Use sqlcmd with Scripting Variables

Updated: August 9, 2016

Applies To: SQL Server 2016

Variables that are used in scripts are called scripting variables. Scripting variables enable one script to be used in multiple scenarios. For example, if you want to run one script against multiple servers, instead of modifying the script for each server, you can use a scripting variable for the server name. By changing the server name supplied to the scripting variable, the same script can be executed on different servers.

Scripting variables can be defined explicitly by using the setvar command, or implicitly by using the sqlcmd-v option.

This topic also includes examples defining environmental variables at the Cmd.exe command prompt by using SET.

The setvar command is used to define scripting variables. Variables that are defined by using the setvar command are stored internally. Scripting variables should not be confused with environment variables that are defined at the command prompt by using SET. If a script references a variable that is not an environment variable or is not defined by using setvar, an error message is returned and the execution of the script will stop. For more information, see the -b option in sqlcmd Utility.

If more than one type of variable has the same name, the variable with the highest precedence is used.

  1. System level environmental variables

  2. User level environmental variables

  3. Command shell (SET X=Y) set at command prompt before starting sqlcmd

  4. sqlcmd-v X=Y

  5. :Setvar X Y

System_CAPS_ICON_note.jpg Note

To view the environmental variables, in Control Panel, open System, and then click the Advanced tab.

When you start sqlcmd with an option that has a related sqlcmd variable, the sqlcmd variable is set implicitly to the value that is specified by using the option. In the following example, sqlcmd is started with the -l option. This implicitly sets the SQLLOGINTIMEOUT variable.

c:\> sqlcmd -l 60

You can also use the -v option to set a scripting variable that exists in a script. In the following script (the file name is testscript.sql), ColumnName is a scripting variable.

USE AdventureWorks2012;

SELECT x.$(ColumnName)

FROM Person.Person x

WHERE x.BusinessEntityID < 5;

You can then specify the name of the column that you want returned by using the -v option:

sqlcmd -v ColumnName ="FirstName" -i c:\testscript.sql

To return a different column by using the same script, change the value of the ColumnName scripting variable.

sqlcmd -v ColumnName ="LastName" -i c:\testscript.sql

Consider the following guidelines when you name scripting variables:

  • Variable names must not contain white space characters or quotation marks.

  • Variable names must not have the same form as a variable expression, such as $(var).

  • Scripting variables are case-insensitive

    System_CAPS_ICON_note.jpg Note

    If no value is assigned to a sqlcmd environment variable, the variable is removed. Using :setvar VarName without a value clears the variable.

Consider the following guidelines when you specify values for scripting variables:

  • Variable values that are defined by using setvar or the -v option must be enclosed by quotation marks if the string value contains spaces.

  • If quotation marks are part of the variable value, they must be escaped. For example: :setvar MyVar "spac""e".

Variables that are defined by using SET are part of the Cmd.exe environment and can be referenced by sqlcmd. Consider the following guidelines:

  • Variable names must not contain white space characters or quotation marks.

  • Variable values may contain spaces or quotation marks.

Variables that are defined by sqlcmd are known as scripting variables. The following table lists sqlcmd scripting variables.

VariableRelated optionR/WDefault
SQLCMDSTATTIMEOUT-tR/W"0" = wait indefinitely

* SQLCMDUSER, SQLCMDPASSWORD and SQLCMDSERVER are set when :Connect is used.

R indicates the value can only be set one time during program initialization.

R/W indicates that the value can be reset by using the setvar command and subsequent commands will use the new value.

A. Using the setvar command in a script

Many sqlcmd options can be controlled in a script by using the setvar command. In the following example, the script test.sql is created in which the SQLCMDLOGINTIMEOUT variable is set to 60 seconds and another scripting variable, server, is set to testserver. The following code is in test.sql.


:setvar server "testserver"

:connect $(server) -l $(SQLCMDLOGINTIMEOUT)

USE AdventureWorks2012;

SELECT FirstName, LastName

FROM Person.Person;

The script is then called by using sqlcmd:

sqlcmd -i c:\test.sql

B. Using the setvar command interactively

The following example shows how to set a scripting variable interactively by using the setvar command.


:setvar MYDATABASE AdventureWorks2012



Here is the result set.

Changed database context to 'AdventureWorks2012'


C. Using command prompt environment variables within sqlcmd

In the following example, four environment variables are set and then called from sqlcmd.

C:\>SET tablename=Person.Person

C:\>SET col1=FirstName

C:\>SET col2=LastName

C:\>SET title=Ms.

C:\>sqlcmd -d AdventureWorks2012

1> SELECT TOP 5 $(col1) + ' ' + $(col2) AS Name

2> FROM $(tablename)

3> WHERE Title ='$(title)'

4> GO

D. Using user-level environment variables within sqlcmd

In the following example the user-level environmental variable %Temp% is set at the command prompt and passed to the sqlcmd input file. To obtain the user-level environment variable, in Control Panel, double-click System. Click the Advance tab, and then click Environment Variables.

The following code is in the input file c:\testscript.txt:

:OUT $(MyTempDirectory)

USE AdventureWorks2012;

SELECT FirstName

FROM AdventureWorks2012.Person.Person

WHERE BusinessEntityID < 5;

This following code is entered at the command prompt:

C:\ >SET MyTempDirectory=%Temp%\output.txt

C:\ >sqlcmd -i C:\testscript.txt

The following result is sent to the output file C:\Documents and Settings\<user>\Local Settings\Temp\output.txt.

Changed database context to 'AdventureWorks2012'.







(4 rows affected)

E. Using a startup script

A sqlcmd startup script is executed when sqlcmd is started. The following example sets the environment variable SQLCMDINI. This is the contents of init.sql.



DECLARE @nt_username nvarchar(128)

SET @nt_username = (SELECT rtrim(convert(nvarchar(128), nt_username))

FROM sys.dm_exec_sessions WHERE spid = @@SPID)

SELECT @nt_username + ' is connected to ' +

rtrim(CONVERT(nvarchar(20), SERVERPROPERTY('servername'))) +

' (' +

rtrim(CONVERT(nvarchar(20), SERVERPROPERTY('productversion'))) +






This calls the init.sql file when sqlcmd is started.

C:\> SET sqlcmdini=c:\init.sql

>1 Sqlcmd

This is the output.

>1 < user > is connected to < server > (9.00.2047.00)

System_CAPS_ICON_note.jpg Note

The -X option disables the startup script feature.

F. Variable expansion

The following example shows working with data in the form of a sqlcmd variable.

USE AdventureWorks2012;

CREATE TABLE AdventureWorks2012.dbo.VariableTest


Col1 nvarchar(50)



Insert one row into Col1 of dbo.VariableTest that contains the value $(tablename).

INSERT INTO AdventureWorks2012.dbo.VariableTest(Col1)



At the sqlcmd prompt, when no variable is set equal to $(tablename), the following statements return the row.

C:\> sqlcmd

>1 SELECT Col1 FROM dbo.VariableTest WHERE Col1 = '$(tablename)';

>2 GO

>3 SELECT Col1 FROM dbo.VariableTest WHERE Col1 = N'$(tablename)';

>4 GO

Here is the result set.

>1 Col1

>2 ------------------

>3 $(tablename)


>5 (1 rows affected)

Given the variable MyVar is set to $(tablename).

>6 :setvar MyVar $(tablename)

These statements return the row and also return the message "'tablename' scripting variable not defined."

>6 SELECT Col1 FROM dbo.VariableTest WHERE Col1 = '$(tablename)';

>7 GO

>1 SELECT Col1 FROM dbo.VariableTest WHERE Col1 = N'$(tablename)';

>2 GO

These statements return the row.

>1 SELECT Col1 FROM dbo.VariableTest WHERE Col1 = '$(MyVar)';

>2 GO

>1 SELECT Col1 FROM dbo.VariableTest WHERE Col1 = N'$(MyVar)';

>2 GO

Use the sqlcmd Utility
sqlcmd Utility
Command Prompt Utility Reference (Database Engine)