Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Using xSQL Profiler with a limited access SQL user

The process of tracing events on a SQL Server and collecting those event data, is not among the usual tasks that a user performs on SQL Server. Because of this, the T-SQL commands that are executed to perform the start / stop trace and data collection operations, demand a very specific set of permissions from database users that are not system administrators. I've struggled a bit with this in the past which is why I'm writing this article to provide a step by step guide to making tracing with xSQL Profiler work with non-sysadmin users. To demonstrate these examples I've created a user called 'xsql_profiler_user'. Of course you can specify whatever name you like instead. Let's go over those requirements and how to fulfill them:

  • First of all, the SQL user needs to have access to the master database and all the databases that you want to trace. Giving the new user access to these databases is quite easy. on SSMS simply go to the [SQL Server name] > Security > Logins and double click on the name of your login. In this case, 'xsql_profiler_user'. Then go to the User Mapping section and select all the databases you want.
  • To be able to start / stop traces in a database, the xsql_profiler_user needs to have ALTER TRACE permissions on the server. To give these permissions to the user you again go to [SQL Server name] > Security > Logins > [name of the login], double click it, go to the 'Securables' section and grant Alter trace permissions from the 'Explicit' tab.
xSQL Profiler configures the traces to write their data into trace files which are then read, their data transferred to the repository and deleted. As you might have imagined, the proper permissions need to be in place to perform all these operations. 
  • xSQL Profiler uses SQL Server's xp_cmdshell to delete the files after it uses them, which means that the user you provide for the database connection (in this case xsql_profiler_user) needs to have EXECUTE permission on xp_cmdshell. To do this, simply run:
    GRANT EXECUTE ON xp_cmdshell TO xsql_profiler_user
  • Even though we granted EXECUTE permissions on xp_cmdshell we're still not done. Because the user is not system admin, SQL Server will not allow it to execute xp_cmdshell with the SQL Server's windows account, so we need to create a new windows account to use as a proxy for the xp_cmdshell. Go to Computer Management > Local Users and Groups > Users and create a new user. I've named mine 'xp_cmdshellproxy'.
  • After this, you need to give this user the 'Log on as batch job' right. This is because SQL Server will try to use this user to run batch commands without actually logging on with it, and windows will not allow it unless it has the Log on as batch jog right. To do this, search for 'Local Security Policy', go to Local Policies > User rights assignment, double-click on 'Log on as batch job' and add the user created in the previous step.
  • Next, assign full rights for the user in the Load temp trace data folder.
  • The last thing we need to do is configure SQL Server to use the windows account we just created as a proxy account for xp_cmdshell. To do that, run this query:
    EXEC sp_xp_cmdshell_proxy_account 'domain\acountname','password'
After you have completed all the above steps, you should be good to go.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SQL Server Expressers out there, we got you!

One of the most powerful features SQL Server has, is it's ability to monitor just about every aspect of it's operation with mechanisms such as SQL traces. A SQL Trace is an internal SQL Server mechanism for capturing events which are raised basically every time something "happens" on SQL Server. All versions of SQL Server support traces which can be created using a set of system stored procedures designed specifically for this task. However, anyone that has worked with these stored procedures before can tell you that they are pretty confusing because you have to specify every low level detail. For example, to start a trace, you have to specify the events it will trace, and for every event the properties or columns for which the trace will register data. These data will be saved in a trace file which, again needs to be specified as a parameter to the stored procedure, and then you use another stored procedure to read the data from the file. To make things even more complicated, the different events and event columns are not specified by their name (even though it is unique), but by their IDs. Taking into consideration the fact that there are hundreds of different events with tens of columns each, you can easily see how using T-SQL code to manipulate traces can be very difficult and time consuming. Well, Microsoft has seen this as well and constructed SQL Server Profiler which provides a UI that makes managing traces quite easy. Unfortunately, this is not available on Express versions of SQL Server. These versions do support traces, however, you have to do everything by hand.
This is where we come in. Our xSQL Profiler provides a user interface that hides the low level details of starting an analyzing trace data on SQL Server and, best of all, you can use it to monitor SQL Server Express instances free of charge. You can get the setup from this link and for a detailed explanation of the installation process check out our previous article on "Installing the new xSQL Profiler 2.1". Apart from offering every functionality that is offered by Microsoft's SQL Server Profiler, our xSQL Profiler also offers a few higher level features that simplify monitoring SQL Server Express instances even more. Lets have a look at some of the most important higher level features, offered for SQL Server Express:

