Reading data from HDFS programatically using java (and scala)

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If you use HDFS, at some point you will need to interact with it programatically. Files can be in several formats, and stored using a spectrum of compression codecs.

Thankfully the HDFS api’s allow you to interact with files fairly easily with only a little boiler plate.

Text Files

In bash you can read any text-format file in hdfs (compressed or not), using the following command:

hadoop fs -text /path/to/your/file.gz

In java or scala you can read a file, or directory of files (taking compression into account) using the function below.

public List<String> readLines(Path location, Configuration conf) throws Exception {
    FileSystem fileSystem = FileSystem.get(location.toUri(), conf);
    CompressionCodecFactory factory = new CompressionCodecFactory(conf);
    FileStatus[] items = fileSystem.listStatus(location);
    if (items == null) return new ArrayList<String>();
    List<String> results = new ArrayList<String>();
    for(FileStatus item: items) {

      // ignoring files like _SUCCESS
      if(item.getPath().getName().startsWith("_")) {

      CompressionCodec codec = factory.getCodec(item.getPath());
      InputStream stream = null;

      // check if we have a compression codec we need to use
      if (codec != null) {
        stream = codec.createInputStream(;
      else {
        stream =;

      StringWriter writer = new StringWriter();
      IOUtils.copy(stream, writer, "UTF-8");
      String raw = writer.toString();
      String[] resulting = raw.split("\n");
      for(String str: raw.split("\n")) {
    return results;

// example usage:
Path myfile = new Path("/path/to/results.txt");
List<String> results = readLines(myfile, new Configuration());

In fact, this code is taken from my Hadoop test helper library, so I know it works. :-)

Sequence Files

Sequence files are harder to read as you have to read in key/value pairs. Here is a simple function, again taken straight from my Hadoop test helper library.

  public <A extends Writable, B extends Writable> List<Tuple<A, B>> readSequenceFile(Path path, Configuration conf, Class<A> acls, Class<B> bcls) throws Exception {
    SequenceFile.Reader reader = new SequenceFile.Reader(conf, SequenceFile.Reader.file(path));
    long position = reader.getPosition();

    A key = acls.newInstance();
    B value = bcls.newInstance();

    List<Tuple<A, B>> results = new ArrayList<Tuple<A,B>>();
    while(,value)) {
      results.add(new Tuple(key, value));
      key = acls.newInstance();
      value = bcls.newInstance();
    return results;

// example usage
List<Tuple<LongWritable, Text>> results = readSequenceFile(new Path("/a/b/c"), new Configuration(), LongWritable.class, Text.class);
Matthew Rathbone's Picture

Matthew Rathbone

CEO of Beekeeper Data. British. Data Nerd. Lucky husband and father. More about me

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