In most cases, the answer to ‘Which SQL Server Express Version?’ is simple: the latest version you can. Since Microsoft adds more features and decreases the limitations of SQL Server Express with every subsequent release, the more recent the version the more advanced capabilities it will offer.

For now, this means SQL Express 2017.

Benefits of Newer Versions

The chart below covers a few of the important features and limitations that have had import changes across versions and highlights the benefits of pursuing the latest version possible when choosing which SQL Express to use. Versions below 2008 R2 are excluded due to their age and lack of support.

Version Max. RAM Table/Index Partitioning Data Compression Database Snapshots
2008 R2 1024MB No No No
2012 1024MB No No No
2014 1410MB No No No
2016 1410MB Yes (SP1+) Yes (SP1+) No
2017 1410MB Yes Yes Yes

Compatibility Mode

Even if your application requires an older version of SQL Server, using the latest version and putting the database into compatibility mode may be a good option to get the best of both worlds. This mode allows the behaviors of the database to be compatible with older versions of SQL Server, but keeps server level benefits of newer versions, like higher RAM usage, available.

The options for which levels are available will depend on the version:

Version Engine Version Compatibility Level Supported Compatibility Levels
2000 8 80 80
2005 9 90 90, 80
2008 10 100 100, 90, 80
2008 R2 10.5 100 100, 90, 80
2012 11 110 110, 100, 90
2014 12 120 120, 110, 100
2016 13 130 130, 120, 110, 100
2017 14 140 140, 130, 120, 110, 100

Support Lifecycle Policies

Features aside, an important part of choosing between SQL Server Express versions is the how long each will be support by Microsoft. Support entails Microsoft releasing security updates, patches (and sometimes new features) as well as them accepting bug and issue tickets for a given version. Once a version falls out of support, Microsoft won’t help troubleshoot any issues and often times vulnerabilities may go unfixed when they are discovered at a later date. To take advantage of the mainstream support dates, be sure to have the latest cumulative updates and service packs applied.

It is highly advised to not provision any new instances that are already out of support. Any SQL Express versions not included below are already out of date.

Version End of Mainstream Support
2008 7/9/2019
2008 R2 7/9/2019
2012 7/12/202
2014 7/9/2024
2016 7/14/2026
2017 10/12/2027

Further Reading