SQL Server default character encoding

Sql ServerCharacter EncodingCollation

Sql Server Problem Overview

By default - what is the character encoding set for a database in Microsoft SQL Server?

How can I see the current character encoding in SQL Server?

Sql Server Solutions

Solution 1 - Sql Server


In most cases, SQL Server stores Unicode data (i.e. that which is found in the XML and N-prefixed types) in UCS-2 / UTF-16 (storage is the same, UTF-16 merely handles Supplementary Characters correctly). This is not configurable: there is no option to use either UTF-8 or UTF-32 (see UPDATE section at the bottom re: UTF-8 starting in SQL Server 2019). Whether or not the built-in functions can properly handle Supplementary Characters, and whether or not those are sorted and compared properly, depends on the Collation being used. The older Collations — names starting with SQL_ (e.g. SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS) xor no version number in the name (e.g. Latin1_General_CI_AS) — equate all Supplementary Characters with each other (due to having no sort weight). Starting in SQL Server 2005 they introduced the 90 series Collations (those with _90_ in the name) that could at least do a binary comparison on Supplementary Characters so that you could differentiate between them, even if they didn't sort in the desired order. That also holds true for the 100 series Collations introduced in SQL Server 2008. SQL Server 2012 introduced Collations with names ending in _SC that not only sort Supplementary Characters properly, but also allow the built-in functions to interpret them as expected (i.e. treating the surrogate pair as a single entity). Starting in SQL Server 2017, all new Collations (the 140 series) implicitly support Supplementary Characters, hence there are no new Collations with names ending in _SC.

Starting in SQL Server 2019, UTF-8 became a supported encoding for CHAR and VARCHAR data (columns, variables, and literals), but not TEXT (see UPDATE section at the bottom re: UTF-8 starting in SQL Server 2019).

Non-Unicode data (i.e. that which is found in the CHAR, VARCHAR, and TEXT types — but don't use TEXT, use VARCHAR(MAX) instead) uses an 8-bit encoding (Extended ASCII, DBCS, or EBCDIC). The specific character set / encoding is based on the Code Page, which in turn is based on the Collation of a column, or the Collation of the current database for literals and variables, or the Collation of the Instance for variable / cursor names and GOTO labels, or what is specified in a COLLATE clause if one is being used.

To see how locales match up to collations, check out:

To see the Code Page associated with a particular Collation (this is the character set and only affects CHAR / VARCHAR / TEXT data), run the following:

SELECT COLLATIONPROPERTY( 'Latin1_General_100_CI_AS' , 'CodePage' ) AS [CodePage];

To see the LCID (i.e. locale) associated with a particular Collation (this affects the sorting & comparison rules), run the following:


To view the list of available Collations, along with their associated LCIDs and Code Pages, run:

SELECT [name],
       COLLATIONPROPERTY( [name], 'CodePage' ) AS [CodePage]
FROM sys.fn_helpcollations()
ORDER BY [name];


Before looking at the Server and Database default Collations, one should understand the relative importance of those defaults.

The Server (Instance, really) default Collation is used as the default for newly created Databases (including the system Databases: master, model, msdb, and tempdb). But this does not mean that any Database (other than the 4 system DBs) is using that Collation. The Database default Collation can be changed at any time (though there are dependencies that might prevent a Database from having it's Collation changed). The Server default Collation, however, is not so easy to change. For details on changing all collations, please see: Changing the Collation of the Instance, the Databases, and All Columns in All User Databases: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

The server/Instance Collation controls:

  • local variable names
  • CURSOR names
  • GOTO labels
  • Instance-level meta-data

The Database default Collation is used in three ways:

  • as the default for newly created string columns. But this does not mean that any string column is using that Collation. The Collation of a column can be changed at any time. Here knowing the Database default is important as an indication of what the string columns are most likely set to.
  • as the Collation for operations involving string literals, variables, and built-in functions that do not take string inputs but produces a string output (i.e. IF (@InputParam = 'something') ). Here knowing the Database default is definitely important as it governs how these operations will behave.
  • Database-level meta-data

The column Collation is either specified in the COLLATE clause at the time of the CREATE TABLE or an ALTER TABLE {table_name} ALTER COLUMN, or if not specified, taken from the Database default.

Since there are several layers here where a Collation can be specified (Database default / columns / literals & variables), the resulting Collation is determined by Collation Precedence.

