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Specify Field and Row Terminators (SQL Server)

For character data fields, optional terminating characters allow you to mark the end of each field in a data file with a field terminator and the end of each row with a row terminator. Terminating characters are one way to indicate to programs that read the data file where one field or row ends and another field or row begins.

Important note Important

When you use native or Unicode native format, use length prefixes rather than field terminators. Native format data can conflict with terminators because a native-format data file is stored in the Microsoft SQL Server internal binary data format.

The bcp command, BULK INSERT statement, and the OPENROWSET bulk rowset provider support a variety of characters as field or row terminators and always look for the first instance of each terminator. The following table lists the supported characters for terminators.

Terminating character

Indicated by

Tab

\t

This is the default field terminator.

Newline character

\n

This is the default row terminator.

Carriage return/line feed

\r

Backslash1

\\

Null terminator (nonvisible terminator)2

\0

Any printable character (control characters are not printable, except null, tab, newline, and carriage return)

(*, A, t, l, and so on)

String of up to 10 printable characters, including some or all of the terminators listed earlier

(**\t**, end, !!!!!!!!!!, \t—\n, and so on)

1 Only the t, n, r, 0 and '\0' characters work with the backslash escape character to produce a control character.

2 Even though the null control character (\0) is not visible when printed, it is a distinct character in the data file. This means that using the null control character as a field or row terminator is different than having no field or row terminator at all.

Important note Important

If a terminator character occurs within the data, it is interpreted as a terminator, not as data, and the data after that character is interpreted as belonging to the next field or record. Therefore, choose your terminators carefully to make sure that they never appear in your data. For example, a low surrogate field terminator would not be a good choice for a field terminator if the data contains that low surrogate.

The row terminator can be the same character as the terminator for the last field. Generally, however, a distinct row terminator is useful. For example, to produce tabular output, terminate the last field in each row with the newline character (\n) and all other fields with the tab character (\t). To place each data record on its own line in the data file, specify the combination \r\n as the row terminator.

Note Note

When you use bcp interactively and specify \n (newline) as the row terminator, bcp automatically prefixes it with a \r (carriage return) character, which results in a row terminator of \r\n.

When you bulk export char or nchar data, and want to use a non-default terminator, you must specify the terminator to the bcp command. You can specify terminators in any of the following ways:

  • With a format file that specifies the terminator on a field-by-field basis.

    Note Note

    For information about how to use format files, see Format Files for Importing or Exporting Data (SQL Server).

  • Without a format file, the following alternatives exist:

    • Using the -t switch to specify the row terminator for all the fields except the last field in the row and using the -r switch to specify a row terminator.

    • Using a character-format switch (-c or -w) without the -t switch, which sets the field terminator to the tab character, \t. This is the same as specifying -t\t.

      Note Note

      If you specify the -n (native data) or -N (Unicode native) switch, terminators are not inserted.

    • If an interactive bcp command contains the in or out option without either the format file switch (-f) or a data-format switch (-n, -c, -w, or -N), and you have chosen not to specify prefix length and field length, the command prompts for the field terminator of each field, with a default of none:

      Enter field terminator [none]:

      Generally, the default is a suitable choice. However, for char or nchar data fields, see the following subsection, "Guidelines for Using Terminators." For an example that shows this prompt in context, see Specify Data Formats for Compatibility when Using bcp (SQL Server).

      Note Note

      After you interactively specify all of the fields in a bcp command, the command prompts you save your responses for each field in a non-XML format file. For more information about non-XML format files, see Non-XML Format Files (SQL Server).

Guidelines for Using Terminators

In some situations, a terminator is useful for a char or nchar data field. For example:

  • For a data column that contains a null value in a data file that will be imported into a program that does not understand the prefix length information.

    Any data column that contains a null value is considered variable length. In the absence of prefix lengths, a terminator is necessary to identify the end of a null field, making sure that the data is correctly interpreted.

  • For a long fixed-length column whose space is only partially used by many rows.

    In this situation, specifying a terminator can minimize storage space allowing the field to be treated as a variable-length field.

Examples

This example bulk exports the data from the AdventureWorks HumanResources.Department table to the Department-c-t.txt data file using character format, with a comma as a field terminator and the newline character (\n) as the row terminator.

The bcp command contains the following switches.

Switch

Description

-c

Specifies that the data fields be loaded as character data.

-t ,

Specifies a comma (,) as the field terminator.

-r \n

Specifies the row terminator as a newline character. This is the default row terminator, so specifying it is optional.

-T

Specifies that the bcp utility connects to SQL Server with a trusted connection using integrated security. If -T is not specified, you need to specify -U and -P to successfully log in.

For more information, see bcp Utility.

At the Microsoft Windows command prompt enter:

bcp AdventureWorks.HumanResources.Department out C:\myDepartment-c-t.txt -c -t, -r \n -T

This creates Department-c-t.txt, which contains 16 records with four fields each. The fields are separated by a comma.

When you bulk import char or nchar data, the bulk-import command must recognize the terminators that are used in the data file. How terminators can be specified depends on the bulk-import command, as follows:

  • bcp

    Specifying terminators for an import operation uses the same syntax as for an export operation. For more information, see "Specifying Terminators for Bulk Export," earlier in this topic.

  • BULK INSERT

    Terminators can be specified for individual fields in a format file or for the whole data file by using the qualifiers shown in the following table.

    Qualifier

    Description

    FIELDTERMINATOR = 'field_terminator'

    Specifies the field terminator to be used for character and Unicode character data files.

    The default is \t (tab character).

    ROWTERMINATOR = 'row_terminator'

    Specifies the row terminator to be used for character and Unicode character data files.

    The default is \n (newline character).

    For more information, see BULK INSERT (Transact-SQL).

  • INSERT ... SELECT * FROM OPENROWSET(BULK...)

    For the OPENROWSET bulk rowset provider, terminators can be specified only in the format file (which is required except for large-object data types). If a character data file uses a non-default terminator, it must be defined in the format file. For more information, see Create a Format File (SQL Server) and Use a Format File to Bulk Import Data (SQL Server).

    For more information about the OPENROWSET BULK clause, see OPENROWSET (Transact-SQL).

Examples

The examples in this section bulk import character data form the Department-c-t.txt data file created in the preceding example into the myDepartment table in the AdventureWorks2012 sample database. Before you can run the examples, you must create this table. To create this table under the dbo schema, in SQL Server Management Studio Query Editor, execute the following code:

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
DROP TABLE myDepartment;
CREATE TABLE myDepartment 
(DepartmentID smallint,
Name nvarchar(50),
GroupName nvarchar(50) NULL,
ModifiedDate datetime not NULL CONSTRAINT DF_AddressType_ModifiedDate DEFAULT (GETDATE())
);
GO

A. Using bcp to interactively specify terminators

The following example bulk imports the Department-c-t.txt data file using a bcp command. This command uses the same command switches as the bulk export command. For more information, see "Specifying Terminators for Bulk Export," earlier in this topic.

At the Windows command prompt enter:

bcp AdventureWorks..myDepartment in C:\myDepartment-c-t.txt -c -t , -r \n -T

B. Using BULK INSERT to interactively specify terminators

The following example bulk imports the Department-c-t.txt data file using a BULK INSERT statement that uses the qualifiers shown in the following table.

Option

Attribute

DATAFILETYPE = 'char'

Specifies that the data fields be loaded as character data.

FIELDTERMINATOR = ','

Specifies a comma (,) as the field terminator.

ROWTERMINATOR = '\n'

Specifies the row terminator as a newline character.

In SQL Server Management Studio Query Editor, execute the following code:

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
BULK INSERT myDepartment FROM 'C:\myDepartment-c-t.txt'
   WITH (
      DATAFILETYPE = 'char',
      FIELDTERMINATOR = ',',
      ROWTERMINATOR = '\n'
);
GO
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