I need to provide data in a format that could be imported into a Microsoft SQL Server database; however, I do not have Windows or access to a SQL Server instance.

The data is currently in several CSV spreadsheets. I looked at BULK INSERT but found their support for CSV is quite limited, such as not recognizing double quotes (documentation: Specifying Field and Row Terminators). I have read that edge cases like when a field happens to include a quote (and so needs to be escaped) are not supported.

Is there a more reliable intermediary format that could be generated from Linux/OSX? For example MySQL dump, Excel, Sqlite, XML, etc?

I also need this import process to create the tables and not require coding. The person importing is non-technical. It would be a one-off process.

  • The target system is SQL Server 2008, though I am ideally interested in a solution not tied to a specific version.
  • The data to import is ~100MB in a single CSV file.
  • There are embedded field/row delimiters, which works fine when the fields are quoted with the Python csv module.
  • There is no need to handle foreign keys, indexes, constraints, etc.
  • The encoding is UTF-8.
  • The source is scraped data from German web pages currently stored in a CSV file. I could easily import it from there into MySQL / Postgres if that was a reliable vector.

I won't be able to test the import because I don't have direct access to the SQL Server database, so am looking for a more reliable approach. For example a MySQL dump, XLS, XML, etc.


3 Answers 3


There are some issues with this request:

  1. What version and edition of SQL Server is the target system?

  2. How much data is being imported? 10k, 10 Mb, more?

  3. How many CSV files are there?

  4. You have stated that handling of double-quotes is required, implying text-qualified fields and embedded text-qualifiers. Will there also be embedded field delimiters (i.e. , )? Those usually aren't a problem, but will there also be embedded row delimiters (i.e. \r\n or just \n )? These are the biggest problem for most CSV parsers.

  5. In a comment on Scott's answer you raise a concern about: "Double quotes is one example and I expect there are other shortcomings if such a basic feature is missing - unicode, size limits, etc.". Can you please update the question to include these and any other missing requirements?

  6. In a comment on the question, you ask, regarding SSMS: "will this create the required tables or they must be predefined?". Is creating the tables a requirement of this import process? If so, or even if creating the tables is an optional benefit, can it please be stated clearly in the question?

  7. If the tables do not already exist, what needs to happen with regards to Foreign Keys, Indexes, Default Constraints, Check Constraints, etc?

  8. What collation is being used, or at least is desired for the SQL Server tables? Is the plan to simply inherit the current default collation for the database that you are importing into? And to be clear about the term "collation" since it can have slightly different meaning depending on the system you are using, I am speaking of: Locale / LCID / Culture / Code Page (if applicable). It would also help to know if the source is sensitive or insensitive for case, accents, etc, or if a binary collation is being used.

  9. Is there a more reliable intermediary format that could be generated from Linux/OSX? For example MySQL dump, Excel, Sqlite, XML, etc?

    The only truly reliable format will be something generated by SQL Server. XML is generally very reliable for transporting the data (this is what XML was meant to do), and doesn't have the parsing issues that are inherent in delimited files (i.e. embedded text qualifiers and delimiters). BUT, you still need to create the tables, and you need to write, and test the parsing of the XML into a result set so that it can be inserted into the tables. HOWEVER, (continued in the next item)...

  10. You stated in that comment on Scott's answer:

    Problem is I won't be able to test the import because I don't have direct access to the MS SQL database, so am looking for a more reliable approach.

    "Reliability" can only be determined through testing. It doesn't matter what should work, anything can go wrong. For example, many folks are not aware that it is common for XML to have an encoding of UTF-8, yet SQL Server only handles UTF-16 (Little Endian) for XML or even NVARCHAR data. Seeing as how this data is coming from "Linux/OSX", I would expect the default encoding to be UTF-8.

    The encoding issue and other nuances should all (well, "mostly") reveal themselves in testing, but you have no way to test. Hence it will be difficult to get a very reliable answer regarding a reliable import mechanism.

  11. What is the source of the data? I assume it is either Linux or OSX as those were mentioned in the question. But is it coming from MySQL specifically (since a "MySQL dump" was also mentioned)? Knowing if the source is MySQL or PostgreSQL or flat files, etc will help determine what tools are both available and best suited to this request.

  12. Regardless of the source, however, keep in mind that the destination (i.e. Windows / SQL Server) is most "comfortable" dealing with UTF-16 (Little Endian) encoded data. So while UTF-8 might be the default output type for Linux/OSX-based systems, if there is an option for using UTF-16 Little Endian for the output encoding, that will help reduce potential issues once the script is moved over to the destination system.

One last thing to consider: You mention "MySQL dump" as a potential "reliable format", and those dumps include the DDL (i.e. CREATE TABLE) and DML (i.e. INSERT) statements. If you have the ability to write a script that contains the DDL statements (if necessary) and DML statements, then you don't have to worry about any formatting issues. Just convert the CSV data into INSERT statements and be done. The only issue you would be left with is not being able to test the scripts. But still, outside of which type of quote or brackets to use for object names and string literals, it's really hard to go wrong with:

INSERT INTO table (column1_name, column2_name, ...) VALUES (column1_val, column2_val, ...);

And to make things even easier:

  1. Enclose table and column names in square brackets: [ and ] (e.g. [Customers]), or double-quotes: " (e.g. "Customers")
  2. Enclose string, date, and GUID literals in regular single-quotes / apostrophes: '. (e.g. 'some text')
  3. If any string literals are for Unicode / NVARCHAR / XML columns, prefix those literals with a capital-"N": N (e.g. N'some unicode text')
  4. Make sure that any date / datetime values are formatted in a compatible way (there are several options and some depend on the current language setting in SQL Server, but generally YYYY-MM-DD HH:mm:ss.mmm should be fine)
  5. Max size/length for CHAR / VARCHAR and BINARY / VARBINARY columns is 8000. Anything larger will need to use VARCHAR(MAX) and VARBINARY(MAX), respectively.
  6. Max size/length for NCHAR / NVARCHAR columns (i.e. Unicode) is 4000. Anything larger will need to use NVARCHAR(MAX).

Since MySQL was mentioned in the question, even if indirectly, I figured it wouldn't hurt to test using mysqldump to see how close it can actually get. I used the following options:


Some notes:

  • I used utf8 as the charset since utf16le, ucs2, and a few others are not allowed in this particular context :-(
  • The bottom two options -- --skip-add-drop-table and --quote-names -- might not need to be explicitly stated as they might be implied by --compatible=mssql
  • At minimum you will need to do some string replacements on the output file to adjust the syntax for SQL Server. In the list below, pay close attention to the space before, and sometimes after, the "before" and "after" strings as they are necessary to prevent matching parts of valid strings.
    1. " int(11) " -> " INT "
    2. " timestamp " -> " DATETIME "
    3. " text " -> " VARCHAR(MAX) "
    4. " blob " -> " VARBINARY(MAX) "
    5. " DEFAULT NULL" -> " NULL" (no space at the end of either the "before" or "after" strings)
  • After making the 5 adjustments noted directly above, you are still left with a few potential issues:
    1. Did any of the string replacements above accidentally match text within any string columns?
    2. If there are any varchar columns with a length of 8001 or more, those lengths will need to be translated to the string MAX so that the resulting data type will be VARCHAR(MAX) instead of VARCHAR(20000).
    3. If you have any Unicode data, especially any characters that do not fit into the Code Page of the default collation of the destination database, it will get converted into question marks ( ? ) unless you can find a way to prefix those string literals with a capital-N. Along these same lines, the CREATE TABLE statements will need to be adjusted for any Unicode columns such that they are NCHAR / NVARCHAR instead of CHAR / VARCHAR. Non-Unicode columns can remain as CHAR / VARCHAR.
    4. potentially other nuances / differences that I have missed.

P.S. For the sake of completeness as it relates to migrating data from MySQL to SQL Server, Microsoft does have a Migration Assistant, but from what I can tell so far it requires a connection from SQL Server to MySQL and will not work on a dump file.


New info (from comment on this answer):

The source is scraped data from German web pages currently stored in a CSV file. I could easily import it from there into MySQL / Postgres if that was a reliable vector.

So here's a thought. If you can get this data into one RDBMS, then why not another? Assuming you were going to set up a temporary Windows VM for testing anyway, you could just:

  1. Install SQL Server 2008 Express Edition (i.e. free) on the VM
  2. Create a database to hold this data (it will make life much easier if you can find out from your client what default collation their database is using and use the same one for this new database!)
  3. Create the intended schema (tables, etc) for this data
  4. Import this data directly into these tables
  5. Take a BACKUP of the this database
  6. Create another database that will act as your client's database
  7. Write a script that will:
    1. RESTORE the backup file into a new database with a new name (not the original name)
    2. copy the tables / data from the new database into the "customer" database
    3. DROP the new / data migration database
  8. TEST!
  9. Give the backup file and the script that makes use of it to your client.

