I don't know if this is a bad question, but I don't understand what the difference is between normal DB backups and data-tier applications in SQL Server. I know backups can't be imported from SQL Server to an older version of SQL Server, but data-tier applications do work for this, and I've been using this to move some of our databases between servers. What are the differences from a backup perspective?


1 Answer 1


A backup is a full copy of all the database pages, or a dump of the database if you like, starting at page 0 and written sequentially to the backup device.

The Data-Tier application is a set of scripts that will create the database objects along with insert statements that will insert the data into the table objects afterwards.

From a backup perspective the Data-Tier application is a snapshot of the database in a certain state, you can install the application in that state but you can not restore additional data but have to copy the data from another source. The backup is a consistent state of the database and you can make log or differential backups that you can use to restore the database to a point in time.

  • Perfect, exactly what I was looking for. Thank you!
    – vaindil
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 15:51
  • 3
    There's one important caveat: "For an export to be transactionally consistent, you must ensure either that no write activity is occurring during the export, or that you are exporting from a transactionally consistent copy of your Azure SQL database." (azure docs). This means that if you export Data-Tier application from a a live db, you can get an inconsistent set of data (at least for Azure Sql, not sure about regular Sql Server).
    – qbik
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 5:53
  • Can this be explained by saying that back-ups are like a book of data-tiers (snapshots)? I'm not still sure to understand what a back-up really is.
    – carloswm85
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 20:30

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