Use external tables with Synapse SQL

An external table points to data located in Hadoop, Azure Storage blob, or Azure Data Lake Storage. External tables are used to read data from files or write data to files in Azure Storage. With Synapse SQL, you can use external tables to read external data using dedicated SQL pool or serverless SQL pool.

Depending on the type of the external data source, you can use two types of external tables:

  • Hadoop external tables that you can use to read and export data in various data formats such as CSV, Parquet, and ORC. Hadoop external tables are available in dedicated SQL pools, but they aren't available in serverless SQL pools.
  • Native external tables that you can use to read and export data in various data formats such as CSV and Parquet. Native external tables are available in serverless SQL pools, and they are in public preview in dedicated SQL pools. Writing/exporting data using CETAS and the native external tables is available only in the serverless SQL pool, but not in the dedicated SQL pools.

The key differences between Hadoop and native external tables are presented in the following table:

External table type Hadoop Native
Dedicated SQL pool Available Only Parquet tables are available in public preview.
Serverless SQL pool Not available Available
Supported formats Delimited/CSV, Parquet, ORC, Hive RC, and RC Serverless SQL pool: Delimited/CSV, Parquet, and Delta Lake
Dedicated SQL pool: Parquet (preview)
Folder partition elimination No Partition elimination is available only in the partitioned tables created on Parquet or CSV formats that are synchronized from Apache Spark pools. You might create external tables on Parquet partitioned folders, but the partitioning columns will be inaccessible and ignored, while the partition elimination will not be applied. Do not create external tables on Delta Lake folders because they are not supported. Use Delta partitioned views if you need to query partitioned Delta Lake data.
File elimination (predicate pushdown) No Yes in serverless SQL pool. For the string pushdown, you need to use Latin1_General_100_BIN2_UTF8 collation on the VARCHAR columns to enable pushdown.
Custom format for location No Yes, using wildcards like /year=*/month=*/day=* for Parquet or CSV formats. Custom folder paths are not available in Delta Lake. In the serverless SQL pool you can also use recursive wildcards /logs/** to reference Parquet or CSV files in any sub-folder beneath the referenced folder.
Recursive folder scan Yes Yes. In serverless SQL pools must be specified /** at the end of the location path. In Dedicated pool the folders are always scanned recursively.
Storage authentication Storage Access Key(SAK), AAD passthrough, Managed identity, Custom application Azure AD identity Shared Access Signature(SAS), AAD passthrough, Managed identity, Custom application Azure AD identity.
Column mapping Ordinal - the columns in the external table definition are mapped to the columns in the underlying Parquet files by position. Serverless pool: by name. The columns in the external table definition are mapped to the columns in the underlying Parquet files by column name matching.
Dedicated pool: ordinal matching. The columns in the external table definition are mapped to the columns in the underlying Parquet files by position.
CETAS (exporting/transformation) Yes CETAS with the native tables as a target works only in the serverless SQL pool. You cannot use the dedicated SQL pools to export data using native tables.


The native external tables are the recommended solution in the pools where they are generally available. If you need to access external data, always use the native tables in serverless pools. In dedicated pools, you should switch to the native tables for reading Parquet files once they are in GA. Use the Hadoop tables only if you need to access some types that are not supported in native external tables (for example - ORC, RC), or if the native version is not available.

External tables in dedicated SQL pool and serverless SQL pool

You can use external tables to:

  • Query Azure Blob Storage and Azure Data Lake Gen2 with Transact-SQL statements.
  • Store query results to files in Azure Blob Storage or Azure Data Lake Storage using CETAS.
  • Import data from Azure Blob Storage and Azure Data Lake Storage and store it in a dedicated SQL pool (only Hadoop tables in dedicated pool).


When used in conjunction with the CREATE TABLE AS SELECT statement, selecting from an external table imports data into a table within the dedicated SQL pool.

If performance of Hadoop external tables in the dedicated pools do not satisfy your performance goals, consider loading external data into the Datawarehouse tables using the COPY statement.

For a loading tutorial, see Use PolyBase to load data from Azure Blob Storage.

You can create external tables in Synapse SQL pools via the following steps:

  1. CREATE EXTERNAL DATA SOURCE to reference an external Azure storage and specify the credential that should be used to access the storage.
  2. CREATE EXTERNAL FILE FORMAT to describe format of CSV or Parquet files.
  3. CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE on top of the files placed on the data source with the same file format.

