How to Install SQL Server 2012 Express Edition

Get the free version of the database server

SQL code on black
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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.

Determine Whether SQL Server 2012 Express Edition Will Meet Your Needs

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 a powerful (and 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 provided 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 have Database Tuning Advisor, SQL Agent, or SQL Profiler.

How to Install SQL Server 2012 Express Edition

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) to begin.

  1. Download the appropriate installer file for the version of SQL Server 2012 Express Edition that best suits your operating system and needs 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.

    Choose the download you want
  2. 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. The extraction window will disappear, and nothing will happen for a period that seems way too long. Wait patiently.

    Extracting files status window
  3. You might 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.

  4. The SQL Server installer will then present a screen titled "SQL Server Installation Center." Select the New SQL Server standalone installation or add features to an existing installation link to continue the setup process.

    SQL Server Installation Center window
  5. You will again experience a series of pauses and the "Please Wait While SQL Server 2012 Setup processes the current operation" message.

  6. 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.

    SQL Server License Terms window
  7. The Feature Selection window that appears next allows you to customize the SQL Server features installed on your system. This window also allows you to choose not to install management tools or the connectivity SDK if you don't need them on your system. In our basic example, we will accept the default values and select the Next button to continue.

    If you are planning to use this database in standalone mode for basic database testing, you do not need to install SQL Server Replication.

    Feature Selection screen
  8. 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 select the Next button again.

  9. 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 accept the default values.

    Instance Configuration window
  10. After confirming that you have the necessary disk space on your system to complete the installation, the installer will present the Server Configuration window. If you wish, you may use this screen to customize the accounts that will run the SQL Server services. Otherwise, select 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.

    Server Configuration window.
  11. The installer will begin the installation process. It might take up to 30 minutes, depending upon the features you selected and the characteristics of your computer.