PySpark MapType Usage with Examples

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One valuable feature of PySpark is its capacity to work with complex data types, such as MapType, which parallels Python’s dictionary (or dict). This article provides a comprehensive guide to PySpark’s MapType, with practical examples demonstrating its use.

What is MapType?

MapType is a key-value pair type column in PySpark. It parallels Python’s dictionary data structure. MapType is particularly useful for handling structured text data or attributes, as it allows you to store data with a varying number of properties.

Here’s the basic definition of a MapType:

from pyspark.sql.types import MapType, StringType, IntegerType

# Define a MapType column with keys and values as strings
map_string_type = MapType(StringType(), StringType())

# Define a MapType column with string keys and integer values
map_int_type = MapType(StringType(), IntegerType())

In these examples, StringType() and IntegerType() are used to define the data types of the keys and values in the MapType, respectively.

Usage of MapType with Examples

To further illustrate the usage of MapType, let’s create a DataFrame with a MapType column. Consider the following dataset of employees, where the ‘attributes’ column is a MapType representing additional information about each employee:

from pyspark.sql import SparkSession
from pyspark.sql.functions import lit
from pyspark.sql.types import StructType, StructField

# Initialize SparkSession
spark = SparkSession.builder.appName('mapTypeExample').getOrCreate()

# Define the schema for our DataFrame
schema = StructType([
    StructField('name', StringType(), True),
    StructField('age', IntegerType(), True),
    StructField('attributes', map_string_type, True)

# Create data and DataFrame
data = [("James", 30, {"hair": "black", "height": "5.6ft"}),
        ("Maria", 40, {"eyes": "blue", "complexion": "fair"})]
df = spark.createDataFrame(data, schema)

This will produce the following output:

|name |age|attributes                        |
|James|30 |[hair -> black, height -> 5.6ft]  |
|Maria|40 |[eyes -> blue, complexion -> fair]|

Now that we have a DataFrame with a MapType column, we can use PySpark’s built-in functions to manipulate this data. For example, we can use the getItem() function to fetch the value of a specific attribute:

from pyspark.sql.functions import col"name"), col("age"), col("attributes").getItem("hair").alias("hair")).show()

The above code will yield:

|name |age|hair |
|James|30 |black|
|Maria|40 |null |

Notice how getItem("hair") retrieves the ‘hair’ attribute for each row in the ‘attributes’ column. If a row doesn’t have the specified attribute (as is the case for ‘Maria’), a null value is returned.

When to Use MapType

MapType is an efficient way to handle structured text data or attributes that can have varying numbers of properties. Some use-cases might include:

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): MapType can be useful for storing word frequency counts or other text attributes.
  • Graph Networks: MapType can hold attributes for nodes or edges in a graph.
  • Semi-structured Data: MapType can handle data from JSON or XML documents, which might have varying attributes for different entries.


The MapType function in PySpark allows users to create and manipulate key-value pair data within a DataFrame, much like using dictionaries in Python. This offers a versatile tool for dealing with complex data types in a distributed data processing context. With the information and examples provided in this article, you should be well-equipped to employ MapType in your PySpark applications effectively.

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