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Free Versions Of SQL Server: Your Guide To Getting Started

Free Versions Of SQL Server By Mike Bennyhoff

SQL Server Express Edition (Free Version Of SQL Server)

SQL Server Express Edition is a free, feature-rich edition of SQL Server designed primarily for learning, developing, and powering desktop, web, and small server applications, as well as for redistribution by ISVs. Ideal for hobbyists, developers, and students, SQL Server Express provides many of the core features of SQL Server. Still, it has limitations in database size and resources to make it suitable for smaller applications and environments where cost is a critical factor.

The Express Edition offers a great way to start with SQL Server without the financial investment required for the full versions. It supports advanced features such as full-text search, database snapshots, and some of the high availability mechanisms, albeit with restrictions that reflect its positioning as an entry-level option.

For those interested in downloading SQL Server 2019 Express Edition or the latest version of SQL Server 2022 Express Edition, Microsoft provides these versions through their official website. The following links direct you to the download pages:

SQL Server 2019 Express Edition:

You can download this version from Microsoft's official download page at

SQL Server Express Edition

SQL Server 2022 Express Edition:

This newer version can also be found on Microsoft's SQL Server downloads page at

Key Features of SQL Server Express Edition:

Free version: It is a free edition of SQL Server, making several components and more advanced features suitable for developers and small businesses without incurring licensing costs.

Distribution: It can be freely redistributed with applications, which makes it an attractive option for independent software vendors and developers who need a cost-effective way to bundle a robust choice, reliable database system with their applications.

LocalDB: SQL Server Express includes a lightweight version called LocalDB which is specifically designed for developers. It is easy to install and has fewer prerequisites, making it ideal for building and testing applications.

Limitations of SQL Server Express Edition:

Compute Capacity: It is limited to the lesser of 1 socket or 4 cores. This limitation restricts the computing power available to the database engine, affecting the performance of more demanding applications.

Memory: SQL Server Express can only use a maximum of 1GB of memory for the database engine process. This could be a bottleneck for applications requiring more memory-intensive database operations.

Maximum Database Size: Each database can hold a maximum of 10GB. This limitation may not be suitable for applications with large data storage needs.

High Availability: Features like failover clustering support are unavailable in the Express edition right version, limiting the options for increasing application uptime through SQL Server technologies.

SQL Agent: SQL Server Express lacks the SQL Agent feature, meaning it cannot schedule jobs such as backups or automated tasks directly through the SQL Server agent. This could necessitate manual intervention or external scheduling mechanisms for routine database maintenance tasks.

Use Cases for SQL Server Express Edition:

Given its limitations, SQL Server Express is best suited for:

Development and testing environments where the test database, size, and performance demands are within the constraints of the Express edition.

Small applications and websites with a limited number of users do not require high levels of concurrency or large data storage.

For educational learning purposes, only, this is a powerful tool for students and new developers to learn SQL Server without needing to invest in full versions.

For scenarios with small server applications that outgrow SQL Server Express's capabilities, upgrading to a more robust enterprise edition of SQL Server that removes these limitations would be necessary.


Microsoft Docs:



SQL Developer Edition

The key aspect of the Developer Edition is that while it's fully featured, the license limits its use to development and testing scenarios only. It cannot host live databases in a production environment. This makes it a fantastic resource for learning and experimenting with the various features and capabilities of SQL Server, including advanced data integration, data warehousing, and business intelligence features.

As of the latest information available for today's date, March 9, 2024, you can download the SQL Server Developer Edition directly from Microsoft's official SQL Server downloads page:

SQL Server 2022 Developer Edition:

You can initiate the download process by visiting the official SQL Server downloads page at This page provides access to the latest version of SQL Server Developer Edition, along with instructions for installation and setup.

SQL Server 2019 Developer Edition: (Full Featured free edition)

Although the focus might be on the latest version, SQL Server 2019 Developer Edition is also available and can be downloaded following steps similar to those of the 2022 version. The direct download link provided through community resources like Stack Exchange ( points to Microsoft's unified download page, indicating that Microsoft centralizes its download resources.

Features of SQL Server Developer Edition:

Full Functionality:

 It includes all the features available in SQL Server Enterprise Edition. This means developers have access to advanced features, such as SQL Server Data Tools, advanced security features, data warehousing, and business intelligence capabilities, which can be crucial for developing complex applications (Microsoft Docs).

Integrated Testing and Development Environment:

Developers can benefit from an integrated environment that supports testing and development, making it easier to simulate real-world scenarios and ensure the application performs well under various conditions (

Support for Multi-Platform Deployment:

The Developer Edition supports deployment across different platforms, which is key for building applications that need to operate in diverse environments.

Limitations of SQL Server Developer Edition:

Licensing for Development Only:

While offering full functionality, the Developer Edition is strictly licensed for development and testing purposes. It cannot be used in a production environment. This limitation means that while you can build and test your applications using all of SQL Server's features, you need to purchase a suitable license for non production environment and use (SQLShack).

No Direct Production Support:

Given its designation for development and test environments, applications running on SQL Server Developer Edition do not have direct support for production issues. For production-level support, a different edition of SQL Server that includes production support would be required.

The SQL Server Developer Edition is an excellent tool for developers looking to leverage all the features and full capabilities of the SQL Server environment without incurring upfront costs. Its provision of all the features and complete feature set of the Enterprise Edition for development purposes makes it an invaluable resource for developing, testing, and demonstrating applications.

However, businesses must ensure they transition to a properly licensed SQL Server edition before moving their applications from a nonproduction environment into a production environment.

Should I use the Azure SQL version or download SQL Server on-premises?

