SET IDENTITY_INSERT in SQL Server: A Comprehensive Guide

Understanding and using SET IDENTITY_INSERT in SQL Server is about taking control of your table’s identity column. It’s a setting that allows you to insert explicit values into a column that would auto-increment by default. This can be handy if you need to migrate data or fix some issues. In just a few steps, you’ll learn how to enable this setting, add your specific values, and then turn it off again.

Step by Step Tutorial: Using SET IDENTITY_INSERT in SQL Server

Before diving into the steps, it’s important to understand what you’re about to do. Using SET IDENTITY_INSERT lets you add or change records in a table by setting specific values for an identity column, which is usually set to auto-increment. This is useful when you need to preserve specific values, such as primary keys, during data migrations.

Step 1: Choose the Table

Select the table where you want to use SET IDENTITY_INSERT.

When you choose your table, make sure it has an identity column. This is a column that automatically assigns a numerical value to new records. Normally, you can’t mess with these numbers, but SET IDENTITY_INSERT changes that.


Enable SET IDENTITY_INSERT by running the command ‘SET IDENTITY_INSERT YourTableName ON’.

This step is like flipping on a switch. It tells SQL Server, "Hey, I’m about to insert some specific numbers into an identity column, so let me do my thing." Remember to replace ‘YourTableName’ with the actual name of your table.

Step 3: Insert Your Specific Values

Insert your data with specific values for the identity column.

Here, you’re doing what normally isn’t allowed: choosing the numbers for the identity column yourself. Just write a standard INSERT statement, but now you can include the identity column and assign it a value.


Turn off SET IDENTITY_INSERT by running the command ‘SET IDENTITY_INSERT YourTableName OFF’.

Once you’re done inserting your data, you need to turn SET IDENTITY_INSERT off. This puts things back to normal, where SQL Server takes over assigning those auto-incrementing numbers again.

After completing these steps, your table will have the new data with the specific values you set for the identity column. It’s like you temporarily took over the wheel, drove where you needed to go, and then handed the keys back to SQL Server.

Tips for Using SET IDENTITY_INSERT in SQL Server

  • Always remember to turn SET IDENTITY_INSERT back off after you’re done. Leaving it on can lead to errors and confusion.
  • Use this setting sparingly. It’s powerful but can mess up the order of your identity column if not used carefully.
  • Make sure no one else is inserting data into your table at the same time. This could cause issues with duplicate identity values.
  • Double-check your values before inserting. You want to avoid conflicts with existing identity values.
  • Consider using a transaction. This way, if something goes wrong, you can roll back all changes without any harm done.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an identity column in SQL Server?

An identity column automatically generates numerical values for new records. It’s often used as a primary key.

Can SET IDENTITY_INSERT be used on multiple tables at once?

No, it can only be used on one table at a time within a single session.

What happens if I try to insert a duplicate identity value?

You’ll get an error. SQL Server won’t allow duplicate values in an identity column.

Do I need special permissions to use SET IDENTITY_INSERT?

Yes, you need to have the ALTER permission on the table you want to use it on.

Can I use SET IDENTITY_INSERT on a column that’s not an identity column?

No, SET IDENTITY_INSERT only works with identity columns. It has no effect on other columns.


  1. Choose the table with the identity column.
  2. Enable SET IDENTITY_INSERT for that table.
  3. Insert your specific values into the identity column.
  4. Disable SET IDENTITY_INSERT when done.


So there you have it! SET IDENTITY_INSERT in SQL Server is like a secret key that unlocks the ability to insert specific values into an identity column. It’s perfect for those times when you need to keep control over your identity values, especially during data migrations. But don’t forget, with great power comes great responsibility. Always handle SET IDENTITY_INSERT with care to maintain the integrity of your database.

Remember to enable it before inserting your data and disable it right after. It’s also essential to ensure that the identity values you insert don’t clash with existing ones. After all, you wouldn’t want your carefully crafted data to cause errors down the line.

In the world of SQL Server, understanding the intricacies of various settings and commands like SET IDENTITY_INSERT can be the difference between a smooth operation and a database disaster. Make sure to keep this guide handy for the next time you need to take charge of your identity columns. And as always, happy querying!