AWS Glue Tutorial for Beginners: Core Concepts

published on 30 January 2024

Most likely everyone will agree that getting started with AWS Glue can be overwhelming for beginners.

Well, this tutorial will walk you through AWS Glue's key concepts in easy-to-understand steps so you can harness its power for your data projects.

You're going to learn about AWS Glue's serverless architecture, ETL capabilities, data catalog, crawlers, job scheduling, monitoring, and more with simple explanations and hands-on examples.

Introduction to AWS Glue

Understanding AWS Glue and Serverless Architecture

AWS Glue is a fully managed ETL (extract, transform, load) service that utilizes a serverless architecture to simplify data integration processes. As a serverless service, AWS Glue automatically provisions the underlying infrastructure needed to handle ETL jobs, eliminating the need to manage servers or clusters.

Some key benefits of the serverless ETL approach with AWS Glue include:

  • No infrastructure to manage: AWS Glue completely abstracts away the infrastructure layer, so you don't need to provision, configure or manage servers, clusters, or other resources.

  • Auto-scaling: Workloads automatically scale up and down to match demand, ensuring optimal resource utilization.

  • Pay only for what you use: With serverless, you pay based on the resources consumed while a job is running. No idle capacity means reduced costs.

  • Faster development: The service integrates with other AWS data services and leverages a SQL-like language for data transformations, accelerating development.

By leveraging AWS Glue's serverless ETL capabilities in the cloud, organizations can focus on their data and business logic rather than resource management.

Components and Features of AWS Glue

AWS Glue consists of several integrated components that enable serverless data integration:

  • Data Catalog: A central metadata repository that stores structural and descriptive metadata for data assets. This enables discovery and understanding of available data.

  • Crawlers: Automated bots that scan data stores and populate the Glue Data Catalog with metadata to catalog data sources.

  • ETL Jobs: Managed extract, transform, and load (ETL) scripts that run on serverless infrastructure to transform data for analytics and other applications.

  • Triggers: Event-driven triggers that automatically initiate ETL jobs in response to added data or on schedules.

AWS Glue also provides capabilities like data quality monitoring, data lineage tracking, machine learning transforms, and job orchestration to create serverless ETL pipelines.

The Role of AWS Glue in Data Analytics

AWS Glue plays a key role in enabling real-time and scalable data analytics on AWS. Glue Crawlers can catalog data from sources like RDS, Redshift, and S3 into the Glue Data Catalog, making data readily available for analytics.

AWS Glue ETL jobs can then integrate, cleanse, and transform the data into analytics-ready datasets in formats like Parquet and store them on S3. Other services like Amazon Athena, Amazon EMR, and Amazon Redshift can leverage these transformed datasets for ad-hoc queries, data science, business intelligence, and other analytics use cases.

By handling the ETL process, AWS Glue enables organizations to focus analytics on quality datasets rather than data wrangling. The service also scales seamlessly to handle growing data volumes.

The AWS Glue console provides an easy-to-use graphical interface for managing various components:

  • The Jobs section allows creating, monitoring, and debugging ETL jobs. It provides access to logs and run statistics.

  • Crawlers can be configured to connect to data stores and crawl metadata into the Glue Data Catalog. Crawlers list discovered data assets.

  • The Tables section shows metadata like columns, data types, partitions for datasets crawled and cataloged from source data stores.

  • Connections enable creating links to data stores like JDBC databases, S3 buckets, or Redshift clusters for data access.

With this managed interface, AWS Glue simplifies the entire ETL and data integration process for analytics, freeing data teams to focus on high-value work.

How do I practice AWS Glue?

Here are the key steps to get started with practicing AWS Glue:

1. Set Up AWS Glue Environment

First, you'll want to set up an AWS Glue development environment in your AWS account:

  • Create an IAM role with permissions for AWS Glue. This controls what AWS services your ETL jobs can access.
  • Set up connections to your source and target data stores like Amazon S3, Amazon Redshift, etc. AWS Glue needs these connections to access the data.
  • Create an AWS Glue development endpoint. This is an environment to develop and test your ETL scripts.

