How to use Regex to feed text data to ClickHouse

Text data formats like CSV or JSON are cool. But in practice, text data files can be poorly formatted, broken, or just strangely structured (or as people say, unstructured) pieces of text.

ClickHouse supports ingesting data with Regexp data format, which allows specifying regular expression with capture groups. Then ClickHouse will map captured matches to the columns of the target table by index (first capture goes to the first column and so on):

ClickHouse maps regex captures to target columns

Suppose we need to ingest data to the ClickHouse table from the following hits.txt file:

Name: John - Views: 12
Name: News - Views: 4325 - Latest: 2022-12-12
Name: Modern Sports - Views: 5436 - Latest: 2023-01-01

In order to use the Regexp format we have to specify the format_regexp option with the regular expression itself:

clickhouse-client -q "INSERT INTO hits SETTINGS format_regexp = 'Name: (.+?) - Views: ([^ ]+).*' FORMAT Regexp" < hits.txt

ClickHouse will apply the given regular expression to each line in the source text file. Now let’s see how our target table was populated:

select * from hits format PrettySpace
 name            views

 John                1 
 News                4 
 Modern Sports       5 

Note, that given regular must match an entire line from a file, even if you plan to capture only a part of it. Also, as of version ClickHouse won’t allow specifying table columns in the insert statement (INSERT INTO table(col1, col2, ...)), so the number of capture groups should be the same as the entire number of columns in the target table.

Skipping unmatched lines

By default, ClickHouse will break on lines that can’t be matched with a given regex:

Code: 117. DB::Exception: Line "broken line" doesn't match the regexp.: (at row 3)
: While executing ParallelParsingBlockInputFormat: data for INSERT was parsed from stdin: (in query: INSERT INTO hits SETTINGS format_regexp = 'Name: (.+?) - Views: (.+?).*' FORMAT Regexp). (INCORRECT_DATA)

This will be the case if our file has the following lines in it:

Name: John - Views: 12
broken line
Name: Modern Sports - Views: 5436 - Latest: 2023-01-01

We can use the format_regexp_skip_unmatched settings option to ask ClickHouse to skip unmatched lines instead of throwing an exception:

clickhouse-client -q "INSERT INTO hits SETTINGS format_regexp = 'Name: (.+?) - Views: (.+?).*', format_regexp_skip_unmatched = 1 FORMAT Regexp" < hits.txt
Published a year ago in #data about #clickhouse by Denys Golotiuk

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Denys Golotiuk in 2024

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