Which Data Type Is Used to Sequentially Order Each Record Added to a Table?


Scott Campbell

Which Data Type Is Used to Sequentially Order Each Record Added to a Table?

When working with databases, it is often necessary to have a way to uniquely identify and sequentially order each record that is added to a table. This is crucial for various operations such as sorting, searching, and retrieving data in a specific order.

In relational databases, the data type commonly used for this purpose is the auto-increment or identity data type.

The Auto-Increment Data Type

The auto-increment data type allows the database system to automatically assign a unique and increasing value to each new record that is inserted into a table. Typically, this value starts at 1 for the first record and increments by 1 for each subsequent record.

It provides an efficient and convenient way of maintaining order in a table without requiring manual intervention.

To define an auto-increment column in a table, you need to specify the data type as INT, which stands for integer. Additionally, you can include the AUTO_INCREMENT attribute to indicate that this column should be automatically incremented by the database system.

An Example:

Let’s consider a simple example of a “Customers” table in a hypothetical online store database. We want each customer added to the table to have a unique identifier that increases sequentially.

To achieve this, we can define an “ID” column with the data type of INT AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY. The “PRIMARY KEY” attribute ensures that each value in this column is unique and serves as the primary identifier for each customer record.

CREATE TABLE Customers (
    Name VARCHAR(50),
    Email VARCHAR(100),

In this example, whenever a new customer is added to the “Customers” table, the database system automatically assigns a unique integer value to the “ID” column. The first customer would be assigned 1, the second customer would be assigned 2, and so on.

The Identity Data Type

While the auto-increment data type is widely used in many databases, some database systems have their own implementation of sequentially increasing values. For example, Microsoft SQL Server uses the identity data type instead.

Similar to auto-increment, the identity data type assigns a unique and incrementing value to each record added to a table. However, the syntax for defining an identity column differs from that of auto-increment.

In SQL Server, you can define an identity column by specifying the data type as INT IDENTITY(1, 1). The first argument represents the initial value for the identity column (in this case, 1), and the second argument represents how much it should increment for each new record (in this case, 1).

CREATE TABLE Customers (
    Name VARCHAR(50),
    Email VARCHAR(100),

With an identity column defined in SQL Server, each new record inserted into the “Customers” table will automatically receive a unique and incrementing value for the “ID” column.


In summary, when you need to sequentially order each record added to a table in a database system, using an auto-increment or identity data type is an effective solution. The auto-increment data type is commonly used across various database systems, while some systems like SQL Server use the identity data type.

By incorporating these data types into your table design, you can ensure that each record has a unique identifier and maintains a specific order within the table.

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