2. Create AWS Glue Crawlers

AWS Glue crawlers can automatically scan your data sources and populate the AWS Glue Data Catalog with table definitions and schemas. This is useful for discovery and mapping your raw data:

  • Point crawlers at data sources like S3 buckets or databases.
  • Crawl schedules can run periodically to detect changes.
  • View crawled tables in the AWS Glue Data Catalog.

3. Develop AWS Glue ETL Jobs

The heart of AWS Glue is writing ETL scripts to transform and move data:

  • Write Python or Scala scripts to extract, transform, and load data.
  • Test and debug scripts on the AWS Glue development endpoint.
  • Set connections, IAM roles, script dependencies.
  • Trigger jobs on a schedule or based on events.

4. Monitor and Debug AWS Glue Jobs

As you run AWS Glue ETL jobs, make use of monitoring and logging:

  • CloudWatch metrics and logs provide visibility into job runs.
  • Debug errors by enabling verbose logs and replaying jobs.
  • Set job bookmarking and notifications.
  • Consider job recovery methods.

Following these steps helps build practical experience with core AWS Glue components like crawlers, the Data Catalog, ETL scripts, and monitoring. With real hands-on practice, you'll gain operational knowledge to apply AWS Glue to your use cases.

What is AWS Glue used for?

AWS Glue is a fully managed extract, transform, and load (ETL) service that makes it easy to prepare and load data for analytics. Some key uses cases of AWS Glue include:

  • Data Integration: AWS Glue provides a simple and flexible way to integrate data from a variety of sources like S3, databases, and software applications. The Glue Data Catalog helps discover and catalog data sources.

  • Data Transformation: AWS Glue generates Python or Scala code to transform the data and prepare it for analysis. This saves time compared to hand-coding data transformation scripts.

  • Data Loading: AWS Glue jobs can load transformed data into data lakes or data warehouses like Amazon Redshift and Amazon S3 for business intelligence and analytics.

  • Serverless ETL: AWS Glue runs ETL jobs in a fully managed serverless environment. You don't need to provision infrastructure to run jobs. This lowers costs.

In summary, AWS Glue streamlines discovering, preparing, and integrating data for analytics and application development. Its managed serverless architecture simplifies ETL workloads.

What are the prerequisites to learn AWS Glue?

To get started with AWS Glue, there are a few key prerequisites:

AWS Account

First, you'll need an AWS account. If you don't already have one, you can sign up for a free tier account to access certain AWS services for 12 months without incurring charges. This allows you to experiment with AWS Glue at no cost.


It's recommended to have the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI) installed and configured on your local machine. The AWS CLI allows you to manage AWS services and resources from the command line. This can be useful for scripting and automating tasks with AWS Glue.

IAM Permissions

You'll need to set up AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) permissions to allow access to AWS Glue. Specifically, you can create an IAM policy with permissions for the Glue service, and attach this policy to an IAM user, group or role. Some common AWS Glue actions to allow in a custom policy include:

  • glue:* - Provides full access to all Glue operations
  • glue:CreateDatabase - Allows creating new Glue databases
  • glue:GetTable - Allows retrieving metadata for Glue tables
  • glue:StartCrawler - Allows starting a new crawler

AWS Glue Studio

AWS Glue Studio provides a visual interface for building ETL jobs without needing to write code. This can be a useful entry point for beginners to start transforming data using AWS Glue.

With these basics set up, you'll be ready start working through AWS Glue tutorials to ingest, transform, and analyze data in AWS.

Is AWS Glue an ETL tool?

AWS Glue provides a fully managed extract, transform, and load (ETL) service that makes it easy to prepare and load your data for analytics. Here are some key things to know about using AWS Glue as an ETL solution:

  • AWS Glue generates Python or Scala code to execute your ETL jobs based on simple configuration settings you provide in the AWS Glue console. This eliminates the need to hand-code data transformation logic.

