Differences between HBase and Cloud Bigtable

One way to access Cloud Bigtable is to use a customized version of the Apache HBase client for Java. In general, the customized client exposes the same API as a standard installation of HBase. This page describes the differences between the Bigtable HBase client for Java and a standard HBase installation. Many of these difference are related to management tasks that Bigtable handles automatically.

Column families

When you create a column family, you cannot configure the block size or compression method, either with the HBase shell or through the HBase API. Bigtable manages the block size and compression for you.

In addition, if you use the HBase shell to get information about a table, the HBase shell will always report that each column family does not use compression. In reality, Bigtable uses proprietary compression methods for all of your data.

Bigtable requires that column family names follow the regular expression [_a-zA-Z0-9][-_.a-zA-Z0-9]*. If you are importing data into Bigtable HBase, you might need to first change the family names to follow this pattern.

Rows and cells

  • You cannot define an ACL for an individual row.
  • You cannot set the visibility of individual cells.
  • Tags are not supported. You cannot use the class org.apache.hadoop.hbase.Tag to add metadata to individual cells.

Mutations and deletions

  • Append operations in Bigtable are fully atomic for both readers and writers. Readers will never be able to read a partially applied Append operation.
  • Deleting a specific version of a specific column based on its timestamp is supported, but deleting all values with a specific timestamp in a given column family or row is not supported. The following methods in the class org.apache.hadoop.hbase.client.Delete are not supported:
    • new Delete(byte[] row, long timestamp)
    • addColumn(byte[] family, byte[] qualifier)
    • addFamily(byte[] family, long timestamp)
    • addFamilyVersion(byte[] family, long timestamp)
  • In HBase, deletes mask puts, but Bigtable does not mask puts after deletes when put requests are sent after deletion requests. This means that in Bigtable, a write request sent to a cell is not affected by a previously sent delete request to the same cell.

Gets and scans


Coprocessors are not supported. You cannot create classes that implement the interface org.apache.hadoop.hbase.coprocessor.


The following table shows which filters are currently supported. All of these filters are in the package org.apache.hadoop.hbase.filter.

Supported Supported, with limitations Not supported
  1. Supports only a single column family.
  2. Calling setLenAsVal(true) is not supported.
  3. Supports only the BinaryComparator comparator. If any operator other than EQUAL is used, only a single column family is supported.
  4. Supports only the following comparators:
    • BinaryComparator
    • RegexStringComparator with no flags (flags are ignored) and the EQUAL operator
  5. If a PageFilter is in a FilterList, PageFilter will only work similarly to HBase when the FilterList is set to MUST_PASS_ALL, which is the default behavior. If the FilterList is set to MUST_PASS_ONE, Cloud Bigtable will treat the PageFilter as a MUST_PASS_ALL and only return a number of rows corresponding to the PageFilter's pageSize.
  6. PrefixFilter scans for rows in the PrefixFilter in most cases. However, if PrefixFilter is part of a FilterList and has the operator MUST_PASS_ONE, Bigtable cannot determine the implied range and instead performs an unfiltered scan from the start row to the stop row. Use PrefixFilter with BigtableExtendedScan or a combination of filters to optimize performance in this case.
  7. Relies on the Bigtable condition filter, which can be slow. Supported but not recommended.
PrefixFilter 6
ColumnCountGetFilter 1
ColumnPaginationFilter 1
ColumnRangeFilter 1
FirstKeyOnlyFilter 1
KeyOnlyFilter 2
PageFilter 5
QualifierFilter 3
RowFilter 1, 4
SingleColumnValueExcludeFilter 1, 4, 7
SingleColumnValueFilter 4, 7
ValueFilter 4

In addition, the following differences affect Bigtable filters:

  • In filters that use the regular expression comparator (org.apache.hadoop.hbase.filter.RegexStringComparator), regular expressions use RE2 syntax, not Java syntax.
  • Custom filters are not supported. You cannot create classes that inherit from org.apache.hadoop.hbase.filter.Filter.
  • There is a size limit of 20 KB on filter expressions. As a workaround to reduce the size of a filter expression, use a supplementary column that stores the hash value of the filter criteria.


Bigtable stores timestamps in microseconds, while HBase stores timestamps in milliseconds. This distinction has implications when you use the HBase client library for Bigtable and you have data with reversed timestamps.

The client library converts between microseconds and milliseconds, but because that the largest HBase timestamp that Bigtable can store is Long.MAX_VALUE/1000, any value larger than that is converted to Long.MAX_VALUE/1000. As a result, large reversed timestamp values might not convert correctly.


