This article discusses aggregation-related optimizations in Velox. We go through the different techniques and provide examples and define the conditions for the application of each.

Velox supports partial and final aggregations with zero, one or multiple grouping keys and zero, one or multiple aggregate functions.

Aggregate Functions section of the documentation lists all available aggregate functions and How to add an aggregate function? guide explains how to add more.

Use AggregationNode to insert an aggregation into the query plan. Specify aggregation step (partial, intermediate, final, or single), grouping keys and aggregate functions. You may also specify boolean columns to mask out rows for some or all aggregations as well as request aggregations to be computed on sorted or distinct inputs. Grouping keys must refer to input columns and cannot contain expressions. To compute aggregations over expressions add ProjectNode just before the AggregationNode.

Here are examples of aggregation query plans:

Group-by with a single grouping key and single aggregate function:

SELECT a, sum(b) FROM t GROUP BY 1
  • AggregationNode: groupingKeys = {a}, aggregates = {sum(b)}

Group-by with a single grouping key and an aggregate function applied to an expression:

SELECT a, sum(b * c) FROM t GROUP BY 1
  • AggregationNode: groupingKeys = {a}, aggregates = {sum(d)}
    • ProjectNode: a, d := b * c

Group-by with multiple grouping keys and multiple aggregates:

SELECT a, b, sum(c), avg(c) FROM t GROUP BY 1, 2
  • AggregationNode: groupingKeys = {a, b}, aggregates = {sum(c), avg(c)}

Group-by over distinct inputs:

  • AggregationNode: groupingKeys = {a}, aggregates = {count(distinct c)}

Group-by over sorted inputs:

SELECT a, array_agg(b ORDER BY b) FROM t GROUP BY 1
  • AggregationNode: groupingKeys = {a}, aggregates = {array_agg(b ORDER BY b ASC NULLS LAST)}

Distinct aggregation:

  • AggregationNode: groupingKeys = {a, b}, aggregates = {}

Aggregation with a mask:

SELECT a, sum (b) FILTER (WHERE c > 10) FROM t GROUP BY 1
  • AggregationNode: groupingKeys = {a}, aggregates = {sum(b, mask: d)}
    • ProjectNode: a, b, d := c > 10

Global aggregation:

SELECT sum(a), avg(b) FROM t
  • AggregationNode: groupingKeys = {}, aggregates = {sum(a), avg(b)}

HashAggregation and StreamingAggregation Operators

AggregationNode is translated to the HashAggregation operator for execution. Distinct aggregations, e.g. aggregations with no aggregates, run in streaming mode. For each batch of input rows, the operator determines a set of new grouping key values and returns these as results. Aggregations with one or more aggregate functions need to process all input before producing the results.

AggregationNode may indicate that inputs are pre-grouped on a subset of grouping keys. If inputs are pre-grouped on all grouping keys, the plan node is executed using StreamingAggregation operator. In this case it is not necessary to accumulate all inputs in memory before producing results. StreamingAggregation accumulates only a handful of groups at a time and therefore uses much less memory than HashAggregation operator.

For the case when inputs are pre-grouped on a strict subset of grouping keys, HashAggregation includes an optimization where it flushes groups whenever it encounters a row with a different values in pre-grouped keys. This helps reduce the total amount of memory used and allows to unblock downstream operators faster.

Push-Down into Table Scan

HashAggregation operator supports pushing down aggregations into table scan. Pushdown is enabled when all of the following conditions are met:

  • the aggregation function takes a single argument,

  • the argument is a column read directly from the table without any transformations,

  • that column is not used anywhere else in the query.

For example, pushdown is possible in the following query:

SELECT a, sum(b) FROM t GROUP BY 1

Pushdown is also possible if the data is filtered using columns other than the column that is the input to the aggregation function. For example, pushdown is enabled in the following query:

SELECT a, sum(b)
WHERE a > 100

In these queries, TableScan operator produces “b” column as a LazyVector and “sum” aggregate function loads this vector using ValueHook, e.g. each value is read from the file and passed directly to “sum” aggregate which adds it to the accumulator. No intermediate vector is produced in this case.