Can I use cloud services to do anything else? When switching to cloud storage, it is not necessary to download and install SQL Server. You will only need SSMS to establish the connection and run your databases on cloud platforms. You may download the Microsoft SSMS program at this URL. If you download SSMS from a web browser, it is necessary. Previously, this was part of the full installation instructions for Microsoft SQL servers.

SQL Server on Azure (Azure SQL Database)

Exploring SQL Server on Azure provides various options for trying out its capabilities, often with free introductory offers. These opportunities are designed to help users familiarize themselves with the cloud environment and the features of SQL Server within Azure without immediate cost. Below are some key options available for those looking to experiment with SQL Server on Azure as of today's date, March 8, 2024.

Azure Free Account:

Microsoft Azure offers a free account for new users, which includes access to popular services for 12 months, more than 55 other services that are always free, and a $200 credit to use in the first 30 days. This offer is an excellent opportunity to try SQL Server in the cloud along with other Azure services. The free account can be used to deploy a general-purpose Azure SQL Database, providing a robust testing environment (Azure).

General Purpose Azure SQL Database Offer:

As part of the Azure free account, a General Purpose Azure SQL Database is available for the lifetime of your subscription. This setup is ideal for various applications, from the development and testing of small-scale applications to smaller production workloads, offering a balanced compute and storage option with scalable resources (Microsoft Docs).

Azure SQL Managed Instance Free Preview:

For those interested in a more managed experience, Azure SQL Managed Instance offers a free preview for the first 12 months. This option includes a general-purpose instance with up to 100 databases and 720 vCore-hours of compute capacity per month. It's a suitable choice for businesses migrating their SQL workloads to the cloud while maintaining broad SQL Server engine compatibility and features (Microsoft Docs).

Exploring Free Azure Services:

Beyond specific offers for SQL Server, exploring the free version of Azure services in general can be beneficial. Creating an Azure free account gives access to over 40 always-free services, plus a $200 credit for the first month. This broader exploration can include various database services and cloud computing capabilities, offering a comprehensive view of what Azure can do for SQL Server-based applications (Azure).

These options provide an accessible pathway for developers, database administrators, and businesses to explore SQL Server capabilities within the Azure cloud environment. Whether you're interested in a fully managed database service or looking to deploy and manage your own databases, Azure's free offerings are designed to facilitate a smooth transition to the cloud, enabling users to test, develop, and sometimes even run small production workloads at no initial cost.

SQL Server Management Tools

SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS):

SSMS is a free integrated environment for managing any SQL infrastructure, from SQL Server to Azure SQL Database. It provides tools to configure, monitor, and administer instances of SQL Server and databases. Use SSMS to deploy, monitor, and upgrade the data-tier components used by your applications, as well as build queries and scripts (Microsoft).

Azure Data Studio:

Azure Data Studio is a cross-platform database tool for data professionals using the Microsoft family of on-premises and cloud data platforms on Windows, MacOS, and Linux. It offers a modern editor experience with IntelliSense, code snippets, source control integration, and an integrated terminal. It's particularly useful for working with SQL Server, Azure SQL Database, and Azure SQL Data Warehouse (Microsoft).

Visual Studio Code with the mssql extension:

Visual Studio Code (VS Code) is a lightweight but powerful source code editor that runs on your desktop and is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. When paired with the mssql extension, developers can directly connect to SQL Server, run queries, query results, and manage their databases. The mssql extension turns VS Code into a powerful SQL Server development environment (Visual Studio Code).

DBeaver Community:

DBeaver is a free, multi-platform database tool for developers, SQL programmers, database administrators, and analysts. It supports all popular databases, including SQL Server. DBeaver offers an intuitive user interface and features such as SQL query execution, transaction management, ER diagrams, export/import data, and more (

dbForge SQL Complete Express:

While not as fully featured as its paid counterpart, dbForge SQL Complete Express still offers valuable functionality for SQL Server development, including code completion, SQL formatting, and basic refactoring features. It integrates with SSMS to enhance productivity (Devart).

These tools cater to various aspects of SQL Server development and test database use, from query writing and execution to database management and administration. They help make the development and SQL Server installation process much more efficient and are especially useful for those using SQL Server's free editions, with several components which provide powerful features at no additional cost.

Other Paid Versions Of SQL Server

In addition to the Developer Edition, Microsoft SQL Server offers various editions tailored to different needs and environments. Below are some of the notable editions and information on accessing trial versions:

SQL Server Enterprise Edition: This edition is designed for enterprise-level applications and offers maximum scalability, performance, and availability. It includes advanced features for data warehousing and business intelligence. For organizations looking to evaluate the Enterprise Edition, Microsoft typically offers a 180-day trial period. You can start this evaluation by visiting the official Microsoft website or the Microsoft Evaluation Center, where you might find the option to download the trial version.

SQL Server Standard Edition: This edition is suitable for medium-sized businesses. It provides core database capabilities without the full scale of features available in the Enterprise Edition. The Standard Edition balances performance and affordability, making it a practical choice for many applications. Similar to the Enterprise Edition, a 180-day trial of the Standard Edition is often available through the Microsoft Evaluation Center or the official SQL Server downloads page.

SQL Server Web Edition: This edition is specifically optimized for web hosting environments and provides the essential features needed for web applications. The Web Edition is not typically available for trial directly to end-users, as it's often offered through hosting providers under an SPLA (Service Provider License Agreement) with Microsoft.

For the latest versions, such as SQL Server 2022, you can visit the links provided in your context or directly go to the full SQL Server edition downloads page on the Microsoft website. This page serves as a central hub for downloading various SQL Server editions, including trials for eligible editions, the free Developer and Express editions, and supported features such as tools and connectors related to all SQL Server versions.

Additional Resources

Install SQL Server Express On the Windows operating system

Internal Links


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