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Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Internals by Bob Beauchemin Kalen Delaney Conor Cunningham, Jonathan Kehayias, Benjamin Nevarez, and Paul S. Randal

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Sparse columns

This section looks at another special storage format, added in SQL Server 2008. Sparse columns are ordinary columns that have an optimized storage format for NULL values. Sparse columns reduce the space requirements for NULL values, allowing you to have many more columns in your table definition, as long as most of them are NULL. Using sparse columns requires more overhead to store and retrieve non-NULL values.

Sparse columns are intended to be used for tables storing data describing entities with many possible attributes, in which most of the attributes will be NULL for most rows. For example, a content management system such as Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services might need to keep track of many different types of data in a single ...

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