Handle duplicate data in Azure Data Explorer

Devices sending data to the cloud maintain a local cache of the data. Depending on the data size, the local cache could be storing data for days or even months. You want to safeguard your analytical databases from malfunctioning devices that resend the cached data and cause data duplication in the analytical database. Duplicates can affect the number of records returned by a query. This is relevant when you need a precise count of records, such as counting events. This topic outlines best practices for handling duplicate data for these types of scenarios.

The best solution for data duplication is preventing the duplication. If possible, fix the issue earlier in the data pipeline, which saves costs associated with data movement along the data pipeline and avoids spending resources on coping with duplicate data ingested into the system. However, in situations where the source system can't be modified, there are various ways to deal with this scenario.

Understand the impact of duplicate data

Monitor the percentage of duplicate data. Once the percentage of duplicate data is discovered, you can analyze the scope of the issue and business impact and choose the appropriate solution.

Sample query to identify the percentage of duplicate records:

let _sample = 0.01; // 1% sampling
let _data =
| where EventDateTime between (datetime('10-01-2018 10:00') .. datetime('10-10-2018 10:00'));
let _totalRecords = toscalar(_data | count);
| where rand()<= _sample
| summarize recordsCount=count() by hash(DeviceId) + hash(EventId) + hash(StationId)  // Use all dimensions that make row unique. Combining hashes can be improved
| summarize duplicateRecords=countif(recordsCount  > 1)
| extend duplicate_percentage = (duplicateRecords / _sample) / _totalRecords  

Solutions for handling duplicate data

Solution #1: Don't remove duplicate data

Understand your business requirements and tolerance of duplicate data. Some datasets can manage with a certain percentage of duplicate data. If the duplicated data doesn't have major impact, you can ignore its presence. The advantage of not removing the duplicate data is no additional overhead on the ingestion process or query performance.

Solution #2: Handle duplicate rows during query

Another option is to filter out the duplicate rows in the data during query. The arg_max() aggregated function can be used to filter out the duplicate records and return the last record based on the timestamp (or another column). The advantage of using this method is faster ingestion since de-duplication occurs during query time. In addition, all records (including duplicates) are available for auditing and troubleshooting. The disadvantage of using the arg_max function is the additional query time and load on the CPU every time the data is queried. Depending on the amount of the data being queried, this solution may become non-functional or memory-consuming and will require switching to other options.

In the following example, we query the last record ingested for a set of columns that determine the unique records:

| where EventDateTime > ago(90d)
| summarize hint.strategy=shuffle arg_max(EventDateTime, *) by DeviceId, EventId, StationId

This query can also be placed inside a function instead of directly querying the table:

.create function DeviceEventsView
    | where EventDateTime > ago(90d)
    | summarize arg_max(EventDateTime, *) by DeviceId, EventId, StationId

Solution #3: Use materialized views to deduplicate

Materialized views can be used for deduplication, by using the take_any()/arg_min()/arg_max() aggregation functions (see example #4 in materialized view create command).


Materialized views come with a cost of consuming cluster's resources, which may not be negligible. For more information, see materialized views performance considerations.

Solution #4: Use soft delete to remove duplicates

Soft delete supports the ability to delete individual records, and can therefore be used to delete duplicates. This option is recommended only for infrequent deletes, and not if you constantly need to deduplicate all incoming records.

Choose between materialized views and soft delete for data deduplication

There are several considerations that can help you choose between using materialized views or soft delete for deduplication:

  • Management and orchestration: Materialized views are a fully managed solution. A view is defined once and the system handles the deduplication of all incoming records. Soft delete requires orchestration and management. Therefore, if materialized views work for your use case, you should always choose this option.
  • When are records deduped: With soft delete, duplicate records are first added to a table and are then deleted; hence, between the ingestion and soft delete processes, the table contains duplicates. With materialized views, records in view will always be deduped, as they are deduped before entering the view.
  • Frequency: If a table needs to be constantly deduplicated, use materialized views. If you anticipate that duplicates will be infrequent and you are able to identify them during ingestion, the soft delete process usually performs better than materialized views. For example, if you have a situation where your ingestions don't normally have duplicates, but occasionally you ingest a stream that is known to contain duplicates. In this scenario, it's better to handle these duplicates using soft delete than to define a materialized view that will constantly attempt to deduplicate all records.

Solution #5: ingest-by extent tags

'ingest-by:' extent tags can be used to prevent duplicates during ingestion. This is relevant only in use cases where each ingestion batch is guaranteed to have no duplicates, and duplicates are only expected if the same ingestion batch is ingested more than once.


Data duplication can be handled in multiple ways. Evaluate the options carefully, taking into account price and performance, to determine the correct method for your business.