AWS Big Data Blog

Upgrade to Athena engine version 3 to increase query performance and access more analytics features

Customers tell us they want to have stronger performance and lower costs for their data analytics applications and workloads. Customers also want to use AWS as a platform that hosts managed versions of their favorite open-source projects, which will frequently adopt the latest features from the open-source communities. With Amazon Athena engine version 3, we continue to increase performance, provide new features and now deliver better currency with the Trino and Presto projects.

Athena is an interactive query service that makes it easy to analyze data in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) using standard SQL. Athena is serverless, so there is no infrastructure to manage, and you pay only for the queries that you run. Customers such as Orca Security, the Agentless Cloud Security Platform, are already realizing the benefits of using Athena engine version 3 with the Apache Iceberg.

“At Orca Security, we are excited about the launch of Athena engine version 3,” says Arie Teter, VP R&D at Orca Security. “With Athena engine version 3, we will be able to query our massive petabyte-scale data lake more efficiently and at a lower cost. We are especially excited about being able to leverage all the latest Trino features with Athena’s new engine in order to deliver our customers the best-of-breed, ML-driven anomaly detection solution.”

In this post, we discuss benefits of Athena engine version 3, performance benchmark results for different table formats and information about upgrading to engine version 3.

New features, more often

One of the most exciting aspects of engine version 3 is its new continuous integration approach to open source software management that will improve currency with the Trino and PrestoDB projects. This approach enables Athena to deliver increased performance and new features at an even faster pace.

At AWS, we are committed to bringing the value of open source to our customers and providing contributions to open source communities. The Athena development team is actively contributing bug fixes and security, scalability, performance, and feature enhancements back to these open-source code bases, so anyone using Trino, PrestoDB and Apache Iceberg can benefit from the team’s contributions. For more information on AWS’s commitment to the open-source community, refer to Open source at AWS.

Athena engine version 3 incorporates over 50 new SQL functions, and 30 new features from the open-source Trino project. For example, Athena engine version 3 supports T-Digest functions that can be used to approximate rank-based statistics with high accuracy, new Geospatial functions to run optimized Geospatial queries, and new query syntaxes such as MATCH_RECOGNIZE for identifying data patterns in applications such as fraud detection and sensor data analysis.

Athena engine version 3 also gives you more AWS-specific features. For example, we have worked closely with the AWS Glue data catalog team to improve Athena’s metadata retrieval time, which we explain in the section “Faster query planning with AWS Glue Data Catalog” below.

For more information about what’s new in Athena engine version 3, refer to the Athena engine version 3 Improvements and new features.

Faster runtime, lower cost

Last year, we shared benchmark testing on Athena engine version 2 using TPC-DS benchmark queries at 3 TB scale and observed that query performance improved by three times and cost decreased by 70% as a result of reduced scanned data. These improvements have been a combination of enhancements developed by Athena and AWS engineering teams as well as contributions from the PrestoDB and Trino open-source communities.

The new engine version 3 will allow Athena to continue delivering performance improvements at a rapid pace. We performed benchmark testing on engine version 3 using TPC-DS benchmark queries at 3 TB scale, and observed 20% query performance improvement when compared to the latest release of engine version 2. Athena engine version 3 includes performance improvement across operators, clauses, and decoders: such as performance improvement of joins involving comparisons with the <,<=, >,>= operators, queries that contains JOIN, UNION, UNNEST, GROUP BY clauses, queries using IN predicate with a short list of constant.  Athena engine version 3 also provides query execution improvements that reduce the amount of data scanned which gives you additional performance gains. With Athena, you are charged based on the amount of data scanned by each query, so this also translates to lower costs. For more information, refer to Amazon Athena pricing.

Faster query planning with AWS Glue Data Catalog

Athena engine version 3 provides better integration with AWS Glue Data Catalog to improve query planning performance by up to ten times. Query planning is the process of listing instructions the query engine will follow in order to run a query. During query planning, Athena uses AWS Glue API to retrieve various information such as table and partition metadata, and column statistics. As the number of tables increases, the number of calls to the Glue API for metadata also increase which results in additional query latency. In engine version 3, we reduced this Glue API overhead thus brought down the overall query planning time. For smaller datasets and datasets with large number of tables, you can see the total runtime has been reduced significantly because the query planning time is a higher percentage of the total run time.

Figure 1 below charts the top 10 queries from the TPC-DS benchmark with the most performance improvement from engine version 2 to engine version 3 based on the Amazon CloudWatch metric for total runtime. Each query involves joining multiple tables with complex predicates.