Automatically persist trace data

xSQL Profiler automatically saves all trace data in a structured format in the database that's created during the installation process. This means that the DBA can view the trace information at any time through xSQL Profiler's UI. Also, because this data is persisted on a SQL Server database, you can always easily extend xSQL Profiler's monitoring capabilities. For example, you can place xSQL Profiler's database on a web server and build a web application on top of that database that allows users that may not have access to the machine where xSQL Profiler is installed to still be able to access and analyse real time trace data from the monitored servers.

Advanced filtering and reporting

xSQL Profiler offers the ability to add filters directly to your traces, to make them register only a portion of the data, reducing the load that running traces might impose on your server. Apart from this, xSQL Profiler also enables you to further filter the data that are saved in the database when you are generating reports. If the wide range of built in filters still does not meet your requirements, xSQL Profiler offers the ability to write your own T-SQL queries and query the underlying database to get the data you need.


One of the main benefits of xSQL Profiler is the ability to schedule the running time of traces. This is one of the things that cannot be done through Microsoft's SQL Server Profiler and would be way to complicated to achieve with queries. With xSQL Profiler you can add multiple schedules for each trace to make the monitoring process as efficient and effective as possible

High level event definition

xSQL Profiler offers the ability to start traces with the same event definitions as SQL Server Profiler does. However, we noticed that these event definitions were too low-level and to audit particular aspects of SQL Server, such as user logins, query execution and so on, you have to create traces based on groups of multiple event definitions. Thus, we have created xSQL Profiler events, which are built in event definitions that allow you to audit the aforementioned aspects of SQL Server without needing to manually pick every SQL Server event. Also, if the built in event definitions don't fit your needs, you can always create your own. 

So, there you have it, a guide to what xSQL Profiler can do to simplify monitoring of SQL Server Express instances.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Installing the new xSQL Profiler 2.1

We just released the newest version of our xSQL Profiler and besides the increased range of supported SQL Server versions and events that can be traced, as well as some other bug fixes and improvements there were some changes in the setup and installation. Let's go through the new installation shall we?

A new feature in the xSQL Profiler installation is the ability to choose a "Standard Installation" and have all the configurations done behind the scenes as opposed to the "Advanced Installation" where you have to manually enter each configuration option.

There are a few things to keep in mind with the Standard Installation though.

  • First of all, you need to have a SQL Server 2008 and up installed as a default instance. By default xSQL Profiler uses "(local)" as the server name which means that it will search for the default SQL Server instance on the machine. One thing that might confuse you a little bit is that just because you have SQL Server installed on your machine, it's not necessarily the default instance, even if there is only one SQL Server installed. You need to manually tell the SQL Server installation to register the instance as a default instance. If you haven't done this during installation, and are reading all those forums that say it cannot be done after the instance is installed, there is no need to panic because they are simply not correct. Here is an article on how to do that.
  • The next thing to note is that the xSQL Profiler service will run under the "Local System" account. This is necessary because it is the only built in service account that is sure to have access to SQL Server (neither "Local Service" or "Network Service" can access SQL Server by default). However, if you have SQL Server 2012 and up, even the Local System account doesn't have access, so you will need to manually configure this account to be able to access the SQL Server. Keep in mind that this is a very high privileged account so you need to be very careful because you can expose your system to some security risks. You can always change the account on which the service is run on after it is installed and manually provide the necessary permissions.
Like all previous versions of xSQL Profiler this version supports the advanced installation if you like to manually specify all the configurations for xSQL Profiler. The first thing you do is specify the account that xSQL Profiler's Service will run on.

Your options here are one of the three built-in service accounts (for more information on those check out this MSDN page), or a separate windows account. If you do choose one of these accounts, like mentioned above, for versions up to SQL Server 2008 R2, by default, only Local System can connect with the server instance and for versions later than that, none of the service accounts can connect with the instance. So if you choose one of these you need to manually configure the account to be able to connect with the server. Keeping with the principle of least privilege, the best thing to do is create a new user specifically for the profiler's service and give it the necessary permissions. The minimum set of permissions it needs are "Log on as service" and permissions to connect with the SQL server instances.

