To encode nested columns, Parquet uses the Dremel encoding with definition and repetition levels. Definition levels specify how many optional fields in the path for the column are defined. Repetition levels specify at what repeated field in the path has the value repeated. The max definition and repetition levels can be computed from the schema (i.e. how much nesting there is). This defines the maximum number of bits required to store the levels (levels are defined for all values in the column).
Two encodings for the levels are supported BITPACKED and RLE. Only RLE is now used as it supersedes BITPACKED.