DuckDB: Primer on the subject and fascinating highlights

Balachandar Paulraj
4 min readJul 2, 2023

Throughout our data engineering journey, we’ve come across a myriad of database management systems (DBMS). But what sets DuckDB apart from the rest? And is it worth delving into? Let’s embark on a quest for answers.

What’s DuckDB?

The original purpose behind DuckDB’s creation was to empower analytical query workloads and facilitate online analytical processing (OLAP) tasks. Essentially, it falls into the realm of relational database management systems (RDBMS), fully equipped with support for Structured Query Language (SQL).

DuckDB strives to deliver a swift, feature-rich, and user-friendly database management system for analytical tasks. It capitalizes on technical breakthroughs, emphasizes simplicity, and fosters open collaboration to create a robust and mature database solution.

Strategy utilized by DuckDB

Typically, handling query workloads for analytical processing isn’t a straightforward task. It entails executing intricate, relatively lengthy queries that operate on substantial portions of the stored dataset. This could include transformations that involve shuffling operations across entire tables or substantial chunks of data.

Despite the prevalence of Massive Parallel Processing (MPP) architecture in contemporary Data warehouses to manage substantial data volumes in analytical query workloads, DuckDB takes a novel approach. DuckDB employs a cutting-edge columnar-vectorized query execution engine (possess characteristics of Single Instruction, Multiple Data (SIMD)), which interprets queries while processing a sizable batch of values (known as a “vector”) in a single operation. This innovative technique significantly diminishes the overhead seen in traditional systems that process rows or columns one by one. As a result, DuckDB delivers exceptional performance in OLAP queries, offering vastly improved query execution speed and efficiency.

In case if you haven’t come across terms like Vectorized database and SIMD processing before, the snapshot below will provide you with a better understanding of these concepts.

Scalar vs SIMD processing

For a given set of values, which needs to be processed or transformed as part of a SQL operation, Scalar Mode should execute N number of times compared to a single time execution in SIMD Mode used in Vectorized Database.

Processing of Records through Scalar and SIMD Mode

Key Features:

Feature Rich: DuckDB offers robust data management capabilities, boasting extensive support for complex SQL queries with a wide range of functions. It ensures transactional integrity (ACID properties) through its custom-built, bulk-optimized Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC) mechanism. DuckDB is seamlessly integrated with Python and R, making it an efficient choice for interactive data analysis. Additionally, DuckDB provides APIs for Java, C, C++, and various other programming languages.

Free and Open Source license: DuckDB is Open Source, the entire source code is freely available on GitHub. It eliminates the need for expensive licensing fees and significantly reduce costs for individuals, businesses, and organizations. Benefits from a vibrant and active community of developers and users, it leads to faster and more frequent updates.

DuckDB’s Key Features

Accelerated Performance: Default Features of DuckDB like Vectorized engine, parallel query processing and optimized analytical queries execution elevates the performance of complex query that involves multiple join operations.

Art of Simplicity: DuckDB is a self-contained solution with no external dependencies required for compilation or runtime. It eliminates the need for installing, updating, and maintaining separate DBMS server software. By seamlessly embedding within a host process, DuckDB enables high-speed data transfer to and from the database.

Pros/Cons of DuckDB:

The following table extracted from DuckDB’s documentation provides insights into the appropriate scenarios for employing DuckDB.

Also, based on my experimentation with DuckDB for different datasets, “When equipped with ample memory, DuckDB demonstrates impressive speed and performance, positioning itself as a strong contender alongside renowned commercial systems for handling smaller to medium-sized datasets. However, its scalability across multiple CPU cores may present certain limitations.


Regardless of whether we plan to use DuckDB for our project related usecases , harnessing its powerful features can greatly enhance our daily tasks as Data Engineers. An illustrative example is the effortless transformation of CSV data to Parquet format and seamless reading of data from cloud storage using just a concise two-line code snippet.