I need to fix some data conversion issue in SQL server 2008. I got some requirement change on storing the data. Without much care I converted existing varbinary data to varchar using CONVERT(NVARCHAR(max), @bytearraydata, 1).

The same conversion in C# is done using Encoding.Default.GetString and Encoding.Default.GetBytes methods. Encoding.Default.GetBytes(string) gets back the bytearray as it was earlier. But when I try to get back the byte array of string which I converted using CONVERT() gives me a wrong result.

My work is to fetch byte array stored as string the database and convert it to byte array and finally render the content as PDF. Data going through encoding mechanism (while saving and while fetching) works fine for me. But when I try to fetch the data which was converted using CONVERT it is failing to generate PDF.

How can I resolve this problem?


Byte array column has been changed to string.

Existing data conversion done using this function:

Convert(NVARCHAR(MAX), @bytearraydata, 1)

In the application byte array conversion is done using Encoding.Default.GetString(bytearraydata)

Are Encoding and CONVERT not compatible?

  • Have you got a backup of the data prior the change?
    – vonPryz
    Jan 7, 2014 at 13:01
  • 2
    Can you show us an example of the binary data and the expected string and show where the string you got deviates from the expectation? Jan 7, 2014 at 13:03
  • I'm unclear. You're saying that you converted data from VARBINARY to VARCHAR, and when you try to convert it back to VARBINARY you're getting a different result? That should be a lossless process. Jan 7, 2014 at 15:47
  • Please check my question once again, I rephrased my question. Even I could able to see the data conversions happening fine with test data. I am using encoding mechanism for converting bytearray to string and vice versa in application level. For existing data I had written a sql script for converting bytearray to string. I could able to generate PDF content for the data which was converted through application level (Encoding mechanism), but it is failing for sql converted data. Varchar -> bytearray using Encoding.Default.GetBytes -> Generate pdf). Is encoding compatible with CONVERT? Jan 8, 2014 at 11:06
  • SQL Server stores NVARCHAR as ucs-2. Why are you treating it as binary at all? Jan 8, 2014 at 11:32

4 Answers 4


When you use Encoding.Default the result is dependent on local settings:

An encoding for the operating system's current ANSI code page.

The specification is pretty direct about the dangers of using the default encoding and very specifically calls out the recommendation not to use it:

Different computers can use different encodings as the default, and the default encoding can even change on a single computer. Therefore, data streamed from one computer to another or even retrieved at different times on the same computer might be translated incorrectly. In addition, the encoding returned by the Default property uses best-fit fallback to map unsupported characters to characters supported by the code page. For these two reasons, using the default encoding is generally not recommended

Now, for whatever reason, you expect the random current local encoding to match the server encoding. Even if the CONVERT function would do what you believe it does, the results would be random and unpredictable because:

  • the server local code page may differ from the client code page.
  • a code page change would render the persisted data unreadable because it was written with one encoding and then attempted to be read with another.

Furthermore, CONVERT does not do what you expect. CONVERT will cast a VARBINARY to an NVARCHAR using the UCS-2 encoding, since this is the encoding SQL Server uses for NVARCHAR data.

I suggest you approach your urgent problem by first reading this article The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!). Follow up with International Considerations for SQL Server.


There are a few of confusions going on in the question, leading to the unexpected results:

  1. The terms VARCHAR and NVARCHAR are being used interchangeably (or so it seems), yet they are quite different. NVARCHAR is a 16-bit encoding – UTF-16 LE (Little Endian) to be exact – and this does not change. VARCHAR is an 8-bit encoding, and the specific 8-bit encoding being used is determined by the Code Page associated with the Collation of the column (we will ignore VARCHAR data in string literals and variables for now since this question is about data stored in a table). If you want to know what Code Page is associated with a particular Collation, you can use the COLLATIONPROPERTY built-in functions:

    SELECT COLLATIONPROPERTY(N'Latin1_General_100_CI_AS_SC', 'CodePage') AS [CodePage];
    -- 1252
  2. When converting between VARBINARY and either VARCHAR or NVARCHAR you need to be careful to be consistent with that string datatype. You can't convert from VARCHAR to VARBINARY and then take that same VARBINARY and convert it to NVARCHAR.

  3. The Encoding class in .NET represents a particular encoding of text, whether it be 7-bit, 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, or variable (such as UTF-8). In order to get "expected" results, you need to create an encoding that matches what you need to convert to or from, with respect to the byte[] representation. Strings in .NET are always UTF-16 LE (same as NVARCHAR ), and this is what the Unicode encoding in .NET refers to. The byte[] representation of an encoding will be of whatever encoding was created, but the string representation will always be UTF-16 LE. So, which encoding to create depends on what type of data you are dealing with:

    • NVARCHAR: Use Encoding.Unicode
    • VARCHAR: Determine the Code Page of the Collation via COLLATIONPROPERTY(N'collation_name', 'CodePage') and then use that int value in Encoding.GetEncoding(CodePageIntValue).
  4. When using the CONVERT built-in function, be careful which "style" number you are using. For example:

    -- 0x62006F006200

    Now take that returned VARBINARY value and convert it back into NVARCHAR, using "style" values of 0 (default) and 1 (which is what your CONVERT function is using in the question):

    SELECT CONVERT(NVARCHAR(MAX), 0x62006F006200, 0) AS [Style_0],
           CONVERT(NVARCHAR(MAX), 0x62006F006200, 1) AS [Style_1];


    Style_0        Style_1
    bob            0x62006F006200

So, if the following statement from the question is true:

In the application byte array conversion is done using Encoding.Default.GetString(bytearraydata)

then that would equate to using VARCHAR instead of NVARCHAR, and a "style" value of 0 (or nothing) instead of 1:

CONVERT(VARCHAR(MAX), 0x62006F006200)

I can't replicate that problem. Were there any extra steps involved? I can convert text to binary and back again, or vice-versa, without loss:

DECLARE @OrigText      VARCHAR  (100) = 'There once was a bear'
DECLARE @Binary        VARBINARY(100) = CONVERT(VARBINARY(100), @OrigText)
DECLARE @RoundTripText VARCHAR  (100) = CONVERT(VARCHAR  (100), @Binary)
DECLARE @RoundTripBin  VARBINARY(100) = CONVERT(VARBINARY(100), @RoundTripText)

SELECT @OrigText, @Binary, @RoundTripText, @RoundTripBin


  • There once was a bear
  • 0x5468657265206F6E63652077617320612062656172
  • There once was a bear
  • 0x5468657265206F6E63652077617320612062656172

This also works with NVARCHAR and using CAST rather than CONVERT. Note that I'm not specifying a style for CONVERT; if you specify one my understanding is that your text needs to be a hexadecimal string. Is that what you are storing, or is some more conventional text?


Try using cast instead, that worked for me

C#: Encoding.Default.GetString

SQL: select cast(COLUMN_NAME as varchar(max)), * from TABLE

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