  • The AWS Glue Data Catalog stores metadata about your data sources, datasets, and ETL process. This catalog integrates with data catalogs from Amazon Athena, Amazon EMR, and Amazon Redshift.

  • AWS Glue ETL jobs can run on a serverless Apache Spark environment managed by AWS Glue. This auto-scales spark clusters up and down to match your job requirements.

  • AWS Glue Crawlers can automatically scan your data in Amazon S3 and populate metadata tables in the AWS Glue Data Catalog. This table metadata is then available for ETL jobs.

  • AWS Glue workflows can orchestrate multi-job ETL activities using Apache Airflow DAGs under the hood.

So in summary, AWS Glue provides a fully-featured serverless ETL platform that can help you easily transform, integrate, and move data at any scale for analytics and other applications. The automation around ETL code generation, job orchestration, and data cataloging help reduce the complexity around traditional DIY ETL solutions.

Setting Up AWS Glue

Prerequisites for Using AWS Glue

Before getting started with AWS Glue, there are a few prerequisites:

  • An AWS account
  • IAM permissions to access AWS Glue services
  • Basic knowledge of data processing concepts like ETL and data warehousing

To use AWS Glue, you'll need to ensure the IAM user or role has permissions to access AWS Glue resources and services. The AWSGlueServiceRole managed policy provides the necessary permissions.

Creating Your First AWS Glue Data Catalog

The AWS Glue Data Catalog is a central metadata repository that stores structural and operational metadata for data assets in AWS. Here are the steps to create your first data catalog:

  1. Navigate to the AWS Glue console
  2. Click "Add tables using a crawler"
  3. Specify data store details like the S3 path
  4. Configure crawler settings like schema detection, frequency
  5. Run the crawler to populate the Glue Data Catalog

This process automatically crawls the data, infers schemas, and populates the catalog with metadata.

Defining AWS Glue Databases and Tables

Within a Glue Data Catalog, you can organize metadata into databases and tables:

  • Databases are logical groupings for tables
  • Tables define the schema and properties of datasets

To create a database, click "Add database" in the Glue console. Provide a name and description.

Similarly, you can use Crawlers or the API to add new tables representing datasets, with attributes like columns, data types, partitions, and table properties.

Understanding AWS Partitions in Glue

Partitioning refers to dividing table data into discrete sections, often based on time intervals or regions. Using partitions can optimize query performance.

In AWS Glue, partitions are transparent to applications accessing the table. Glue manages the partitions automatically when new data is added or modified. You can view and evolve table partitions within the AWS Glue console.


Data Crawlers in AWS Glue

AWS Glue crawlers automatically discover data and populate the AWS Glue Data Catalog with schema and table definitions. Crawlers connect to data stores, classify data formats, and infer schemas. This section covers crawler configuration, scheduling, monitoring, and troubleshooting.

Configuring and Running AWS Glue Crawlers

To configure a crawler:

  • Specify data store connection details like database name and credentials
  • Choose a VPC if connecting to resources inside a VPC
  • Set IAM roles for the crawler to access data stores
  • Select data stores and specify filters to narrow down crawl scope

To run a crawler:

  • On the Crawlers page in the AWS Glue console, click "Run crawler"
  • Crawlers can also be triggered on demand via the AWS CLI or SDK

Configure crawlers to only crawl relevant datasets to minimize costs. Incrementally update crawlers instead of recrawling entire data stores.

AWS Glue Crawler Scheduling and Monitoring

Use crawler schedules to run crawlers on a frequency like daily, weekly or monthly. Scheduling options:

  • On demand
  • Custom cron expression
  • Event-based (trigger crawler when specified event occurs)

Monitor crawlers in the AWS Glue console by tracking metrics like tables added/updated/deleted. Enable crawler run notifications via SNS topics.

Data Catalog Updates with AWS Glue Crawlers

Crawlers add new tables and partitions to the Data Catalog. They update table and column statistics after crawling.

