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Create a Format File (SQL Server)

When you bulk import into a SQL Server table or bulk export data from a table, you can use a format file to a flexible system for writing data files that requires little or no editing to comply with other data formats or to read data files from other software programs.

SQL Server support two types of format file: non-XML format and XML format. The non-XML format is the original format that is supported by earlier versions of SQL Server.

Generally, XML and non-XML format files are interchangeable. However, we recommend that you use the XML syntax for new format files because they provide several advantages over non-XML format files.

Note Note

The version of the bcp utility (Bcp.exe) used to read a format file must be the same as, or later than the version used to create the format file. For example, SQL Server 2012 bcp can read a version 10.0 format file, which is generated by SQL Server 2008 bcp, but SQL Server 2008 bcp cannot read a version 11.0 format file, which is generated by SQL Server 2012 bcp.

This topic describes how to use the bcp utility to create a format file for a particular table. The format file is based on the data-type option specified (-n, -c, -w, or -N) and the table or view delimiters.

To use a bcp command to create a format file, specify the format argument and use nul instead of a data-file path. The format option also requires the -f option, such as:

bcp table_or_view format nul -f format_file_name

Note Note

To distinguish a non-XML format file, we recommend that you use .fmt as the file name extension, for example, MyTable.fmt.

For information about the structure and fields of non-XML format files, see Non-XML Format Files (SQL Server).

Examples

This section contains the following examples that show how to use bcp commands to create a non-XML format file:

  • A. Creating a non-XML format file for native data

  • B. Creating a non-XML format file for character data

  • C. Creating a non-XML format file for Unicode native data

  • D. Creating a non-XML format file for Unicode character data

The examples use the HumanResources.Department table in the AdventureWorks2012 sample database. The HumanResources.Department table contains four columns: DepartmentID, Name, GroupName, and ModifiedDate.

A. Creating a non-XML format file for native data

The following example creates an XML format file, Department-n.xml, for the AdventureWorks2012 HumanResources.Department table. The format file uses native data types. The contents of the generated format file are presented after the command.

The bcp command contains the following qualifiers.

Qualifiers

Description

format nul -f format_file

Specifies the non-XML format file.

-n

Specifies native data types.

-T

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

At the Windows command prompt, enter the following bcp command:

bcp AdventureWorks2012.HumanResources.Department format nul -T -n -f Department-n.fmt

The generated format file, Department-n.fmt, contains the following information:

12.0
4
1       SQLSMALLINT   0       2       ""   1     DepartmentID                 ""
2       SQLNCHAR      2       100     ""   2     Name                         SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS
3       SQLNCHAR      2       100     ""   3     GroupName                    SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS
4       SQLDATETIME   0       8       ""   4     ModifiedDate                 ""

For more information, see Non-XML Format Files (SQL Server).

B. Creating a non-XML format file for character data

The following example creates an XML format file, Department.fmt, for the AdventureWorks2012 HumanResources.Department table. The format file uses character data formats and a non-default field terminator (,). The contents of the generated format file are presented after the command.

The bcp command contains the following qualifiers.

Qualifiers

Description

format nul -f format_file

Specifies a non-XML format file.

-c

Specifies character data.

-T

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

At the Windows command prompt, enter the following bcp command:

bcp AdventureWorks2012.HumanResources.Department format nul -c -f Department-c.fmt -T

The generated format file, Department-c.fmt, contains the following information:

12.0
4
1       SQLCHAR       0       7       "\t"     1     DepartmentID                 ""
2       SQLCHAR       0       100     "\t"     2     Name                         SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS
3       SQLCHAR       0       100     "\t"     3     GroupName                    SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS
4       SQLCHAR       0       24      "\r\n"   4     ModifiedDate                 ""

For more information, see Non-XML Format Files (SQL Server).

C. Creating a non-XML format file for Unicode native data

To create a non-XML format file for Unicode native data for the HumanResources.Department table, use the following command:

bcp AdventureWorks2012.HumanResources.Department format nul -T -N -f Department-n.fmt

For more information about how to use Unicode native data, see Use Unicode Native Format to Import or Export Data (SQL Server).

D. Creating a non-XML format file For Unicode character data

To create a non-XML format file for Unicode character data for the HumanResources.Department table that uses default terminators, use the following command:

bcp AdventureWorks2012.HumanResources.Department format nul -T -w -f Department-w.fmt

For more information about how to use Unicode character data, see Use Unicode Character Format to Import or Export Data (SQL Server).

To use a bcp command to create a format file, specify the format argument and use nul instead of a data-file path. The format option always requires the -f option, and to create an XML format file, you must also specify the -x option, such as:

bcp table_or_view format nul -f format_file_name -x

Note Note

To distinguish an XML format file, we recommend that you use .xml as the file name extension, for example, MyTable.xml.