While this does require that you write a T-SQL script, it does not require any additional software or install, and the data is already in columns of the proper datatypes and doesn't need to be parsed :-).

P.S. Again, for the sake of completeness I was also looking at SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) as a possible solution as it can export schema and data into a single .dacpac file and import that into a destination. However, this does require installing SSDT. But, you wouldn't have to write a T-SQL script as SSDT handles all of the SQL for you.

  • Thanks for information about T-SQL / SSDT - I'm surprised a flat file export/input isn't a builtin feature. Maybe best solution will be convince them to use another database...
    – hoju
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 16:11
  • @hoju Actually, the import part is built-in via BULK INSERT and OPENROWSET(BULK, ...): Import Bulk Data by Using BULK INSERT or OPENROWSET(BULK...). However, those two options and bcp are pretty much the same underlying engine. So a problem in one is usually a problem in the others. Since this is a 1 time job, it doesn't make much sense to go through the trouble of getting that right (requires format file, and not sure if embedded newlines are allowed even then) when delivering a backup is guaranteed to work, and with no config. :) Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 16:22
  • @hoju Also, with any of the BCP / BULK INSERT options you would still need to create a script with all of the CREATE TABLE commands, and then either a .CMD to call BCP.EXE or another script to call BULK INSERT. P.S. I am currently working on a new product that will greatly assist in importing / exporting SQL Server data across various file types, including full CSV (handling embedded qualifiers and terminators), etc. And it can create the tables, too :-). But it's not done so I can't offer it as a solution (that and I haven't decided what parts, if any, will be free). Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 16:26
  • I found using mysqldump with --compatible=mssql was sufficient
    – hoju
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 4:46

Consider an alternative: OPENROWSET/SELECT INTO

As a DBA I find BULK INSERT really annoying at times. With this code I bypassed BULK INSERT/BCP altogether with OPENROWSET and the "Microsoft Access" Engine which is really the "Office" Engine. Of course I imported Excel files but CSV is very similar.

In this code, I'm importing the file SQLServerUsageTracker-10-21-2015-11h47m19s.xlsx directly into the SQLSunSet.dbo.TempServerMap table -- with columns are being auto-generated by "into". Try this method, changing the code to meet your needs, and see if it resolves the quote issue you are experiencing.


ALTER proc [dbo].[spImportMapSQLServers]
     @MapsExcelFile_SQLServerUsageTracker varchar(1000)='C:\Users\solu3m\Documents\MAP\SQL10162015\SQLServerUsageTracker-10-21-2015-11h47m19s.xlsx'
declare  @cmdstring varchar(8000) ='select * into SQLSunSet.dbo.TempServerMap from OPENROWSET (''Microsoft.Ace.OLEDB.12.0'', ''Excel 12.0;Database=<MapsExcelFile_SQLServerUsageTracker>'', ''select * from [SQL Server Instance Details$]'')'
set @cmdstring = replace(@cmdstring,'<MapsExcelFile_SQLServerUsageTracker>',@MapsExcelFile_SQLServerUsageTracker)
if exists (select * from sysobjects where type ='u' and name ='TempServerMap') drop table TempServerMap
--print (@cmdstring)
exec (@cmdstring)

You'll need to install the MSAccess/Office engine on the SQL Server where the work is being done.



And should you decide to, you can test all this with an evaluation copy of Windows, SQL Server Developer Edition, and something like Virtual Box to host Windows on OS X. That way you don't have to do any dev/test on your production system.

Don't worry, SQL Server Developer Edition (includes every feature) is now free:


You may find you need to install an evaluation Edition of Windows Server as well:


Should you need to virtualize eval Windows environment on Linux, OS X, or Solaris you can build a VM of Windows Server on VirtualBox or some other virtualization software:


  • Testing in a VM is a good idea. Regarding the code - the people I am dealing with are pretty non-technical so was hoping to avoid them installing packages and running scripts.
    – hoju
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 2:00

This link has suggestions for dealing with double quotes while trying to import data using BULK INSERT and the BCP utility using a format file.

This link has suggestions for dealing with double quotees while trying to import data using SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS)

  • Double quotes is one example and I expect there are other shortcomings if such a basic feature is missing - unicode, size limits, etc. Problem is I won't be able to test the import because I don't have direct access to the MS SQL database, so am looking for a more reliable approach. For example a MySQL dump, XLS, XML, etc.
    – hoju
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 16:30

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