This section describes methods in the interface org.apache.hadoop.hbase.client.Admin that are not available on Bigtable, or that behave differently on Bigtable than on HBase. These lists are not exhaustive, and they might not reflect the most recently added HBase API methods.

Most of these methods are unnecessary on Bigtable, because management tasks are handled automatically. A few methods are not available because they relate to features that Bigtable does not support.

General maintenance tasks

Bigtable handles most maintenance tasks automatically. As a result, the following methods are not available:

  • abort(String why, Throwable e)
  • balancer()
  • enableCatalogJanitor(boolean enable)
  • getMasterInfoPort()
  • getOperationTimeout()
  • isCatalogJanitorEnabled()
  • rollWALWriter(ServerName serverName)
  • runCatalogScan()
  • setBalancerRunning(boolean on, boolean synchronous)
  • shutdown()
  • stopMaster()
  • updateConfiguration()
  • updateConfiguration(ServerName serverName)

Locality groups

Bigtable does not allow you to specify locality groups for column families. As a result, you cannot call HBase methods that return a locality group.


Bigtable does not use namespaces. You can use row key prefixes to simulate namespaces. The following methods are not available:

  • createNamespace(NamespaceDescriptor descriptor)
  • deleteNamespace(String name)
  • getNamespaceDescriptor(String name)
  • listNamespaceDescriptors()
  • listTableDescriptorsByNamespace(String name)
  • listTableNamesByNamespace(String name)
  • modifyNamespace(NamespaceDescriptor descriptor)

Region management

Bigtable uses tablets, which are similar to regions. Bigtable manages your tablets automatically. As a result, the following methods are not available:

  • assign(byte[] regionName)
  • closeRegion(byte[] regionname, String serverName)
  • closeRegion(ServerName sn, HRegionInfo hri)
  • closeRegion(String regionname, String serverName)
  • closeRegionWithEncodedRegionName(String encodedRegionName, String serverName)
  • compactRegion(byte[] regionName)
  • compactRegion(byte[] regionName, byte[] columnFamily)
  • compactRegionServer(ServerName sn, boolean major)
  • flushRegion(byte[] regionName)
  • getAlterStatus(byte[] tableName)
  • getAlterStatus(TableName tableName)
  • getCompactionStateForRegion(byte[] regionName)
  • getOnlineRegions(ServerName sn)
  • majorCompactRegion(byte[] regionName)
  • majorCompactRegion(byte[] regionName, byte[] columnFamily)
  • mergeRegions(byte[] encodedNameOfRegionA, byte[] encodedNameOfRegionB, boolean forcible)
  • move(byte[] encodedRegionName, byte[] destServerName)
  • offline(byte[] regionName)
  • splitRegion(byte[] regionName)
  • splitRegion(byte[] regionName, byte[] splitPoint)
  • stopRegionServer(String hostnamePort)
  • unassign(byte[] regionName, boolean force)


The following methods are not available.

  • deleteSnapshots(Pattern pattern)
  • deleteSnapshots(String regex)
  • isSnapshotFinished(HBaseProtos.SnapshotDescription snapshot)
  • restoreSnapshot(byte[] snapshotName)
  • restoreSnapshot(String snapshotName)
  • restoreSnapshot(byte[] snapshotName, boolean takeFailSafeSnapshot)
  • restoreSnapshot(String snapshotName, boolean takeFailSafeSnapshot)
  • snapshot(HBaseProtos.SnapshotDescription snapshot)

Table management

Tasks such as table compaction are handled automatically. As a result, the following methods are not available:

  • compact(TableName tableName)
  • compact(TableName tableName, byte[] columnFamily)
  • flush(TableName tableName)
  • getCompactionState(TableName tableName)
  • majorCompact(TableName tableName)
  • majorCompact(TableName tableName, byte[] columnFamily)
  • modifyTable(TableName tableName, HTableDescriptor htd)
  • split(TableName tableName)
  • split(TableName tableName, byte[] splitPoint)


Bigtable does not support coprocessors. As a result, the following methods are not available:

  • coprocessorService()
  • coprocessorService(ServerName serverName)
  • getMasterCoprocessors()

Distributed procedures

Bigtable does not support distributed procedures. As a result, the following methods are not available:

  • execProcedure(String signature, String instance, Map<String, String> props)
  • execProcedureWithRet(String signature, String instance, Map<String, String> props)
  • isProcedureFinished(String signature, String instance, Map<String, String> props)