Installing SQL Server 2012 Express Edition

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Determine Whether SQL Server 2012 Express Edition Will Meet Your Needs

Smiling businesswoman working at laptop in office
Paul Bradbury

Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Express Edition is a free, compact version of the popular enterprise database server. The Express Edition is ideal for database professionals seeking a desktop testing environment or for those learning about databases or SQL Server for the first time who need a platform they can install on a personal computer to create a learning environment.

There are some limitations to SQL Server 2012 Express Edition that you should understand before deciding to install it. After all, this is a free version of what is otherwise an extremely powerful (and extremely expensive!) database platform. These limitations include:

  • Installations can only make use of one CPU with a four core maximum
  • Installations can only make use of 1GB of RAM, regardless of the amount of memory installed
  • Databases built with Express Edition are limited to 10GB in size
  • Express Edition does not offer the database mirroring, log shipping, or merge publication features offered in the larger product
  • SQL Server Express Edition does not include Oracle replication functionality
  • The tools available with Express Edition are limited – the installer does not include Database Tuning Advisor, SQL Agent, or SQL Profiler

Note: This tutorial covers SQL Server 2012 Express Edition. For the 2014 edition, see Installing SQL Server 2014 Express Edition. If you are looking for an alternative database that is both free and fully functional, you may want to ​install MySQL instead.

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Download the SQL Server Express Installer

Next, you'll need to download the appropriate installer file for the version of SQL Server 2012 Express Edition that best suits your operating system and needs. Visit the Microsoft download page and select whether you need a 32-bit or 64-bit version of SQL Server (depending upon your operating system) and then choose whether you want the version that includes the SQL Server tools. If you don’t already have the tools installed on your computer, we suggest that you include them in your download.

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File Extraction

The installer will begin by extracting the files required for the setup process. During this process, which may take five to ten minutes, you will see the status window shown above.

The extraction window will disappear and nothing will happen for a period of time that seems way too long! Wait patiently. Eventually, you may see a message asking you if SQL Server 2012 may make changes to your computer. Answer yes. You will then see a message reading "Please Wait While SQL Server 2012 Setup processes the current operation". Remain patient for a few more minutes.

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SQL Server Express Installation Center

The SQL Server installer will then present the screen shown above, titled "SQL Server Installation Center". Click the "New SQL Server stand-alone installation or add features to an existing installation" link to continue the setup process. You will again experience a series of pauses and the "Please Wait While SQL Server 2012 Setup processes the current operation" message.

SQL Server will then pop up a series of windows that include a variety of preinstallation tests and install some required support files. None of these windows should require any action from you (other than accepting the license agreement) unless there is a problem with your system.

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Feature Selection

The Feature Selection window that appears next allows you to customize the SQL Server features that will be installed on your system. If you are planning to use this database in standalone mode for basic database testing, you do not need to install SQL Server Replication. This window also allows you to choose not to install management tools or the connectivity SDK if they are not needed on your system. In our basic example, we will accept the default values and simply click the Next button to continue.

SQL Server will then perform a series of checks (labeled "Installation Rules" in the setup process) and will automatically advance to the next screen if there are no errors. You may also accept the default values on the Instance Configuration screen and click the Next button again.

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Instance Configuration

The next screen allows you to choose whether you wish to create a default instance or a separate named instance of SQL Server 2012 on this computer. Unless you will have multiple copies of SQL Server running on this computer, you may simply accept the default values.
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Server Configuration

After confirming that you have the necessary disk space on your system to complete the installation, the installer will present the Server Configuration window shown above. If you wish, you may use this screen to customize the accounts that will run the SQL Server services. Otherwise, click the Next button to accept the default values and continue. You may also accept the default values on the Database Engine Configuration and Error Reporting screens that follow.
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Completing the Installation

The installer will (finally!) begin the installation process. This may take up to 30 minutes depending upon the features you selected and the characteristics of your computer.