Folder partition elimination

The native external tables in Synapse pools are able to ignore the files placed in the folders that are not relevant for the queries. If your files are stored in a folder hierarchy (for example - /year=2020/month=03/day=16) and the values for year, month, and day are exposed as the columns, the queries that contain filters like year=2020 will read the files only from the subfolders placed within the year=2020 folder. The files and folders placed in other folders (year=2021 or year=2022) will be ignored in this query. This elimination is known as partition elimination.

The folder partition elimination is available in the native external tables that are synchronized from the Synapse Spark pools. If you have partitioned data set and you would like to leverage the partition elimination with the external tables that you create, use the partitioned views instead of the external tables.

File elimination

Some data formats such as Parquet and Delta contain file statistics for each column (for example, min/max values for each column). The queries that filter data will not read the files where the required column values do not exist. The query will first explore min/max values for the columns used in the query predicate to find the files that do not contain the required data. These files will be ignored and eliminated from the query plan. This technique is also known as filter predicate pushdown and it can improve the performance of your queries. Filter pushdown is available in the serverless SQL pools on Parquet and Delta formats. To leverage filter pushdown for the string types, use the VARCHAR type with the Latin1_General_100_BIN2_UTF8 collation.


User must have SELECT permission on an external table to read the data. External tables access underlying Azure storage using the database scoped credential defined in data source using the following rules:

  • Data source without credential enables external tables to access publicly available files on Azure storage.
  • Data source can have a credential that enables external tables to access only the files on Azure storage using SAS token or workspace Managed Identity - For examples, see the Develop storage files storage access control article.


External data sources are used to connect to storage accounts. The complete documentation is outlined here.


External data sources with TYPE=HADOOP are available only in dedicated SQL pools.

(    LOCATION         = '<prefix>://<path>'
     [, CREDENTIAL = <database scoped credential> ]
     , TYPE = HADOOP



Specifies the user-defined name for the data source. The name must be unique within the database.


LOCATION = '<prefix>://<path>' - Provides the connectivity protocol and path to the external data source. The following patterns can be used in location:

External Data Source Location prefix Location path
Azure Blob Storage wasb[s] <container>@<storage_account>
Azure Blob Storage http[s] <storage_account><container>/subfolders
Azure Data Lake Store Gen 1 http[s] <storage_account>
Azure Data Lake Store Gen 2 http[s] <storage_account><container>/subfolders

https: prefix enables you to use subfolder in the path.


CREDENTIAL = <database scoped credential> is optional credential that will be used to authenticate on Azure storage. External data source without credential can access public storage account or use the caller's Azure AD identity to access files on storage.

  • In dedicated SQL pool, database scoped credential can specify custom application identity, workspace Managed Identity, or SAK key.
  • In serverless SQL pool, database scoped credential can specify workspace Managed Identity, or SAS key.


TYPE = HADOOP is the option that specifies that Java-based technology should be used to access underlying files. This parameter can't be used in serverless SQL pool that uses built-in native reader.


The following example creates a Hadoop external data source in dedicated SQL pool for Azure Data Lake Gen2 pointing to the New York data set:

SECRET = 'sv=2018-03-28&ss=bf&srt=sco&sp=rl&st=2019-10-14T12%3A10%3A25Z&se=2061-12-31T12%3A10%3A00Z&sig=KlSU2ullCscyTS0An0nozEpo4tO5JAgGBvw%2FJX2lguw%3D'

  -- Please note the abfss endpoint when your account has secure transfer enabled
  ( LOCATION = 'abfss://' ,
    CREDENTIAL = ADLS_credential ,
  ) ;

The following example creates an external data source for Azure Data Lake Gen2 pointing to the publicly available New York data set:

       TYPE = HADOOP)


Creates an external file format object that defines external data stored in Azure Blob Storage or Azure Data Lake Storage. Creating an external file format is a prerequisite for creating an external table. The complete documentation is here.

By creating an external file format, you specify the actual layout of the data referenced by an external table.


-- Create an external file format for PARQUET files.  
WITH (  
    [ , DATA_COMPRESSION = {  
      | ''      }  

--Create an external file format for DELIMITED TEXT files
WITH (  
    [ , DATA_COMPRESSION = '' ]
    [ , FORMAT_OPTIONS ( <format_options> [ ,...n  ] ) ]  

<format_options> ::=  
    FIELD_TERMINATOR = field_terminator  
    | STRING_DELIMITER = string_delimiter
    | FIRST_ROW = integer
    | ENCODING = {'UTF8' | 'UTF16'}
    | PARSER_VERSION = {'parser_version'}


file_format_name- Specifies a name for the external file format.

