SQL Server What is a Sparse Column?

Hello Folks,

You would have heard about Sparse Column.It has been introduced earlier with the arrival of SQL Server 2008.

Well I have made some keynotes about SQL Server What is a Sparse Column?, so please go through it carefully:

  • Sparse columns allow for the optimized storage of null columns.
  • It reduces the space requirements for null values at the cost of more overhead to retrieve non-null values.
  • Sparse columns do not take any space in database at all.
  • As we know that the maximum column allowed per table in SQL Server is 1024, and so the sparse column does not count to this limit of 1024.
  • Sparse columns work really well with filtered indexes as you will only want to create an index to deal with the non-empty attributes in the column. A filtered index on a sparse column can index only the rows that have populated values. This creates a smaller and more efficient index.
  • Sparse columns and filtered indexes enable applications, such as Windows SharePoint Services, to efficiently store and access a large number of user-defined properties by using SQL Server.
  • It will become more clear to you if you see the following example:

Well, there are two ways by which you can be able to apply the Sparse Column property;

1. Using the SQL Server Management Studio.

Step 1: Right-click the desired table and choose the design.


Step 2: Now set the Sparse Property.



2. Using the T-SQL.

newvalue VARCHAR(50) NULL

Side-Effects of Using Sparse Columns:

  • If a sparse column has a data in it, then it will take 4 more bytes than a normal column. Therefore, the storage requirements may go up instead of down.
  • The data type like text, ntext, image, timestamp, user-defined data type, geometry, or geography or varbinray (max) with the FILESTREAM attribute cannot be sparse.
  • The data compression and the merge replication won’t able to work with it.

Well, this was a bit about Sparse Columns in SQL Server.

Hope you enjoyed read the stuff!!

If you liked this post, do comments on this!!



Piyush Bajaj

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About Piyush Bajaj

I am very passionate about SQL Server. I also did certification on MCSA – SQL Server 2012, Querying and Administering; MCTS – SQL Server 2008, Database Development; and MCTS – SQL Server 2005, Implementation & Maintenance, which helped me to get more knowledge and interest on this field.Please feel free to drop me any question online or offline, I will try to give you the best possible answer from my side.Right now I am working as a SQL Server developer in TCS. I have an experience of just 2.6 years, well I can only say that “If you have an interest and passion, experience might become a very small thing”.

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