Converting strings to numbers in ClickHouse

We have to deal with strings a lot since a lot of source data is stored in text formats. Can we just create tables with all String columns and never mind all the conversion stuff? Yes, but we’ll experience poor query performance since conversion will still happen, but at a query time. Not saying, that strings take more disk space than special types, like numbers or dates. Thankfully we have a set of handy functions in ClickHouse to easily convert from strings to target types.

Converting to integers

To convert strings (or other appropriate types) to integers we can use the toInt32() function:

SELECT toInt32('1231231')
│            1231231 │

Since we convert to an Int32 type, negative numbers will also be treated the right way:

SELECT toInt32('-18')
│            -18 │

Note, that we can use 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, and 256 bit conversions depending on the expected size of resulting value:

SELECT toInt8('4')
│           4 │

Unsigned integers

If we expect the converted value to be an unsigned integer, we can use the unsigned version of the conversion function:

SELECT toUInt32('4234')
│             4234 │

Unsigned functions also have the same 8256 bit versions.

Converting to floats

Similarly, we can use toFloat32 or toFloat64 to convert given values to floating point values (either 32-bit or 64-bit):

SELECT toFloat32('1.123'), toFloat32('-1.7')
│              1.123 │              -1.7 │

In case we want to convert to decimals, there’s toDecimal32 function (with 64, 128, and 256 versions):

SELECT toDecimal32('97689.43243', 2)
┌─toDecimal32('97689.43243', 2)─┐
│                      97689.43 │

Handling invalid values

If we try to convert from strings with invalid numbers, ClickHouse will react with an exception:

SELECT toInt32('3e2')
DB::Exception: Cannot parse string '3e2' as Int32: syntax error at position 1 (parsed just '3').

For these cases ClickHouse arms us with special versions of converting functions. If we want ClickHouse to return null on errors, we simply add the OrNull suffix to the function name. Similarly, ClickHouse returns 0 if we add OrZero to the function name:

SELECT toInt32OrNull('3e2'), toInt32OrZero('a'), toFloat32OrZero('---');
│                 ᴺᵁᴸᴸ │                  0 │                      0 │

Using custom values on errors

We can also ask ClickHouse to return a specific default value instead of just null or 0. In that case, we add the OrDefault suffix to conversion function names:

SELECT toFloat32OrDefault('s3', toFloat32(2.0)), toInt32OrDefault('3e2', toInt32(5));
┌─toFloat32OrDefault('s3', toFloat32(2.))─┬─toInt32OrDefault('3e2', toInt32(5))─┐
│                                       2 │                                   5 │

Further reading

Published half a year ago in #data about #clickhouse by Denys Golotiuk

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Denys Golotiuk in 2023

I'm a database architect, focused on OLAP databases for storing & processing large amounts of data in an efficient manner. Let me know if you have questions or need help.

Contact me via or mrcrypster @ github