Faster query runtime with Apache Iceberg integration

Athena engine version 3 provides better integration with the Apache Iceberg table format. Features such as Iceberg’s hidden partitioning now augment Athena optimizations such as partition pruning and dynamic filtering to reduce data scanned and improve query performance in Athena engine v3. You do not need to maintain partition columns or even understand the physical table layout to load data to table and achieve good query performance.

We performed TPC-DS benchmark testing by loading data into the Apache Iceberg table format, with hidden partitions configured, and compared the performance between Athena engine version 2 and 3. Figure 2 below is a chart of the top 10 query improvements, which all include complex predicates. The top query, query 52, has five WHERE predicates and two GROUP BY operations. Compared to engine version 2, the query runs thirteen times faster with sixteen times less data scanned on engine version 3.

Upgrading to Athena engine version 3

To use Athena engine version 3, you can create a new workgroup, or configure an existing workgroup, and select the recommended Athena engine version 3. Any Athena workgroup can upgrade from engine version 2 to engine version 3 without interruption in your ability to submit queries. For more information and instructions for changing your Athena engine version, refer to Changing Athena engine versions.

Athena engine version 3 has feature parity with all major features from Athena engine version 2. There are no changes required by you to use features like dynamic partition pruningApache Iceberg and Apache Hudi table formats, AWS Lake Formation governed tables integration, and Athena Federated Query in engine version 3.For more information on Athena features, refer to Amazon Athena features, and the Amazon Athena User Guide.

Athena engine version 3 includes additional improvements to support ANSI SQL compliance. This results in some changes to syntax, data processing, and timestamps that may cause errors when running the same queries in the new engine version. For information about error messages, causes, and suggested solutions, refer to Athena engine version 3 LimitationsBreaking changesData processing changes, and Timestamp changes.

To make sure that your Athena engine version upgrade goes smoothly, we recommend the following practices to facilitate your upgrade process. After you have confirmed your query behavior works as you expect, you can safely upgrade your existing Athena workgroups.

  • Review the Athena engine version 3 Limitations and Breaking changes and update any affected queries.
  • Test in pre-production to validate and qualify your queries against Athena engine version 3 by creating a test workgroup or upgrading an existing pre-production environment. For example, you can create a new test workgroup running engine version 3 to run integration tests from your pre-production or staging environment, and monitor for failures or performance regressions. For information about CloudWatch metrics and dimensions published by Athena, refer to Monitoring Athena queries with CloudWatch metrics.
  • Upgrade each query based on metrics to test your queries against an Athena engine version 3 workgroup. For example, you can create a new workgroup with engine version 3 alongside your existing engine version 2 workgroup. You can send a small percentage of queries to the engine version 3 workgroup, monitor for failures or performance regressions, then increase the number of queries if they’re successful and performant. Repeat until all your queries have been migrated to Athena engine version 3.

With our simplified automatic engine upgrade process, you can configure existing workgroups to be automatically upgraded to engine version 3 without requiring manual review or intervention. The upgrade behavior is as follows:

  • If Query engine version is set to Automatic, your workgroup will remain on engine version 2 pending the automatic upgrade, and Athena will choose when to upgrade the workgroup to engine version 3. Before upgrading a workgroup, we perform a set of validation tests to confirm that its queries perform correctly and efficiently on engine version 3. Because our validation is performed on a best effort basis, we recommend you perform your own validation testing to ensure all queries run as expected.
  • If Query engine version is set to Manual, you will have the ability to select your version. The default choice is set to engine version 3, with the ability to toggle to engine version 2.


This post discussed Athena engine version 3 benefits, performance benchmark results, and how you can start using engine version 3 today with minimal work required. You can get started with Athena engine version 3 by using the Athena Console, the AWS CLI, or the AWS SDK. To learn more about Athena, refer to the Amazon Athena User Guide.

Thanks for reading this post! If you have questions on Athena engine version 3, don’t hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

About the authors

Blayze Stefaniak is a Senior Solutions Architect for the Technical Strategist Program supporting Executive Customer Programs in AWS Marketing. He has experience working across industries including healthcare, automotive, and public sector. He is passionate about breaking down complex situations into something practical and actionable. In his spare time, you can find Blayze listening to Star Wars audiobooks, trying to make his dogs laugh, and probably talking on mute.

Daniel Chen is a Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS) Athena. He has experience in Banking and Capital Market of financial service industry and works closely with enterprise customers building data lakes and analytical applications on the AWS platform. In his spare time, he loves playing tennis and ping pong.

Theo Tolv is a Senior Big Data Architect in the Athena team. He’s worked with small and big data for most of his career and often hangs out on Stack Overflow answering questions about Athena.

Jack Ye is a software engineer of the Athena Data Lake and Storage team. He is an Apache Iceberg Committer and PMC member.