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Snowflake Time Travel: An In-depth Guide


October 18, 2023


March 19th, 2024

In the constantly evolving field of data management, Snowflake Database, a cloud-based database, has risen as a prominent player, renowned for its innovative features and robust capabilities. Among its array of features, one that shines particularly bright is the “Time Travel” feature, enabling users to journey through time and delve into the historical snapshots of their data.

In this blog post, we will embark on a voyage through Snowflake’s Time Travel feature, unveiling its importance, applications, and how it can empower businesses to make data-driven decisions like never before.


Snowflake Time Travel: An Overview

Imagine possessing the ability to turn back time and revisit your data precisely as it existed at any specific moment in the past. This is precisely what Snowflake’s Time Travel feature provides. It’s a distinctive data management capability that allows you to query and analyze your data at various points in time, all without the need for intricate ETL processes or additional storage. Essentially, this feature transforms your data warehouse into a time machine, enabling you to effortlessly explore the evolution of your data.

Key Aspects of Snowflake Time Travel:

  • Data Versioning:

Snowflake continuously maintains multiple versions of data, allowing users to access and query data at any specific historical point in time.

  • Granular Control:

Users can specify a timestamp or a range of times for which they want to access historical data. This granular control ensures precision.

  • No Data Duplication:

Snowflake doesn’t create duplicate copies of data for different time points, which saves storage costs.

  • Zero Data Loss:

It guarantees zero data loss, as all changes to data are tracked and stored.

  • Point-in-Time Queries:

Users can run SQL queries on historical data to analyze trends, troubleshoot issues, or recover accidentally deleted data.

  • Data Recovery:

Snowflake Time Travel is useful for data recovery, audit trails, and compliance requirements, ensuring data integrity.

  • Time-Travel Cloning:

Users can create a clone of a database at a specific time point for testing or analytical purposes without affecting the production data.

Good Read: Snowflake Developer: Role, Responsibilities, Skills, Salary and More

Pros of Time Travel in Snowflake

Historical Data Analysis:

Snowflake’s Time Travel feature allows you to analyze data at different points in time, which is invaluable for historical trend analysis. This can provide insights into how your data has evolved and help you make data-driven decisions.

Data Recovery:

In the event of accidental data changes or deletions, Time Travel lets you revert to a previous timestamp, ensuring data integrity and minimizing downtime.

Auditing and Compliance:

Time Travel simplifies compliance and auditing processes by enabling you to track changes to data over time. This is particularly useful for meeting regulatory requirements.

Testing and Debugging:

Developers can use Time Travel to recreate and debug issues by analyzing data as it was during a problematic event. This can streamline troubleshooting and improve software quality.

Data Versioning:

Cloning data at critical points in time allows for data versioning, making it easier to manage and reference the historical states of data objects.

Ease of Use:

Snowflake’s implementation of Time Travel is user-friendly, requires minimal setup and configuration, and doesn’t involve complex ETL processes or additional storage.

Cons of Time Travel in Snowflake

Storage Costs:

Retaining historical data can lead to increased storage costs. Storing multiple versions of data, especially for large datasets, can impact your organization’s cloud storage expenses.

Query Performance:

The size of your dataset can affect query performance when using Time Travel. Querying historical data may be slower compared to querying the most recent data, and it may require additional optimization efforts.

Resource Consumption:

Running queries on historical data can consume computational resources. Organizations need to monitor and allocate sufficient resources to accommodate Time Travel queries without impacting other workloads.

Data Privacy:

Retaining historical data could potentially raise data privacy and security concerns, as older data may contain sensitive information that needs to be handled carefully.

How to implement Time Travel: Snowflake Time Travel Example

Snowflake employs a straightforward yet ingenious mechanism to enable time travel. It utilizes a blend of metadata and data storage, where each data object is accompanied by associated metadata that captures its historical context. Here’s how it works:

Time Travel Queries work on the following parameters.

  • AS OF TIMESTAMP: Query data as it appeared at a specific timestamp.
  • AS OF STATEMENT: Query data as it appeared before the given statement id
  • FOR SYSTEM_TIME: Specify a time range and examine changes during that period.

Also, the Time Travel feature helps to create object cloning: If you intend to preserve particular historical data for reporting or analysis, you have the option to clone databases, schemas, or tables at a specific timestamp. This process generates a new object that holds the data exactly as it existed at the selected timestamp.

Below are some examples of SQL Statement help to recover historical or deleted data

FROM your_table

FROM your_table
FOR SYSTEM_TIME BETWEEN 'start_timestamp' AND 'end_timestamp';

CREATE OR REPLACE TABLE your_cloned_table
CLONE your_source_table

Moreover, the Time Travel feature also helps to undo or go back in the past and recover a deleted table, schema, and database provided the data retention period is not set to 0

For example,

UNDROP TABLE table_name

Managing Historical Data Retention

Snowflake employs a retention period that defines how far back in time you can travel. This period is customizable to suit your organizational needs, ensuring that historical data remains accessible within the specified timeframe.

The retention period can be checked in the Snowflake account’s data retention policy settings,

For Standard Edition, the retention period is 1 day which is enabled by default, and For Enterprise Edition up to 90 days. But, the Data Retention period is only 1 day for Transient and temporary tables whereas, it could be 0 to 90 days for Permanent tables depending on the snowflake edition.

Also, Data retention can be set at the account and object level (database, schemas, and tables)

Here is one example, Object parameter

“DATA_RETENTION_TIME_IN_DAYS” can be used to set a retention period of 50 days for a snowflake table and database.

— Database with a retention period of 50 days


— Table with a retention period of 50 days

CREATE TABLE my_table ( list of columns)

Note: When the retention period over data is moved into Snowflake Fail-safe then:

  • Data unavailable for querying
  • Object cloning is not possible.
  • Objects that can’t be restored were dropped.

Good Read: Snowflake vs Redshift: Revolutionizing Cloud-based Data Warehousing

Snowflake Time Travel: The Final Summary

Snowflake’s Time Travel feature is a transformative innovation in the realm of data warehousing and analytics. It empowers organizations to harness the historical context of their data, facilitating improved decision-making, enhanced compliance, and superior data management capabilities.

By offering a seamless and efficient method to navigate through time, Snowflake ensures that your data remains a valuable asset, not only in the present but throughout its entire lifecycle.

Nevertheless, it does come with some limitations, such as potential cost escalation, increased storage requirements, and possible performance impacts. Therefore, when working with a cloud database, it is always advisable to adhere to best practices to minimize unnecessary expenses.

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