SQL Server Express

What is SQL Server Express? Definition, Benefits, and Limitations of SQL Server Express

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If you use SQL in your work, you have several options available, ranging from enterprise options to the free SQL Server Express. Monitoring SQL queries are just one of the many things you can monitor with Prefix, so today we thought we’d take a closer look at how SQL Server Express stacks up to the more advanced, paid options, its limitations, and benefits.

Definition of SQL Server Express

SQL Server Express is a free version of Microsoft’s primary relational database management system (RDBMS) – the SQL Server. Essentially, the SQL Server is a database management system that can be used to store and access the information stored in many different databases. SQL Server comes with an impressive range of features like business intelligence, reporting, and in-depth advanced analytics.

The enterprise edition of SQL Server competes against enterprise-oriented systems like Oracle Database (DB) and MySQL. SQL Server Enterprise comes loaded with features and can be too expensive for smaller sized companies to maintain. Microsoft does, however, offer SQL Server in some different editions including:

  • SQL Server Enterprise
  • SQL Server Business Intelligence
  • SQL Server Standard
  • SQL Server Web
  • SQL Server Express

SQL Server Express is the most basic offering available. It is a full database engine you can deploy to a server or embed into an application. Express is free and comes with many of the same features as the enterprise edition. SQL Server Express is probably most suited to supporting production applications for smaller to midsize businesses. A typical SQL Server Express use case would be a deployment by developers who do not want to create applications with a database hosted on a server. Using Express, they would be able to develop apps with their SQL Server database.


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SQL Server Express Benefits

Some benefits come with an SQL Server Express deployment.

  • Free: One huge advantage of SQL Server Express is that it is free. Your only outlay is the time investment you make downloading and setting up the system. If you only want to learn how to use SQL Server, then Express is for you. There is nothing to lose by downloading the system and getting used to how it works.
  • Scalability: SQL Server Express is an ideal starting point for smaller independent software vendors (ISVs) since it can be used with any smaller application. The licensing allows Express to be included as part of an app or product. While there are limitations around memory and socket usage, they are not as restrictive as some might think. Express is not limited to a single user which is a commonly held misconception. There is a 10GB database restriction, but that is a maximum size per database meaning you can have multiple databases that store up to 10GB of data. If you are an ISV and your company experiences high growth rate resulting in increased database demands, then you can only upgrade to a paid version of SQL Server.
  • Security: Within SQL Server Express there is the option of free online backup that will help to protect your valuable business data if anything goes wrong. Administrators should still follow security best practices like restricting access to backup folders and following Windows password policies.
  • Features: While Express is the “lite” version of SQL Server, there is still an impressive range of features that you would have to pay for with other systems. Express supports Full-Text Search, native XML, and the SQL Common Language Runtime. Other key features include a reporting component and report designer enabling custom report creation.

SQL Server Express Limitations:

Before deploying SQL Server Express, you should make yourself aware of its limitations which include:

  • 1GB maximum memory used by the SQL Server Database Engine
  • The maximum size of each relational database is 10GB
  • SQL Agent is not included in Express. The SQL Agent is a background tool which enables administrators to automate tasks like backing up data, database replication setup, job scheduling, user permissions, and database monitoring.
  • The limit on the buffer cache for each instance is 1MB of RAM.
  • The relational database engine is restricted to the lesser of 1 socket or 4 cores.

Versions of SQL Server Express

The 2016 version of SQL Server Express was released in three different editions:

SQL Server 2016 SP1 Express: This is the core express offering and comes with the features we have already laid out. In addition, capabilities like dynamic data masking and row-level security are now available in Express.

SQL Server 2016 Express with Advanced Services: This edition of Express contains the most features. Included are the relational database engine, Management Studio, reporting, and full-text search. Ideal for developers working on smaller applications which need to implement reporting on their applications.

SQL Server 2016 Express LocalDB: This edition is mainly used as a development tool. It is a lighter version of Express that runs as a local app. It does support all the main programmability features of the other editions. The big advantage of LocalDB for developers is that it allows them to create a local environment that is much easier to install and manage. Users can just start up an instance of LocalDB runtime as they need it and do not need to install a service.

SQL Server Express Tutorials and Resources

To learn more about SQL Server Express, check out the following tutorials and resources: