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Principals (Database Engine)

Principals are entities that can request SQL Server resources. Like other components of the SQL Server authorization model, principals can be arranged in a hierarchy. The scope of influence of a principal depends on the scope of the definition of the principal: Windows, server, database; and whether the principal is indivisible or a collection. A Windows Login is an example of an indivisible principal, and a Windows Group is an example of a principal that is a collection. Every principal has a security identifier (SID).

Windows-level principals

  • Windows Domain Login

  • Windows Local Login

SQL Server-level principal

  • SQL Server Login

Database-level principals

  • Database User

  • Database Role

  • Application Role

The SQL Server sa log in is a server-level principal. By default, it is created when an instance is installed. In SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2008, the default database of sa is master. This is a change of behavior from earlier versions of SQL Server.

Every database user belongs to the public database role. When a user has not been granted or denied specific permissions on a securable, the user inherits the permissions granted to public on that securable.


Every database includes two entities that appear as users in catalog views: INFORMATION_SCHEMA and sys. These entities are required by SQL Server. They are not principals, and they cannot be modified or dropped.

Server principals with names enclosed by double hash marks (##) are for internal system use only. The following principals are created from certificates when SQL Server is installed, and should not be deleted.

  • ##MS_SQLResourceSigningCertificate##

  • ##MS_SQLReplicationSigningCertificate##

  • ##MS_SQLAuthenticatorCertificate##

  • ##MS_AgentSigningCertificate##

  • ##MS_PolicyEventProcessingLogin##

  • ##MS_PolicySigningCertificate##

  • ##MS_PolicyTsqlExecutionLogin##

By definition, a client and a database server are security principals and can be secured. These entities can be mutually authenticated before a secure network connection is established. SQL Server supports the Kerberos authentication protocol, which defines how clients interact with a network authentication service.

For more information about the SQL Server implementation of Kerberos support, see Kerberos Authentication and SQL Server.

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