The next thing you need to do is to choose the SQL server where the xSQL Repository will be created and provide the authentication details for that server.

This is fairly straightforward, much like providing the authentication details when you use SQL Server Management Studio. You provide the server name and authentication details, as well as the new database's name. The data you provide here will only be used by the setup to create the database and then discarded. You can choose a SQL server on the local machine or on another machine as the server that will hold the repository for xSQL Profiler. If you choose the Windows Authentication option, the current logged in user will be used to connect with the database, so make sure that user is registered as a login on SQL Server and has permissions to create a database.

The last thing you need to do is to provide the authentication details that will be used  by the xSQL Profiler's service to connect with the repository.

This is where you should be a little careful. You can choose either Windows or SQL Server Authentication and each of these options has benefits and drawbacks. From a security standpoint, Windows Authentication is better because the SQL Server Authentication option will save your login details on the service's XML configuration file. However, if you do choose windows authentication keep in mind that:
  • The service's user needs to be registered as a login on the repository's SQL server
  • The service's user needs to have the necessary permissions to access the database.
The security risk of SQL Server authentication can be mitigated by choosing a SQL Server user with the minimum set of required permissions but this will, again, require some work to be done. You can do this after xSQL Profiler has been installed because the authentication details in this step are not used during the setup. They are used when you run the application.

So there you have it. All you have to do now is click "Next", review the installation details and if you have provided the correct information, the setup should complete without errors.

xSQL Profiler 2.1 now available

We just published a new version (2.1) of xSQL Profiler with built-in support for tracing low level SQL Server events. Now, if you want to create a trace for a specific SQL Server event, you don't have to create a new event definition for that event. All low level SQL Server events are included. This is especially useful when you are using xSQL Profiler with SQL Server Express.

A few minor UI improvements such as better context menu and tooltips, updated grid etc. are also included in the new version.

xSQL Profiler is FREE for one SQL Server Express instance. You can download the new version from our website:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SQL Server: Functions vs. Stored Procedures to return result sets

A while back, I was building the database schema for a web application which had some reporting functionality and among other things, I had do implement logic in the database to prepare the data for the application's reports. The queries I constructed were relatively complex which meant that I needed to construct objects in the database to encapsulate these queries. So, it came down to a choice between table-valued functions and stored procedures. If you do a little research you'll notice that there is no clear cut suggestion regarding the choice between functions or stored procedures for cases when you need to retrieve a result set from the database. So, here is a comparison of the two, which, in the end will be concluded with a suggestion for those of you out there who can't make up your minds.

T-SQL statements

With regards to the types T-SQL statements that each of the objects can contain, stored procedures are much more versatile because almost all T-SQL statements can be included in a stored procedure. The only exceptions are the following:
  • USE <database>
However, when it comes to table-valued functions, there is an entirely different story. Based on the T-SQL statements that can be used in them, they are quite limited. Namely, they cannot:
  • Apply schema or data changes in the database
  • Change the state of the database or a SQL Server instance
  • Create or access temporary tables
  • Call stored procedures
  • Execute dynamic SQL
  • Produce side effects such as relying on the information from a previous invocation.
So, basically, only SELECT statements are allowed in table-valued functions. The only exception is on multistatement-table valued functions, which must contain an INSERT ... SELECT statement that populates the table variable which will be returned by the multi-statement table-valued function. 

Parameters and return types

Both, stored procedures and table-valued functions accept parameters of all data types however, there are a few differences.
The first, and most important is that unlike stored procedures, table-valued functions do not accept output parameters. In fact, table-value functions return data to the client in only one way: through the RETURN statement. Stored procedures on the other hand, do accept output parameters and they have three ways to return data to the client: through output parameters, by executing a select statement in the procedure's body or by using a RETURN statement.
Another, more subtle difference is on how parameters with default values are handled. While both stored procedures and table valued functions support default values for parameters, these type of parameters are optional only on stored procedures. Weird as it is, if you want the default value for a parameter when using the function, you have to write the DEFAULT keyword in place of the value for that parameter. With stored procedures you can simply omit the value and SQL Server will supply the default value. 
The last difference is that when you call a stored procedure, you can specify the parameter values by association, meaning that you can use a syntax like this: <parameter_name> = <value> to supply the parameter values, which greatly improves the code's readability. You can't do this with functions. This might become an issue if the function has a lot of parameters, because you would constantly need to review the documentation just to find out the order of the parameters in the definition.
So, if you need to return multiple result sets or if you are worried about the readability of your code, stored procedures might be a better option


