08 June 2019 · Mike-Barn ·       Add to Favorites   Report

BigQuery count distinct vs count of group by colx

I have been under the impression that if you were to do a COUNT(DISTINCT xyz) on some column, it would be equal to the regular count of a GROUP BY that column.

However, when I do that over a very large dataset in BigQuery, with the exact same conditions, it is showing a large difference in results:

Query Type             Count
- count(distinct ColX)   > 7 million
- count(ColX)
    ... GROUP BY ColX    ~ 6.5 million

In google bigquery - If you use the DISTINCT keyword, the function returns the number of distinct values for the specified field. Note that the returned value for DISTINCT is a statistical approximation and is not guaranteed to be exact - the documentation is also clear about this.


  • To compute the exact number of distinct values, use EXACT_COUNT_DISTINCT
  • For a more scalable approach, consider using GROUP BY on the relevant field(s) and then applying COUNT(*). The GROUP BY approach is more scalable but might incur a slight up-front performance penalty


posted on 08 June 2019

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