The following aggregate functions support pushdown: sum(), min(), max(), bitwise_and_agg(), bitwise_or_agg(), bool_and(), bool_or().

Adaptive Array-Based Aggregation

HashAggregation operator stores aggregated data in rows. Each row corresponds to a unique combination of grouping key values. Global aggregations store data in a single row. Check out the Memory Layout section of How to add an aggregate function? guide for details.

Data rows are organized into a hash table which can be in either hash, array or normalized key mode.

Hash mode

In hash mode, the processing of incoming rows consists of the following steps:

  • calculate a hash of the grouping keys,

  • use that hash to look up one or more possibly matching entries in the hash table,

  • compare the grouping keys to identify the single matching entry or determine that no such entry exists,

  • insert a new entry if a matching entry doesn’t exist,

  • update the accumulators of an existing or newly created entry.

Array mode

In array mode, there is an array of pointers to data rows. The grouping key values of the incoming rows are mapped to a single integer which is used as an index into the array. Entries with no matching grouping keys store nullptr.

Consider SELECT a, sum(b) FROM t GROUP BY 1 query over the following data:















There is a single grouping key, a, with values from a small integer range: [1, 10]. In array mode, hash table allocates an array of size 10 and maps grouping key values to an index into an array using a simple formula: index = a - 1.

Initially, the array is filled with nulls: [null, null, … null]. As rows are processed entries get populated.

After adding the first row {1, 10}:

[10, null, null, null, null, null, null, null, null, null]

After adding the second row {7, 12}:

[10, null, null, null, null, null, 12, null, null, null]

After adding the third row {1, 4}:

[14, null, null, null, null, null, 12, null, null, null]

After adding the 4th row {4, 128}

[14, null, null, 128, null, null, 12, null, null, null]

After adding the 5th row {10, -29}:

[14, null, null, null, null, null, 12, null, null, -29]

After adding the last row {7, 3}:

[14, null, null, null, null, null, 15, null, null, -29]

Compared with hash mode, array mode is very efficient as it doesn’t require computing the hash and comparing the incoming grouping keys with hash table entries. Unlike hash mode which can be used for any aggregation, array mode applies only when the values of the grouping keys can be mapped to a relatively small integer range. For example, this is the case when there is a single grouping key of integer type and the difference between minimum and maximum values is relatively small. In this case, the mapping formula is simple: index = value - min.

Array mode also applies when there are two or more grouping keys and the multiple of their value ranges is still small. For example, GROUP BY a, b with “a” values from [10, 50] range and “b” values from [1000, 1050] range allows for array mode with array size equal to 40 * 50 = 200 and mapping formula: index = (a - 10) + (b - 1000) * 40.

Furthermore, array mode applies when the number of unique values for a grouping key is small. In this case, each unique value can be assigned an ordinal number starting from 1 (0 is reserved for null value) and that number can be used as an index into the array.

Array mode also applies to a mix of grouping keys with small value ranges and small number of unique values as long as the product of value range sizes and number of unique values doesn’t exceed maximum value allowed for the array mode.

Array mode supports arrays up to 2M entries.

Array mode trivially applies to grouping keys of type boolean since there are only 3 possible values: null, false, true. These are mapped to 0, 1, 2 respectively.

Grouping keys that are short strings, up to 7 bytes, are mapped to 64-bit integers by padding with leading zeros and placing 1 in the first bit before the string bytes, e.g. 00…01<string bytes>. If the resulting numbers fit in a small range or if there is a small number of unique values, array mode is used. Otherwise, the resulting number could be used in normalized key mode.

The integer values used to represent the grouping key values are referred to as value IDs.

