According to Microsoft, SQL Server Express:

… is the entry-level, free database and is ideal for learning and building desktop and small server data-driven applications. It is the best choice for independent software vendors, developers, and hobbyists building client applications. If you need more advanced database features, SQL Server Express can be seamlessly upgraded to other higher end versions of SQL Server.

Why is SQL Server Express Free?

Well, Microsoft fails to mention with any detail, Express doesn’t come with many bells and whistles that the Standard or Enterprise Editions do, but it also has further restrictions imposed upon it, such as:

  • Maximum individual database size of 10GB
  • No SQL Agent
  • Limited RAM support (< 2GB on all versions)

Due to these limitations, they aren’t giving away the farm by letting people play with the tool for free. It also helps to encourage smaller businesses and students to use the Microsoft ecosystem and learn how to use their tools with very low upfront costs involved.

That isn’t to say that is isn’t a useful free product, though. Many software vendors use it as the database of choice when they need to bundle a database with their product but don’t have a need for large data sets. It is used in everything from ticketing software to civil engineering platforms as the unspoken hero of providing amazing database technology without causing price tags to go through the roof.

What About Open Source Databases?

Yes, those are free as well. And some of them, like PostgreSQL, are really great.

Here are a few reasons many choose Express over open source alternatives:

  • When developing in a Microsoft ecosystem using Express is a natural choice
  • The features are and performance often still beat open source alternatives
  • The SQL Server community is amazing and offers a wealth of free advice and tools:
  • The option to easily upgrade to a more robust version is always easily
  • With every new version, Microsoft adds more features to SQL Express that were previously unavailable
  • SQL Server Management Studio is a top of the line interface and is also free