QuestDB introduces a data type called symbol; a data structure used to store repetitive strings. Internally, symbol types are stored as a table of integers and their corresponding string values.

This page presents the concept, optional setting, and their indication for symbol types.

Advantages of symbol types

  • Greatly improved query performance as string operations compare and write int types instead of varchar.
  • Greatly improved storage efficiency as int maps to varchar types.
  • Unobtrusive to the user because SQL execution has the same result as handling string values.
  • Reduced complexity of database schemas by removing the need for explicit additional tables or joins.


  • Symbol tables are stored separately from column data.
  • Fast conversion from varchar to int and vice-versa when reading or writing data.
  • Columns defined as symbol types support indexing.
  • By default, QuestDB caches symbol types in memory for improved query speed and InfluxDB Line Protocol ingestion speed. The setting is configurable.

Usage of symbols

Symbol columns

Columns can be specified as SYMBOL using CREATE TABLE, similar to other types:

Create table with a SYMBOL type

The following additional symbol settings are defined, either globally as part of the server configuration or locally when a table is created:

  • Symbol capacity: Optional setting used to indicate how many distinct values this column is expected to have. Based on the value used, the data structures will resize themselves when necessary, to allow QuestDB to function correctly. Underestimating the symbol value count may result in drop of performance whereas over-estimating may result in higher disk space and memory consumption. Symbol capacity is also used to set the initial symbol cache size when the cache is enabled.

    • Server-wide setting: cairo.default.symbol.capacity with a default of 256
    • Column-wide setting: The CAPACITY option for CREATE TABLE
  • Cache: Optional setting specifying whether a symbol should be cached. When a symbol column is cached, QuestDB will use a Java heap-based hash table to resolve symbol values and keys. When a column has a large number of distinct symbol values (over 100,000, for example), the heap impact might be significant and may cause OutOfMemory errors, depending on the heap size. Not caching leverages a memory-mapped structure which can deal with larger value counts but is slower.

    • Server-wide setting: cairo.default.symbol.cache.flag with a default of true
    • Column-wide setting when a table is created: The CACHE | NOCACHE keyword for CREATE TABLE

Symbols for column indexing

Symbols may also be indexed for faster query execution. See Index for more information.