Normalized Key Mode

In normalized key mode, multiple grouping key values are mapped to a single 64-bit integer and the processing continues as in hash mode with a single 64-bit integer grouping key. This mode is less efficient than array mode, but is more efficient than hash mode because hashing and comparing a single 64-bit integer value is faster than hashing and comparing multiple values.


Hash table mode is decided adaptively starting with array mode and switching to normalized key or hash mode if the new values of the grouping keys require that. When switching modes the hash table needs to be re-organized. Once in hash mode, the hash table stays in that mode for the rest of the query processing.

For each grouping key, HashAggregation operator creates an instance of VectorHasher to analyze and accumulate statistics about that key. VectorHasher stores minimum and maximum values of the key. If the range grows too large, VectorHasher switches to tracking the set of unique values. If the number of unique values exceeds 100K, VectorHasher stops tracking these and the hash table switches to normalized key or hash mode.

Array and normalized key modes are supported only for grouping keys of the following types: boolean, tinyint, smallint, integer, bigint, varchar.

Adaptive Disabling of Partial Aggregation

Sometimes partial aggregation encounters mostly unique keys and is not able to meaningfully reduce cardinality of the data. In this case, it is more efficient to skip partial aggregation and proceed to shuffle the data and compute final aggregation. The main savings come from not needing to hash the inputs, build and probe the hash table.

HashAggregation operator includes logic to automatically detect non-productive partial aggregations and disable these. This logic is controlled by two configuration properties:

  • abandon_partial_aggregation_min_pct - Maximum percentage of unique rows to continue partial aggregation. Default: 80%.

  • abandon_partial_aggregation_min_rows - Minimum number of rows to receive before deciding to abandon partial aggregation. Default: 100’000.

After receiving at least abandon_partial_aggregation_min_rows input rows, the operator checks the percentage of input rows that are unique, e.g. compares number of groups with number of input rows. If percentage of unique rows exceeds abandon_partial_aggregation_min_pct, the operator abandons partial aggregation.

It is not possible to simply stop aggregating inputs and pass these as is to shuffle and final aggregation because final aggregation expects data type that is different from raw input type. For example, partial aggregation for avg() may receive INTEGER inputs, but final aggregation for avg() expects input of type ROW(sum DOUBLE, count BIGINT).

HashAggregation operator needs to convert each row of raw input into a single-row intermediate result. For example, for avg() it needs to convert each integer value n into a struct of {n, 1}. It does this by creating “fake” groups (one per input row) and using aggregation function APIs to add each row into its own accumulator, then extract intermediate results. This helps avoid the CPU cost of hashing inputs and building a hash table and also helps reduce memory usage. However, this process still incurs the cost of allocating accumulators, adding values to these and extracting results.

Individual aggregate functions may implement an optional Aggregate::toIntermediate() API that allows HashAggregation operator to efficiently convert raw inputs into intermediate results without using accumulators.

/// Returns true if toIntermediate() is supported.
virtual bool supportsToIntermediate() const {
    return false;

/// Produces an accumulator initialized from a single value for each
/// row in 'rows'. The raw arguments of the aggregate are in 'args',
/// which have the same meaning as in addRawInput. The result is
/// placed in 'result'. 'result' is expected to be a writable flat
/// vector of the right type.
/// @param rows A set of rows to produce intermediate results for. The
/// 'result' is expected to have rows.size() rows. Invalid rows represent rows
/// that were masked out, these need to have correct intermediate results as
/// well. It is possible that all entries in 'rows' are invalid (masked out).
virtual void toIntermediate(
  const SelectivityVector& rows,
  std::vector<VectorPtr>& args,
  VectorPtr& result) const {
    VELOX_NYI("toIntermediate not supported");

Many aggregate functions implement toIntermediate() fast path. Some examples include: min(), max(), array_agg(), set_agg(), map_agg(), map_union().

One can use runtime statistic abandonedPartialAggregation to tell whether partial aggregation was abandoned.