Let’s start off with what is a temporal table? SQL Server 2016 introduced support for system-versioned temporal tables as a database feature that brings built-in support for providing information about data stored in the table at any point in time rather than only the data that is correct at the current moment in time.

A system-versioned temporal table is a type of user table designed to keep a full history of data changes and allow easy point in time analysis. This type of temporal table is referred to as a system-versioned temporal table because the period of validity for each row is managed by the system.

Every temporal table has two explicitly defined columns, each with a datetime2 data type. These columns are referred to as period columns. These period columns are used exclusively by the system to record period of validity for each row whenever a row is modified. A temporal table also contains a reference to another table with a mirrored schema. The system uses this table to automatically store the previous version of the row each time a row in the temporal table gets updated or deleted. This additional table is referred to as the history table, while the main table that stores current (actual) row versions is referred to as the current table or simply as the temporal table.

Benefits of using a temporal table:

  • Auditing all data changes and performing data forensics when necessary
  • Reconstructing state of the data as of any time in the past
  • Calculating trends over time
  • Maintaining a slowly changing dimension for decision support applications
  • Recovering from accidental data changes and application errors

Basic overview of temporal tables:

How does a temporal table work?
A current table and a history table are created, both with two datetime2 columns.

  • Period start column: The system records the start time for the row in this column, typically denoted as the SysStartTime column.
  • Period end column: The system records the end time for the row in this column, typically denoted at the SysEndTime column.

The current table contains the current value for each row. The history table contains each previous value for each row, if any, and the start time and end time for the period for which it was valid.

To create a temporal table you add WITH (SYSTEM_VERSIONING = ON (HISTORY_TABLE = dbo.EmployeeHistory)) at the end of the create statement as below:

CREATE TABLE dbo.Employee   
(    
  [EmployeeID] int NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED   
  , [Name] nvarchar(100) NOT NULL  
  , [Position] varchar(100) NOT NULL   
  , [Department] varchar(100) NOT NULL  
  , [Address] nvarchar(1024) NOT NULL  
  , [AnnualSalary] decimal (10,2) NOT NULL  
  , [ValidFrom] datetime2 (2) GENERATED ALWAYS AS ROW START  
  , [ValidTo] datetime2 (2) GENERATED ALWAYS AS ROW END  
  , PERIOD FOR SYSTEM_TIME (ValidFrom, ValidTo)  
 )    
 WITH (SYSTEM_VERSIONING = ON (HISTORY_TABLE = dbo.EmployeeHistory));  

How to query temporal tables:
The SELECT statement FROM clause has a new clause FOR SYSTEM_TIME with five temporal-specific sub-clauses to query data across the current and history tables. This new SELECT statement syntax is supported directly on a single table, propagated through multiple joins, and through views on top of multiple temporal tables.The following query searches for row versions for Employee row with EmployeeID = 1000 that were active at least for a portion of period between 1st January of 2014 and 1st January 2015 (including the upper boundary):

SELECT * FROM Employee FOR SYSTEM_TIME BETWEEN '2017-01-01 00:00:00.0000000' AND '2018-01-01 00:00:00.0000000' WHERE EmployeeID = 1000 ORDER BY ValidFrom;

In the next post we will focus on working with temporal tables.

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2 thoughts on “Temporal Tables

    • The end period column for deleted rows will be populated with the begin time of underlying transaction in the history table.

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