structured Data Types for more details).

Currently supported semi-structured data formats include JSON, Avro, ORC, Parquet, or XML:

  • For JSON, Avro, ORC, and Parquet data, each top-level, complete object is loaded as a separate row in the table. Each object can contain new line characters and spaces as long as the object is valid.

  • For XML data, each top-level element is loaded as a separate row in the table. An element is identified by a start and close tag of the same name.

Typically, tables used to store semi-structured data consist of a single VARIANT column. Once the data is loaded, you can query the data similar to structured data. You can also perform other tasks, such as extracting values and objects from arrays. For more information, see the FLATTEN table function.


Semi-structured data can be loaded into tables with multiple columns, but the semi-structured data must be stored as a field in a structured file (e.g. CSV file). Then, the data can be loaded into a specified column in the table.

Named file formats

Snowflake supports creating named file formats, which are database objects that encapsulate all of the required format information. Named file formats can then be used as input in all the same places where you can specify individual file format options, thereby helping to streamline the data loading process for similarly-formatted data.

Named file formats are optional, but are recommended when you plan to load similarly formatted data on a regular basis.

Creating a named file format

You can create a file format using either the web interface or SQL:

  1. Select Data » Databases.

  2. Locate a database and select the schema to which you want to add the file format.

  3. Select Create » File Format.

  4. Complete the SQL statement and select Create File Format.

Classic Console:
  1. Select Databases Databases tab » <db_name> » File Formats.

  2. Select Create… and complete the prompts in the dialog.



For descriptions of all file format options and the default values, see CREATE FILE FORMAT.

Supported copy options

Copy options determine the behavior of a data load with regard to error handling, maximum data size, and so on.

For descriptions of all copy options and the default values, see COPY INTO <table>.

Overriding default file format and copy options

You can specify the desired load behavior (i.e. override the default settings) in any of the following locations:

In the table definition:

Not recommended.

In the named stage definition:

Not recommended.

Directly in the COPY INTO TABLE statement when loading data:

Explicitly set the options separately. For more information, see COPY INTO <table>.


Do not specify file format options or copy options using the CREATE STAGE, ALTER STAGE, CREATE TABLE, or ALTER TABLE commands. It is recommended that you use the COPY INTO <table> command to specify file format options or copy options.

If file format options or copy options are specified in multiple locations, the load operation applies the options in the following order of precedence:

  1. COPY INTO TABLE statement.

  2. Stage definition.

  3. Table definition.


File format options set in multiple locations are not cumulative. Any options set in one place override all options (whether the same or different options) set lower in the order of precedence.

Copy options set in multiple locations are cumulative. Individual options set in one place override the same option set lower in the order of precedence.