FORMAT_TYPE = [ PARQUET | DELIMITEDTEXT]- Specifies the format of the external data.

  • PARQUET - Specifies a Parquet format.
  • DELIMITEDTEXT - Specifies a text format with column delimiters, also called field terminators.

FIELD_TERMINATOR = field_terminator - Applies only to delimited text files. The field terminator specifies one or more characters that mark the end of each field (column) in the text-delimited file. The default is the pipe character (ꞌ|ꞌ).



STRING_DELIMITER = string_delimiter - Specifies the field terminator for data of type string in the text-delimited file. The string delimiter is one or more characters in length and is enclosed with single quotes. The default is the empty string ("").



FIRST_ROW = First_row_int - Specifies the row number that is read first and applies to all files. Setting the value to two causes the first row in every file (header row) to be skipped when the data is loaded. Rows are skipped based on the existence of row terminators (/r/n, /r, /n).

USE_TYPE_DEFAULT = { TRUE | FALSE } - Specifies how to handle missing values in delimited text files when retrieving data from the text file.


Please note that USE_TYPE_DEFAULT=true is not supported for FORMAT_TYPE = DELIMITEDTEXT, PARSER_VERSION = '2.0'.

TRUE - If you're retrieving data from the text file, store each missing value by using the default value's data type for the corresponding column in the external table definition. For example, replace a missing value with:

  • 0 if the column is defined as a numeric column. Decimal columns aren't supported and will cause an error.
  • Empty string ("") if the column is a string column.
  • 1900-01-01 if the column is a date column.

FALSE - Store all missing values as NULL. Any NULL values that are stored by using the word NULL in the delimited text file are imported as the string 'NULL'.

Encoding = {'UTF8' | 'UTF16'} - Serverless SQL pool can read UTF8 and UTF16 encoded delimited text files.

DATA_COMPRESSION = data_compression_method - This argument specifies the data compression method for the external data.

The PARQUET file format type supports the following compression methods:


When reading from PARQUET external tables, this argument is ignored, but is used when writing to external tables using CETAS.

The DELIMITEDTEXT file format type supports the following compression method:


PARSER_VERSION = 'parser_version' Specifies parser version to be used when reading CSV files. The available parser versions are 1.0 and 2.0. This option is available only in serverless SQL pools.


The following example creates an external file format for census files:



The CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE command creates an external table for Synapse SQL to access data stored in Azure Blob Storage or Azure Data Lake Storage.


CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE { database_name.schema_name.table_name | schema_name.table_name | table_name }
    ( <column_definition> [ ,...n ] )  
    WITH (
        LOCATION = 'folder_or_filepath',  
        DATA_SOURCE = external_data_source_name,  
        FILE_FORMAT = external_file_format_name
        [, <reject_options> [ ,...n ] ] 

<column_definition> ::=
column_name <data_type>
    [ COLLATE collation_name ]

<reject_options> ::=  
    | REJECT_TYPE = value,  
    | REJECT_VALUE = reject_value,  
    | REJECT_SAMPLE_VALUE = reject_sample_value,


{ database_name.schema_name.table_name | schema_name.table_name | table_name }

The one to three-part name of the table to create. For an external table, Synapse SQL pool stores only the table metadata. No actual data is moved or stored in Synapse SQL database.

<column_definition>, ...n ]

CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE supports the ability to configure column name, data type, and collation. You can't use the DEFAULT CONSTRAINT on external tables.


The column definitions, including the data types and number of columns, must match the data in the external files. If there's a mismatch, the file rows will be rejected when querying the actual data. See reject options to control rejected rows behavior.

When reading from Parquet files, you can specify only the columns you want to read and skip the rest.

LOCATION = 'folder_or_filepath'

Specifies the folder or the file path and file name for the actual data in Azure Blob Storage. The location starts from the root folder. The root folder is the data location specified in the external data source.

Recursive data for external tables

Unlike Hadoop external tables, native external tables don't return subfolders unless you specify /** at the end of path. In this example, if LOCATION='/webdata/', a serverless SQL pool query, will return rows from mydata.txt. It won't return mydata2.txt and mydata3.txt because they're located in a subfolder. Hadoop tables will return all files within any sub-folder.

Both Hadoop and native external tables will skip the files with the names that begin with an underline (_) or a period (.).

