Lesson Learned #429:Leveraging the Full Range SQL Server INT Data Type: Negative and Positive Values

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This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Community Hub.

SQL Server's INT data type, by design, provides a range from -2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,647. But often, developers only utilize the positive range for primary keys and other identifier fields, effectively wasting half of its potential. What if we could harness this full range to temporarily extend the capacity of an INT column? In this article, we explore this idea in-depth.


Why Consider Negative Values?

In large-scale applications with a massive influx of data, an integer-based identifier might approach its positive limit faster than anticipated. One approach to circumvent this limitation, without immediately switching to the BIGINT data type, is to utilize the negative range of the INT data type. This strategy essentially doubles the available unique values for the column.


Implementing Dual Sequences: A Practical Approach

To apply this methodology, one can create two sequences in SQL Server: one for positive values and another for negative values.


Creating Sequences:



-- Positive Sequence CREATE SEQUENCE PositiveIntSequence AS INT START WITH 1 INCREMENT BY 1 MINVALUE 1 MAXVALUE 2147483647 NO CYCLE; -- Negative Sequence CREATE SEQUENCE NegativeIntSequence AS INT START WITH -1 INCREMENT BY -1 MINVALUE -2147483648 MAXVALUE -1 NO CYCLE;



With the sequences in place, you can now selectively pull from either, depending on your requirements.


Fetching Values from Sequences:



CREATE PROCEDURE GetIDBySequence @DesiredSign CHAR(1), -- P (Positive) or N (Negative) @ResultID INT OUTPUT AS BEGIN IF @DesiredSign = 'N' SELECT @ResultID = NEXT VALUE FOR NegativeIntSequence ELSE SELECT @ResultID = NEXT VALUE FOR PositiveIntSequence END



Use Cases and Practical Implications

  1. Load Balancing: By alternating between positive and negative values, you can balance the distribution of IDs and make database operations more predictable.

  2. Temporary Expansion: If you're nearing the limit of the positive range of the INT data type, using the negative range provides a temporary buffer. However, this is a temporary measure, and you'll eventually need to migrate to a larger data type or restructure the database.

  3. Unique Identifier Generation: When you want to ensure that two processes do not generate the same ID, one could generate positive IDs while the other generates negative ones.



  1. Application Logic: Before implementing this strategy, ensure your application can handle negative values without unexpected behaviors.

  2. Future Growth: Relying on both positive and negative values only delays the inevitable. If your application continues to grow, transitioning to a BIGINT or another scalable data solution is essential.

  3. Concurrency: When dealing with high concurrency scenarios, be aware of potential conflicts and ensure the logic to fetch IDs remains conflict-free.



The full range of SQL Server's INT data type provides unique opportunities for developers to creatively maximize their database's potential. While not a permanent solution to rapid data growth, using both positive and negative values is an alternative approach to maximize the utility of an existing structure before considering more drastic measures.



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