For information about the structure and fields of XML format files, see XML Format Files (SQL Server).

Examples

This section contains the following examples that show how to use bcp commands to create an XML format file:

  • A. Creating an XML format file for character data

  • B. Creating an XML format file for native data

The examples use the HumanResources.Department table in the AdventureWorks2012 sample database. The HumanResources.Department table contains four columns: DepartmentID, Name, GroupName, and ModifiedDate.

Note Note

Adventure Works Cycles is a fictional manufacturing company used to demonstrate database concepts and scenarios.

A. Creating an XML format file for character data

The following example creates an XML format file, Department.xml, for the AdventureWorks2012 HumanResources.Department table. The format file uses character data formats and a non-default field terminator (,). The contents of the generated format file are presented after the command.

The bcp command contains the following qualifiers.

Qualifiers

Description

format nul -f format_file -x

Specifies the XML format file.

-c

Specifies character data.

-t ,

Specifies a comma (,) as the field terminator.

Note Note

If the data file uses the default field terminator (\t), the -t switch is unnecessary.

-T

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

At the Windows command prompt, enter the following bcp command:

bcp AdventureWorks2012.HumanResources.Department format nul -c -x -f Department-c..xml –t, -T

The generated format file, Department-c.xml, contains the following XML elements:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<BCPFORMAT xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/sqlserver/2004/bulkload/format" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
 <RECORD>
  <FIELD ID="1" xsi:type="CharTerm" TERMINATOR="," MAX_LENGTH="7"/>
  <FIELD ID="2" xsi:type="CharTerm" TERMINATOR="," MAX_LENGTH="100" COLLATION="SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS"/>
  <FIELD ID="3" xsi:type="CharTerm" TERMINATOR="," MAX_LENGTH="100" COLLATION="SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS"/>
  <FIELD ID="4" xsi:type="CharTerm" TERMINATOR="\r\n" MAX_LENGTH="24"/>
 </RECORD>
 <ROW>
  <COLUMN SOURCE="1" NAME="DepartmentID" xsi:type="SQLSMALLINT"/>
  <COLUMN SOURCE="2" NAME="Name" xsi:type="SQLNVARCHAR"/>
  <COLUMN SOURCE="3" NAME="GroupName" xsi:type="SQLNVARCHAR"/>
  <COLUMN SOURCE="4" NAME="ModifiedDate" xsi:type="SQLDATETIME"/>
 </ROW>
</BCPFORMAT>

For information about the syntax of this format file, see XML Format Files (SQL Server). For information about character data, see Use Character Format to Import or Export Data (SQL Server).

B. Creating an XML format file for native data

The following example creates an XML format file, Department-n.xml, for the HumanResources.Department table. The format file uses native data types. The contents of the generated format file are presented after the command.

The bcp command contains the following qualifiers.

Qualifiers

Description

format nul -f format_file -x

Specifies the XML format file.

-n

Specifies native data types.

-T

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

At the Windows command prompt, enter the following bcp command:

bcp AdventureWorks2012.HumanResources.Department format nul -x -f Department-n..xml -n -T

The generated format file, Department-n.xml, contains the following XML elements:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<BCPFORMAT xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/sqlserver/2004/bulkload/format" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
 <RECORD>
  <FIELD ID="1" xsi:type="NativeFixed" LENGTH="2"/>
  <FIELD ID="2" xsi:type="NCharPrefix" PREFIX_LENGTH="2" MAX_LENGTH="100" COLLATION="SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS"/>
  <FIELD ID="3" xsi:type="NCharPrefix" PREFIX_LENGTH="2" MAX_LENGTH="100" COLLATION="SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS"/>
  <FIELD ID="4" xsi:type="NativeFixed" LENGTH="8"/>
 </RECORD>
 <ROW>
  <COLUMN SOURCE="1" NAME="DepartmentID" xsi:type="SQLSMALLINT"/>
  <COLUMN SOURCE="2" NAME="Name" xsi:type="SQLNVARCHAR"/>
  <COLUMN SOURCE="3" NAME="GroupName" xsi:type="SQLNVARCHAR"/>
  <COLUMN SOURCE="4" NAME="ModifiedDate" xsi:type="SQLDATETIME"/>
 </ROW>
</BCPFORMAT>

For information about the syntax of this format file, see XML Format Files (SQL Server). For information about how to use native data, see Use Native Format to Import or Export Data (SQL Server).

As created by bcp, a format file describes all the table columns in order. You can modify a format file to rearrange or omit table rows. This lets you customize a format file to a data file whose fields do not map directly to the table columns. For more information, see the following topics:

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