Can We Change the Data Type in SQL Server?


Angela Bailey

In SQL Server, it is indeed possible to change the data type of a column. However, there are certain limitations and considerations that need to be kept in mind when altering data types.

Changing Data Types with the ALTER TABLE Statement

The ALTER TABLE statement is used to modify the structure of an existing table in SQL Server. It allows you to add, modify, or delete columns, as well as change the data type of a column.

To change the data type of a column using the ALTER TABLE statement, you need to use the ALTER COLUMN clause along with the ALTER TABLE keyword. Here’s a basic syntax:

ALTER TABLE table_name
ALTER COLUMN column_name new_data_type;


  • The existing column must be nullable or have no data.
  • The new data type must be compatible with the existing data type (e.g., changing an integer to a string may cause data loss).
  • If the column participates in indexes, constraints, or foreign keys, those objects may need to be dropped and recreated.

Data Type Conversion Examples

To illustrate how data type conversion works in SQL Server, let’s consider a few examples:

Example 1: Altering an Integer Column to Decimal

ALTER TABLE employees

This query changes the data type of the “salary” column in the “employees” table from integer to decimal with two decimal places.

Example 2: Converting a String Column to Date


In this example, the “order_date” column in the “orders” table is changed from a string to a date data type. This assumes that the existing values in the column are in a valid date format.

Example 3: Modifying a Nullable Column to Not Null

ALTER TABLE customers

This query modifies the “email” column in the “customers” table, changing it from nullable to not null. Any existing rows without an email will need to be updated before applying this change.


  • The column length/precision can also be modified along with the data type using ALTER COLUMN.
  • If you want to change multiple columns at once, separate them with commas.

Limits and Considerations when Changing Data Types

Data Loss:

In some cases, changing data types may result in data loss or unexpected behavior. For example, converting a string column with non-numeric values to an integer may cause truncation or error.

Dropped Indexes and Constraints:

If a column participates in indexes, constraints, or foreign keys, those objects may need to be dropped and recreated after changing the data type. Ensure you have a backup and recreate any necessary objects after altering the data type.

Data Conversion Functions:

In cases where the data cannot be directly converted, SQL Server provides various data conversion functions like CAST and CONVERT. These functions allow you to convert data between different types by applying specific formatting or transformation rules.


In SQL Server, changing the data type of a column is possible using the ALTER TABLE statement. However, it’s crucial to consider potential data loss, dropped indexes/constraints, and the use of data conversion functions when altering data types.

Remember to backup your database before making any changes and thoroughly test the impact of altering data types in a non-production environment.

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