All of that being said, the following query shows the default / current settings for the OS, SQL Server Instance, and specified Database:

SELECT os_language_version,
       SERVERPROPERTY('Collation') AS 'Instance-Collation',
       SERVERPROPERTY('ComparisonStyle') AS 'Instance-ComparisonStyle',
       SERVERPROPERTY('SqlSortOrder') AS 'Instance-SqlSortOrder',
       SERVERPROPERTY('SqlSortOrderName') AS 'Instance-SqlSortOrderName',
       SERVERPROPERTY('SqlCharSet') AS 'Instance-SqlCharSet',
       SERVERPROPERTY('SqlCharSetName') AS 'Instance-SqlCharSetName',
       DATABASEPROPERTYEX(N'{database_name}', 'LCID') AS 'Database-LCID',
       DATABASEPROPERTYEX(N'{database_name}', 'Collation') AS 'Database-Collation',
  DATABASEPROPERTYEX(N'{database_name}', 'ComparisonStyle') AS 'Database-ComparisonStyle',
       DATABASEPROPERTYEX(N'{database_name}', 'SQLSortOrder') AS 'Database-SQLSortOrder'
FROM   sys.dm_os_windows_info;

Installation Default

Another interpretation of "default" could mean what default Collation is selected for the Instance-level collation when installing. That varies based on the OS language, but the (horrible, horrible) default for systems using "US English" is SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS. In that case, the "default" encoding is Windows Code Page 1252 for VARCHAR data, and as always, UTF-16 for NVARCHAR data. You can find the list of OS language to default SQL Server collation here: Collation and Unicode support: Server-level collations. Keep in mind that these defaults can be overridden; this list is merely what the Instance will use if not overridden during install.

UPDATE 2018-10-02

SQL Server 2019 introduces native support for UTF-8 in VARCHAR / CHAR datatypes (not TEXT!). This is accomplished via a set of new collations, the names of which all end with _UTF8. This is an interesting capability that will definitely help some folks, but there are some "quirks" with it, especially when UTF-8 isn't being used for all columns and the Database's default Collation, so don't use it just because you have heard that UTF-8 is magically better. UTF-8 was designed solely for ASCII compatibility: to enable ASCII-only systems (i.e. UNIX back in the day) to support Unicode without changing any existing code or files. That it saves space for data using mostly (or only) US English characters (and some punctuation) is a side-effect. When not using mostly (or only) US English characters, data can be the same size as UTF-16, or even larger, depending on which characters are being used. And, in cases where space is being saved, performance might improve, but it might also get worse.

For a detailed analysis of this new feature, please see my post, "Native UTF-8 Support in SQL Server 2019: Savior or False Prophet?".

Solution 2 - Sql Server

If you need to know the default collation for a newly created database use:


This is the server collation for the SQL Server instance that you are running.

Solution 3 - Sql Server

The default character encoding for a SQL Server database is iso_1, which is ISO 8859-1. Note that the character encoding depends on the data type of a column. You can get an idea of what character encodings are used for the columns in a database as well as the collations using this SQL:

select data_type, character_set_catalog, character_set_schema, character_set_name, collation_catalog, collation_schema, collation_name, count(*) count
from information_schema.columns
group by data_type, character_set_catalog, character_set_schema, character_set_name, collation_catalog, collation_schema, collation_name;

If it's using the default, the character_set_name should be iso_1 for the char and varchar data types. Since nchar and nvarchar store Unicode data in UCS-2 format, the character_set_name for those data types is UNICODE.

Solution 4 - Sql Server


Where DBName is your database name.

Solution 5 - Sql Server

I think this is worthy of a separate answer: although internally unicode data is stored as UTF-16 in Sql Server this is the Little Endian flavour, so if you're calling the database from an external system, you probably need to specify UTF-16LE.

Solution 6 - Sql Server

You can see collation settings for each table like the following code:

SELECT t.name TableName, c.name ColumnName, collation_name  
FROM sys.columns c  
INNER JOIN sys.tables t on c.object_id = t.object_id where t.name = 'name of table';


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QuestionDavidView Question on Stackoverflow
Solution 1 - Sql ServerSolomon RutzkyView Answer on Stackoverflow
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Solution 3 - Sql ServerRob at TVSeries.comView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 4 - Sql ServerJNKView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 5 - Sql ServerIntegrating StuffView Answer on Stackoverflow
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