This combined numerical/laboratory study investigates the effect of stratification form on the shoaling characteristics of internal solitary waves propagating over a smooth, linear topographic slope. Three stratification types are investigated, namely (i) thin tanh (homogeneous upper and lower layers separated by a thin pycnocline), (ii) surface stratification (linearly stratified layer overlaying a homogeneous lower layer) and (iii) broad tanh (continuous density gradient throughout the water column). It is found that the form of stratification affects the breaking type associated with the shoaling wave. In the thin tanh stratification, good agreement is seen with past studies. Waves over the shallowest slopes undergo fission. Over steeper slopes, the breaking type changes from surging, through collapsing to plunging with increasing wave steepness Aw/Lw for a given topographic slope, where Aw and Lw are incident wave amplitude and wavelength, respectively. In the surface stratification regime, the breaking classification differs from the thin tanh stratification. Plunging dynamics is inhibited by the density gradient throughout the upper layer, instead collapsing-type breakers form for the equivalent location in parameter space in the thin tanh stratification. In the broad tanh profile regime, plunging dynamics is likewise inhibited and the near-bottom density gradient prevents the collapsing dynamics. Instead, all waves either fission or form surging breakers. As wave steepness in the broad tanh stratification increases, the bolus formed by surging exhibits evidence of Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities on its upper boundary. In both two- and three-dimensional simulations, billow size grows with increasing wave steepness, dynamics not previously observed in the literature.