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Importing character columns containing binary zeros into SQL Server

By:   |   Last Updated: 2015-12-01   |   Comments   |   Related Tips: More > Integration Services Development


You have a SQL Server Integration Services package to import a text file, but it contains binary zeros 0x00 instead of spaces and the strings get truncated. In this tip I will show you a workaround for this issue.


When you work as a SQL Server Integration Services developer usually you have to deal with heterogeneous data sources. Flat files are the most used container for information interchange between different platforms. This is especially the case if the data comes from a mainframe, but sometimes the data does not come as expected.

What is a binary zero and why it matters?

The binary zero is the hexadecimal number 0x00. We call it a binary zero because of how this zero is stored. For example, if you have a text file containing a numeric column with the number zero, if you open the file with a Hex editor you will see that the number is stored as 0x30. In contrary, if your text file contains a binary zero and you open it with Notepad or any other text editor you will see a regular blank space like those between words, so you will not notice its presence.

The problem with binary zeros is that they are often used as string terminators in Integration Services as well as many other programming languages. When Integration Services processes a string column containing a binary zero, Integration Services will consider the first occurrence of the binary zero as the string terminator and will truncate the remaining data. The next image will illustrate this concept.

String with binary zeros.

According to Microsoft it is not a bug, it's a feature by design (https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/922648). They suggest that if text contains a binary zero you should use a binary data type.

Why a flat file can contain a binary zero?

This is very common when you process flat files created from a mainframe environment. It's because the Cobol programmer didn't initialize the record structure that he used to create the text file.

Let's walk through an example

First we create a sample database.

USE [master]

( NAME = N'TestDB_file1', 
			FILENAME = N'E:\MSSQL\TestDB_1.mdf',
			SIZE = 128MB , 
( NAME = N'TestDB_log_file1',
			 FILENAME = N'E:\MSSQL\TestDB_1.ldf',
			 SIZE = 8MB,
			 MAXSIZE = 2048GB,


Now we create the customers table.


	DROP TABLE Customers

   CustomerID			INT IDENTITY (1, 1) NOT NULL,
   CustomerName			VARCHAR (50) NOT NULL,
   CustomerAddress		VARCHAR (50) NOT NULL,
   CustomerCategory		TINYINT  NOT NULL,
   CustomerBalance		DECIMAL(10,2) NOT NULL

The next script will insert some test data that you can use to create a sample test file and modify it with a hex editor. Also you can download a test file and the code used in this tip from this link.


INSERT  INTO dbo.Customers
        ( CustomerName ,
          CustomerAddress ,
          CustomerCategory ,
        SELECT  'Stefanie Alexander' ,
                '749 East Rocky New Road' ,
                1 ,
        UNION ALL
        SELECT  'Lee Buckley' ,
                '30 North Green First Avenue' ,
                4 ,
        UNION ALL
        SELECT  'Daniel Gallaghery' ,
                '377 East Green Oak Avenue' ,
                5 ,

Create a new Integration Services package with one data flow task, a flat file connection and a database connection.

SSIS Package view.

In order to configure the columns for the flat file I suggest that you use Ron Kirchgessner's tip SSIS - Configure a source flat file with a fixed width from an existing table. Then set up the data flow task with one OLEDB Destination to the customers table and a flat file source pointing to the sample file location.

DataFlow Task.

If we take a look at the preview page of the flat file connection we can see that it shows the data properly.

Flat File preview.

Now if we run the package and then take a look at the table we can see that data has been truncated.

Data being truncated.

In order to fix this we must first change the data types of string columns CustomerName and CustomerAddress from String (DT_STR) to Bytestream (DT_BYTES) as shown on the image below.

Configure Data Type to DT_BYTES.

Although we have specified that those columns are of bytestream datatype, we must specify in the flat file source advanced editor that the data needs to be treated as a binary format.

Set this option to use binary format.

The next step is to add a Script component transformation task. I feel more comfortable using VB.Net to code, but if you prefer you can use C# too.

Script Task Language selection.

Select the CustomerName and CustomerAddress columns as read only input on the Input Columns page.

Script Task Input Columns Page.

On the Inputs and Outputs page add two output columns CustomerName_Str and CustomerAddress_Str of string data type.

Script Task Input and Outputs Page.

Paste the following VB .NET code into the script editor. This code replaces any occurrence of byte zero to hex byte 20 which is the byte code for a space character. After this, on the OLEDB destination map the columns CustomerName_Str and CustomerAddress_Str to CustomerName and CustomerAddress respectively.

    Public Overrides Sub Input0_ProcessInputRow(ByVal Row As Input0Buffer)

        Row.CustomerNameStr = ReplaceBinaryZero(Row.CustomerName)
        Row.CustomerAddressStr = ReplaceBinaryZero(Row.CustomerAddress)

    End Sub

    Private Function ReplaceBinaryZero(ByVal ByteStream As Byte()) As String
        Dim i As Integer

        For i = 1 To ByteStream.GetLength(0) - 1
            If ByteStream(i) = 0 Then
                ByteStream(i) = &H20
            End If
        ReplaceBinaryZero = System.Text.ASCIIEncoding.ASCII.GetString(ByteStream).Trim
    End Function

Now when you run the package and do a SELECT from the customers table you will see that the table contains the data in the proper way.

Data Correctly inserted.
Next Steps

Last Updated: 2015-12-01

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MSSQLTips author Daniel Farina Daniel Farina was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Self-educated, since childhood he showed a passion for learning.

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