Sparse columns

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Sparse columns are ordinary columns that have an optimized storage for null values. Sparse columns reduce the space requirements for null values at the cost of more overhead to retrieve non-null values. Consider using sparse columns when the space saved is at least 20 percent to 40 percent.

The SQL Server JDBC Driver 3.0 supports sparse columns when you connect to a SQL Server 2008 (or later) server. You can use SQLServerDatabaseMetaData.getColumns, SQLServerDatabaseMetaData.getFunctionColumns, or SQLServerDatabaseMetaData.getProcedureColumns to determine which column is sparse and which column is the column set column.

The code file for this sample is named, and it can be found in the following location:

\<installation directory>\sqljdbc_<version>\<language>\samples\sparse

Column sets are computed columns that return all sparse columns in untyped XML form. Consider using column sets when the number of columns in a table is large or greater than 1024 or operating on individual sparse columns is cumbersome. A column set can contain up to 30,000 columns.



This sample demonstrates how to detect column sets. It also shows how to parse a column set's XML output to get the data from the sparse columns.

The code listing is the Java source code. Before you compile the application, change the connection string.


import java.sql.Connection;
import java.sql.DriverManager;
import java.sql.ResultSet;
import java.sql.ResultSetMetaData;
import java.sql.SQLException;
import java.sql.Statement;

import javax.xml.parsers.DocumentBuilder;
import javax.xml.parsers.DocumentBuilderFactory;

import org.w3c.dom.Document;
import org.w3c.dom.Node;
import org.w3c.dom.NodeList;
import org.xml.sax.InputSource;

public class SparseColumns {

    public static void main(String args[]) {

        // Create a variable for the connection string.
        String connectionUrl = "jdbc:sqlserver://<server>:<port>;databaseName=AdventureWorks;user=<user>;password=<password>";

        try (Connection con = DriverManager.getConnection(connectionUrl); Statement stmt = con.createStatement()) {


            // Determine the column set column
            String columnSetColName = null;
            String strCmd = "SELECT name FROM sys.columns WHERE object_id=(SELECT OBJECT_ID('ColdCalling')) AND is_column_set = 1";

            try (ResultSet rs = stmt.executeQuery(strCmd)) {
                if ( {
                    columnSetColName = rs.getString(1);
                    System.out.println(columnSetColName + " is the column set column!");

            strCmd = "SELECT * FROM ColdCalling";
            try (ResultSet rs = stmt.executeQuery(strCmd)) {

                // Iterate through the result set
                ResultSetMetaData rsmd = rs.getMetaData();

                DocumentBuilderFactory dbf = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance();
                DocumentBuilder db = dbf.newDocumentBuilder();
                InputSource is = new InputSource();
                while ( {
                    // Iterate through the columns
                    for (int i = 1; i <= rsmd.getColumnCount(); ++i) {
                        String name = rsmd.getColumnName(i);
                        String value = rs.getString(i);

                        // If this is the column set column
                        if (name.equalsIgnoreCase(columnSetColName)) {

                            // Instead of printing the raw XML, parse it
                            if (value != null) {
                                // Add artificial root node "sparse" to ensure XML is well formed
                                String xml = "<sparse>" + value + "</sparse>";

                                is.setCharacterStream(new StringReader(xml));
                                Document doc = db.parse(is);

                                // Extract the NodeList from the artificial root node that was added
                                NodeList list = doc.getChildNodes();
                                Node root = list.item(0); // This is the <sparse> node
                                NodeList sparseColumnList = root.getChildNodes(); // These are the xml column nodes

                                // Iterate through the XML document
                                for (int n = 0; n < sparseColumnList.getLength(); ++n) {
                                    Node sparseColumnNode = sparseColumnList.item(n);
                                    String columnName = sparseColumnNode.getNodeName();
                                    // The column value is not in the sparseColumNode, it is the value of the
                                    // first child of it
                                    Node sparseColumnValueNode = sparseColumnNode.getFirstChild();
                                    String columnValue = sparseColumnValueNode.getNodeValue();

                                    System.out.println("\t" + columnName + "\t: " + columnValue);
                        } else { // Just print the name + value of non-sparse columns
                            System.out.println(name + "\t: " + value);
                    System.out.println();// New line between rows
        } catch (Exception e) {

    private static void createColdCallingTable(Statement stmt) throws SQLException {
        stmt.execute("if exists (select * from sys.objects where name = 'ColdCalling')" + "drop table ColdCalling");

        String sql = "CREATE TABLE ColdCalling  (  ID int IDENTITY(1,1) PRIMARY KEY,  [Date] date,  [Time] time,  PositiveFirstName nvarchar(50) SPARSE,  PositiveLastName nvarchar(50) SPARSE,  SpecialPurposeColumns XML COLUMN_SET FOR ALL_SPARSE_COLUMNS  );";

        sql = "INSERT ColdCalling ([Date], [Time])  VALUES ('10-13-09','07:05:24')  ";

        sql = "INSERT ColdCalling ([Date], [Time], PositiveFirstName, PositiveLastName)  VALUES ('07-20-09','05:00:24', 'AA', 'B')  ";

        sql = "INSERT ColdCalling ([Date], [Time], PositiveFirstName, PositiveLastName)  VALUES ('07-20-09','05:15:00', 'CC', 'DD')  ";

See also

Improving performance and reliability with the JDBC driver