Adding Column to a SQL Server Table

Adding a column to a table is  common task for  DBAs. You can add a column to a table which is a nullable column or which has default values. But are these two operations are similar internally and which method is optimal?

Let us start this with an example.

I created a database and a table using following script:

USE master
Go
--Drop Database if exists
IF EXISTS (SELECT 1 FROM SYS.databases
WHERE name = 'AddColumn') DROP DATABASE AddColumn --Create the database CREATE DATABASE AddColumn GO
USE AddColumn
GO
--Drop the table if exists
IF EXISTS (
SELECT 1 FROM sys.tables WHERE Name = 'ExistingTable')
DROP TABLE ExistingTable
GO
--Create the table
CREATE TABLE ExistingTable
(ID BIGINT IDENTITY(1,1) PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED,
DateTime1 DATETIME DEFAULT GETDATE(),
DateTime2 DATETIME DEFAULT GETDATE(),
DateTime3 DATETIME DEFAULT GETDATE(),
DateTime4 DATETIME DEFAULT GETDATE(),
Gendar CHAR(1) DEFAULT 'M',
STATUS1 CHAR(1) DEFAULT 'Y'
)
GO
-- Insert 100,000 records with defaults records
INSERT INTO ExistingTable
DEFAULT VALUES
GO 100000

Before adding a Column

Before adding a column let us look at some of the details of the database.

DBCC
IND (AddColumn,ExistingTable,1)

By running the above query, you will see 637 pages for the created table.

Adding a Column

You can add a column to the table with following statement.

ALTER
TABLE ExistingTable Add NewColumn INT NULL

Above will add a column with a null value for the existing records.

Alternatively you could add a column with default values.

ALTER TABLE ExistingTable Add
NewColumn INT NOT NULL DEFAULT 1

The above statement will add a column with a 1 value to the existing records.

In the below table I measured the performance difference between above two statements.

Parameter

Nullable Column

Default Value

CPU

31

702

Duration

129 ms

6653 ms

Reads

38

116,397

Writes

6

1329

Row Count

0

100000

If you look at the RowCount parameter, you can clearly see the difference. Though column is added in the first case, none of the rows are affected while in the second case all the rows are updated. That is the reason, why it has taken more duration and CPU to add column with Default value.

We can verify this by several methods.

Number of Pages

The number of data pages can be obtained by using DBCC IND command. Though, this an undocumented dbcc command, many experts are ok to use this command in production. However, since there is no official word from Microsoft, use this “at your own risk”.

DBCC IND (AddColumn,ExistingTable,1)

Before Adding the Columns

637

Adding a Column with NULL

637

Adding a column with DEFAULT value

1270

This clearly shows that pages are physically modified. Please note, a high value indicated in the Adding a column with DEFAULT value  column is also a result of page splits.

Continues…

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