Set appropriate crawler settings to specify if crawlers should:

  • Delete tables/partitions no longer present in the data store
  • Update table definitions when changes are detected
  • Add new columns found during a crawl

Troubleshooting Common Crawler Issues

Common crawler issues:

  • Unauthorized access to data stores due to inadequate IAM permissions
  • Data store connectivity errors
  • Memory errors when crawling large datasets
  • Inconsistent schema errors after modifying table structures

Refer to crawler run logs in CloudWatch Logs for detailed error messages. Adjust crawler configuration and permissions to resolve issues.

Creating and Managing ETL Jobs in AWS Glue

AWS Glue provides a fully managed ETL (extract, transform, load) service to prepare and load data for analytics. This section covers key concepts for creating, configuring, and managing ETL jobs using AWS Glue.

Designing AWS Glue ETL Jobs

When designing ETL jobs in AWS Glue, consider the following:

  • Data sources and targets: Identify the location and format of source data as well as desired targets like Amazon S3, Amazon Redshift, etc. AWS Glue Data Catalog contains metadata to discover data.

  • Transformations required: Determine transformations like filtering, joining, aggregations, etc. needed to prepare source data.

  • Scheduling requirements: Decide on scheduling frequency based on downstream needs - hourly, daily, etc.

  • Allocated resources: Select right instance type and number of Data Processing Units (DPUs) to meet performance needs.

  • Error handling: Implement mechanisms to handle unexpected failures like retries, notifications, etc.

  • Monitoring and alerts: Set up CloudWatch metrics to monitor job runs, failures, durations etc. Configure alarms as needed.

Scripting ETL Logic with AWS Glue Python Script Example

Here is a simple AWS Glue Python script to load CSV data from S3 into a Parquet table:

import sys
from awsglue.transforms import *
from awsglue.utils import getResolvedOptions
from pyspark.context import SparkContext
from awsglue.context import GlueContext
from awsglue.job import Job

args = getResolvedOptions(sys.argv, ["JOB_NAME"])
sc = SparkContext()
glueContext = GlueContext(sc)
spark = glueContext.spark_session
job = Job(glueContext)
job.init(args["JOB_NAME"], args)

# ETL logic
datasource0 = glueContext.create_dynamic_frame.from_catalog(database = "mydatabase", table_name = "input_table", transformation_ctx = "datasource0")

applymapping1 = ApplyMapping.apply(frame = datasource0, mappings = [("col1", "string", "col1", "string"), ("col2", "long", "col2", "long")], transformation_ctx="applymapping1")

datasink2 = glueContext.write_dynamic_frame.from_options(frame = applymapping1, connection_type = "s3", connection_options = {"path": "s3://output_bucket/output_dir"}, format = "glueparquet", transformation_ctx = "datasink2")


This script loads data from a CSV input table, transforms it, and writes Parquet output to S3. Additional logic can be added for more complex data prep needs.

Optimizing AWS Glue ETL Job Performance

To optimize AWS Glue ETL job performance:

  • Increase DPU allocation: Scale up to faster instance types and add more DPUs to parallelize.

  • Use data partitioning: Read only necessary partitions to minimize scanning.

  • Compress data: Apply compression like Snappy, Zlib to reduce shuffle transfer.

  • Tune Spark: Set optimal shuffle partitions, memory settings etc.

  • Activate CloudWatch metrics: Monitor key metrics like job duration, data processed, failures etc.

Error Handling and Retry Mechanisms

To make ETL jobs fault-tolerant:

  • Configure job retries on failure with linear or exponential backoff.

  • Set notifications through CloudWatch alarms to get alerted on failures.

  • Implement checkpointing to record job progress enabling partial restarts.

  • Add error handling logic in scripts to catch and handle certain failures.

  • Analyze logs through CloudWatch Logs Insights to debug failed jobs.

Advanced AWS Glue Features

AWS Glue provides several advanced features to help manage and automate complex ETL workflows. These include connections, triggers, and development endpoints.

