SQL Server Compatibility Levels – to Upgrade or Not to Upgrade?

When you upgrade from one SQL Server type to another (most of my experience has been with 2000 -> 2005), one of the options available is to stick with the existing compatibility level, rather than upgrade.

SQL Server 2000 defaults to “Compatibility Level 80”, with other options including 65, 70. These represent the features and compatibility options for version 8.0 (SQL Server 2000), 6.5 and 7.0 respectively. In other words, it’s possible to coerce a database into thinking it’s running with features consistent with an earlier release of SQL Server.

When upgrading to 2005, it’s possible to retain compatibility level 80, but the recommended route is to switch to 90. But should you?

There are two ways to look at this:

* If you want to change your code (or install some collaborating SQL2005/2008 servers) in the future, your compatibility mode will affect that decision
* If you haven’t run the Upgrade Adviser, you may not be able to upgrade; compatibility level 90 disables certain syntaxes and features that were available in 80.

So, when upgrading, you don’t have to increase your compatibility level, but then you’ve to consider your future with the server too; you might be happy to run on the latest SQL Server instance, but with old-school database settings and syntaxes. On the other hand, collaboration with other servers and applications, or maintenance by future programmers and DBAs, will probably require the switch to a higher compatibility level.

Note: it’s entirely possible to have several databases with different compatibility levels on a single instance.

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