What Is a Varbinary Data Type?


Heather Bennett

Are you curious about the varbinary data type? In this article, we will explore what varbinary is and how it can be used in SQL databases. So let’s dive in!

Understanding Varbinary

Varbinary is a data type that is commonly used in SQL databases to store binary data. Binary data refers to any kind of data that is not in human-readable format, such as images, documents, audio files, or video files. Unlike other types of data, binary data cannot be represented using traditional character sets like ASCII or Unicode.

The varbinary data type allows you to store binary data as a variable-length array of bytes. The “var” in varbinary stands for variable, meaning that the length of the binary data can vary. This flexibility makes varbinary an ideal choice for storing files of different sizes.

Using Varbinary

To use varbinary in your SQL database, you need to define a column with the varbinary data type. Here’s an example:

    ID int,
    FileName nvarchar(100),
    FileData varbinary(max)

In this example, we have created a table called “Files” with three columns: “ID”, “FileName”, and “FileData”. The “FileData” column is defined as varbinary(max), which means it can store binary data of any size.

Storing Binary Data

To store binary data in the varbinary column, you can use various methods depending on your programming language or database management system (DBMS). Typically, you would convert the binary file into a byte array and then insert it into the table.

Here’s an example using SQL Server:

INSERT INTO Files (ID, FileName, FileData)
VALUES (1, 'example.jpg', 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

Make sure to convert the binary data into a format that can be inserted into the varbinary column. In this example, we used a hexadecimal representation of an image file (JPEG) and inserted it into the “FileData” column.

Retrieving Binary Data

To retrieve binary data from the varbinary column, you can use SQL queries or programming language-specific methods. Here’s an example using SQL Server:

FROM Files
WHERE FileName = 'example.jpg';

This query will retrieve the binary data stored in the varbinary column for the file with the name ‘example.jpg’.


In summary, the varbinary data type is a versatile way to store binary data in SQL databases. It allows you to store files of different sizes and retrieve them when needed. Whether you’re working with images, documents, or any other type of binary data, varbinary can help you efficiently handle and manage your data.

Remember: The varbinary data type is just one of many options for storing binary data in SQL databases. Depending on your specific requirements and database system, there may be other alternatives that better suit your needs.

So now that you know what varbinary is all about, go ahead and explore its potential in your own projects!

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