Working with AWS Glue Connections

Connections in AWS Glue allow you to easily connect to data sources and data targets. Some key things to know about Glue connections:

  • Connections can be created for data stores like JDBC databases, S3 buckets, and Redshift clusters
  • Connections abstract away authentication details like database credentials
  • ETL jobs can leverage connections to easily access data
  • Connections can be shared between different ETL jobs

To create a new connection:

  1. Go to the AWS Glue Console and click "Add connection"
  2. Select connection type (S3, Redshift, etc)
  3. Configure authentication parameters
  4. Test the connection
  5. Save the connection

Connections can then be referenced by ETL jobs via their names.

Automating Workflows with AWS Glue Triggers

AWS Glue triggers allow you to automatically start ETL jobs in response to events. Triggers are useful for:

  • Scheduling jobs to run on a cron schedule
  • Starting jobs when new data arrives in a bucket
  • Chaining jobs together in complex ETL pipelines

Triggers can be created for a variety of event sources:

  • On a Schedule
  • On Object Creation (S3 events)
  • On Crawler Completion
  • On Job Completion

To add a trigger:

  1. Go to the AWS Glue Console and select a job
  2. Click "Add trigger"
  3. Choose trigger type and configure parameters
  4. Specify the ETL job to be started
  5. Save the trigger

Developing with AWS Glue Dev Endpoints

AWS Glue Dev Endpoints provide a development environment for iteratively building ETL scripts. Key features:

  • Interactively test and debug PySpark code
  • Rapidly develop ETL scripts without needing to rerun entire jobs
  • Share scripts and libraries between developers
  • Control computational resources allocated to the endpoint

To create a Dev Endpoint:

  1. Go to the AWS Glue Console and click "Add endpoint"
  2. Select development endpoint type
  3. Specify endpoint name and computational resources
  4. Choose IAM role and security configuration
  5. Save the Dev Endpoint

You can then connect and run PySpark code interactively against the Dev Endpoint to test transformations.

Code Generation and Job Orchestration

In addition to the visual interface, AWS Glue can auto-generate PySpark code for your ETL jobs. This makes script development faster.

AWS Glue also allows you to orchestrate multi-job ETL workflows that run in sequence or in parallel. You can chain jobs together into complex pipelines with dependencies.

In summary, AWS Glue offers several advanced features to help manage, automate, and develop ETL scripts at scale. Connections, triggers, and dev endpoints help simplify running production-grade extract, transform, and load workflows.

Monitoring and Troubleshooting AWS Glue

Monitoring AWS Glue Jobs with CloudWatch

CloudWatch provides metrics and logs to monitor AWS Glue jobs. Key metrics to monitor include job run status, duration, processed records, and errors. Set up CloudWatch alarms to get notified when jobs fail or performance degrades. Analyze logs in CloudWatch Logs Insights to visualize job metrics and debug issues.

Analyzing AWS Glue Job Logs for Debugging

AWS Glue job logs record detailed runtime information including job progress, data processed, and errors. Inspect job logs to identify load failures, data conversion issues, out of memory errors etc. Enable verbose logging for more granular tracing. Use log filtering to isolate relevant entries.

Best Practices for AWS Glue Job Maintenance

  • Schedule regular maintenance windows to optimize job performance
  • Adjust DPU allocation to meet changing data volumes
  • Update data schema changes in jobs to prevent failures
  • Add error handling and retry logic to jobs
  • Archive or delete old job runs to reduce storage costs

AWS Glue Data Versioning and Lineage

AWS Glue Data Catalog tracks additions, deletions, and schema changes to dataset versions over time. Use Glue crawlers to automatically capture new data versions. Data lineage graphs show upstream data sources and processing applied to derive downstream datasets.

AWS Glue Training and Certification

AWS Glue is a fully managed ETL (extract, transform, load) service that makes it easy to prepare and load data for analytics. As an increasingly critical part of the AWS ecosystem, gaining expertise in AWS Glue can significantly advance one's cloud career. Here are some of the top resources for getting AWS Glue training and certification.