DATA_SOURCE = external_data_source_name

Specifies the name of the external data source that contains the location of the external data. To create an external data source, use CREATE EXTERNAL DATA SOURCE.

FILE_FORMAT = external_file_format_name

Specifies the name of the external file format object that stores the file type and compression method for the external data. To create an external file format, use CREATE EXTERNAL FILE FORMAT.

Reject Options


Rejected rows feature is in Public Preview. Please note that rejected rows feature works for delimited text files and PARSER_VERSION 1.0.

You can specify reject parameters that determine how service will handle dirty records it retrieves from the external data source. A data record is considered 'dirty' if actual data types don't match the column definitions of the external table.

When you don't specify or change reject options, service uses default values. This information about the reject parameters is stored as additional metadata when you create an external table with CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE statement. When a future SELECT statement or SELECT INTO SELECT statement selects data from the external table, service will use the reject options to determine the number of rows that can be rejected before the actual query fails. The query will return (partial) results until the reject threshold is exceeded. It then fails with the appropriate error message.


This is the only supported value at the moment. Clarifies that the REJECT_VALUE option is specified as a literal value.


REJECT_VALUE is a literal value. The query will fail when the number of rejected rows exceeds reject_value.

For example, if REJECT_VALUE = 5 and REJECT_TYPE = value, the SELECT query will fail after five rows have been rejected.

REJECT_VALUE = reject_value

Specifies the number of rows that can be rejected before the query fails.

For REJECT_TYPE = value, reject_value must be an integer between 0 and 2,147,483,647.

REJECTED_ROW_LOCATION = Directory Location

Specifies the directory within the External Data Source that the rejected rows and the corresponding error file should be written. If the specified path doesn't exist, service will create one on your behalf. A child directory is created with the name "rejectedrows". The "" character ensures that the directory is escaped for other data processing unless explicitly named in the location parameter. Within this directory, there's a folder created based on the time of load submission in the format YearMonthDay_HourMinuteSecond_StatementID (Ex. 20180330-173205-559EE7D2-196D-400A-806D-3BF5D007F891). You can use statement id to correlate folder with query that generated it. In this folder, two files are written: error.json file and the data file.

error.json file contains json array with encountered errors related to rejected rows. Each element representing error contains following attributes:

Attribute Description
Error Reason why row is rejected.
Row Rejected row ordinal number in file.
Column Rejected column ordinal number.
Value Rejected column value. If the value is larger than 100 characters, only the first 100 characters will be displayed.
File Path to file that row belongs to.


TABLE_OPTIONS = json options - Specifies the set of options that describe how to read the underlying files. Currently, the only option that is available is "READ_OPTIONS":["ALLOW_INCONSISTENT_READS"] that instructs the external table to ignore the updates that are made on the underlying files, even if this might cause some inconsistent read operations. Use this option only in special cases where you have frequently appended files. This option is available in serverless SQL pool for CSV format.


To select from an external table, you need proper credentials with list and read permissions.


The following example creates an external table. It returns the first row:

CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE census_external_table
    decennialTime varchar(20),
    stateName varchar(100),
    countyName varchar(100),
    population int,
    race varchar(50),
    sex    varchar(10),
    minAge int,
    maxAge int
    LOCATION = '/parquet/',
    DATA_SOURCE = population_ds,  
    FILE_FORMAT = census_file_format

SELECT TOP 1 * FROM census_external_table

Create and query external tables from a file in Azure Data Lake

Using Data Lake exploration capabilities of Synapse Studio you can now create and query an external table using Synapse SQL pool with a simple right-click on the file. The one-click gesture to create external tables from the ADLS Gen2 storage account is only supported for Parquet files.


  • You must have access to the workspace with at least the Storage Blob Data Contributor access role to the ADLS Gen2 Account or Access Control Lists (ACL) that enable you to query the files.

  • You must have at least permissions to create and query external tables on the Synapse SQL pool (dedicated or serverless).

From the Data panel, select the file that you would like to create the external table from:


A dialog window will open. Select dedicated SQL pool or serverless SQL pool, give a name to the table and select open script:


The SQL Script is autogenerated inferring the schema from the file:


Run the script. The script will automatically run a Select Top 100 *.:


The external table is now created, for future exploration of the content of this external table the user can query it directly from the Data pane:


Next steps

See the CETAS article for how to save query results to an external table in Azure Storage. Or you can start querying Apache Spark for Azure Synapse external tables.