Exploring AWS Glue Training Online Resources

There are several excellent online training options available for learning AWS Glue:

  • A Cloud Guru - Offers comprehensive AWS Glue video courses covering basics to advanced topics. Good for structured learning path.
  • Linux Academy - Has an extensive AWS Glue course included with subscription. Covers hands-on labs and use cases.
  • Udemy - Marketplace with a variety of AWS Glue video courses from expert instructors. Often discounted deals.
  • AWS Training - Free digital courses directly from Amazon. Introductory to intermediate level.

When selecting a training provider, ensure they offer ample hands-on practice in addition to conceptual overviews.

Preparing for AWS Glue Certification

Amazon offers an AWS Certified Developer - Associate certification with an AWS Glue exam section. Here are some tips for preparing:

  • Take AWS Glue online training courses to build core knowledge.
  • Study AWS Glue documentation and API references.
  • Work through AWS Glue labs and hands-on exercises.
  • Use practice exams to benchmark progress. Aim for consistent 80%+ scores.
  • Review missed practice questions until concepts are mastered.

Getting AWS Glue work experience also helps reinforce learning for certification.

Hands-On Labs and Exercises

Practical experience is vital for cementing AWS Glue skills. Useful hands-on resources include:

  • AWS Glue Console - Create ETL jobs, crawlers, triggers and interact with features directly.
  • AWS Glue Studio - Visual interface to build and run Glue ETL workflows.
  • GitHub Repos - Community ETL scripts and Glue project code to study.
  • Qwiklabs - Structured labs with AWS Glue scenarios to complete.

Aim to experiment extensively with AWS Glue core components like crawlers, jobs, Data Catalog, triggers, etc.

Community and Support for AWS Glue Learners

Connecting with the AWS Glue community can provide useful insights and support:

  • AWS Forums - Ask questions and discuss AWS Glue topics with community experts.
  • Reddit Groups - Such as /r/aws and /r/bigdata for AWS Glue conversations.
  • AWS Online Events - Webinars, workshops and live training with Glue experts.
  • AWS Glue Documentation - Comprehensive manuals, API docs and FAQs.

Leverage these resources to help troubleshoot issues and get guidance while learning.

Conclusion: Harnessing the Power of AWS Glue

Recap of AWS Glue Core Concepts

AWS Glue provides a fully managed ETL (extract, transform, load) service to prepare and load data for analytics. Some key concepts we covered in this beginner's tutorial include:

  • Data Catalog: A persistent metadata store that tracks data sources, tables, partitions etc.
  • Crawlers: Discover data from data stores and populate the Glue Data Catalog.
  • ETL Jobs: Spark jobs that extract data, transform it, and load it to target data stores.
  • Triggers: Initiate ETL jobs in response to events.
  • Dev Endpoints: Serverless Apache Zeppelin notebooks for ETL job development.

These building blocks make AWS Glue a flexible platform to build scalable data lakes and analytics pipelines.

Real-World Applications and Success Stories

AWS Glue powers analytics for various companies:

  • Expedia uses Glue for petabyte-scale log processing in their data lake.
  • FINRA runs over 150,000 Glue ETL jobs per month.
  • Samsung analyzes device data with Glue to improve customer experience.

Its managed nature, auto-scaling capabilities, and pay-per-use pricing make AWS Glue a popular choice.

As data volumes grow exponentially, AWS Glue continues to evolve:

  • Support for streaming ETL jobs and real-time analytics is improving.
  • Machine learning-powered features like automated data quality checks are emerging.
  • Integration with services like SageMaker, Quicksight, and Redshift is deepening.

These innovations will enable more agile, intelligent data processing.

Next Steps for AWS Glue Mastery

To take your AWS Glue skills to the next level:

  • Explore triggers for automating ETL workflows.
  • Optimize job performance through partitioning and streaming.
  • Build a serverless data lake architecture on AWS.
  • Pursue AWS Glue certification to validate your expertise.

With some hands-on practice, you will soon be an AWS Glue expert!

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