If you think about it, table-valued functions, especially inline-table valued functions, are a lot like another database object. Yeap, you guessed it, VIEWS. Even the SQL Server optimizer treats inline table valued functions the same as it does views. This is why one can think of table valued functions like parameterized views.
Performance wise, functions and stored procedures are identical. They both make use of execution plan caching, which means that they are not recompiled every time they are executed. To prove they are identical, you can create a function and a procedure with the same SELECT statement, execute each one a few times, and then check the sys.dm_exec_query_stats DMO. You will notice that the last_elapsed_times differ very little.


This is where I think, table-valued functions have the greatest advantage. Because they resemble views, they can be placed anywhere a table can be placed in a query. This means that you can filter the result set of the function, use them in join statements, etc. You cannot do the same with stored procedures. Of course, if you have enough knowledge and experience with T-SQL you could probably find some workaround, but generally, manipulating the result set returned by a stored procedure is not as straightforward as doing the same for a table-valued function. So, if for some reason, you need to apply some additional manipulation to the data returned by a function you can do that very easily. If that same data comes from a stored procedure, in most cases you may need to alter the procedure's code, which will require having the necessary permissions and what not. 
If you think that the result set of the stored procedure of function may need to be further manipulated, use table valued functions.

One last thing

One thing that I really like about table-valued functions, is that you can use the SCHEMABINDING option on them to prevent any changes on the underlying objects that can break the function. The same option is not always available on stored procedures. You can use it only on natively compiled stored procedures which are available only on SQL Server 2014 and up, and Azure SQL database. So, if you are using regular stored procedures to retrieve data, keep in mind that they can break if you change the structure of the referenced objects.

To conclude, as a general rule of thumb, I tend to use table-valued functions whenever I need to retrieve a result set from the database, and stored procedures when I need to perform some work on the database.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

New Schema Compare build adds option to exclude checked property

A new build of xSQL Schema Compare is available for download. The new build adds a new comparison option that excludes a property called “checked” for check constraints and foreign keys. This property corresponds to the scripting clause “WITH CHECK”/”WITH NOCHECK”. The screen shot below shows the new option.
xSQL Schema Compare is currently free for SQL Server Express.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

New DB Searcher tool for SQL Server/Azure

Just a Great Tool, No Cost, No Strings

The new xSQL Database Searcher tool, previously known as the xSQL Object Search is now available for download, no cost and no strings attached. The new version:
  • Supports all version of SQL Server from 2005 to 2016
  • Supports SQL Azure v11 and v12
  • Can be used as a stand-alone tool OR as an add-in to SSMS 2008 - 20016
  • Searches both the database objects and SQL Server jobs
  • Supports from simple equal or like searches to regular expression searches
Best of all, it costs nothing and has absolutely no strings attached, just download, install and enjoy!

Please tell us how you like the tool and how we can make it better. We would greatly appreciate it!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Get Bose SoundSport or Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa on us today

Purchase a new, 1 user, 1 year Silver Subscription before February 15, 2017 and we will send you an Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa - just enter the promo code FIRETV17 on the shopping cart page. Once you complete the order please email us with your name, and the address where you want us to ship the Fire TV Stick.
Make it a new, 5 user Silver Subscription license or any other combination of licenses with a total value of $800 or more and we will send you a Bose Sound Sport Wireless Headphones in black, aqua or citron color - just enter promo code SOUNDSPORT17 on the shopping cart page. Once you complete the order please email us with your name, your color choice, and the address where you want us to ship the Bose SoundSport headphones.

Available to US and Canadian residents only. Limit 1 per customer. Expires on January 31, 2017.

Monday, February 6, 2017


When it comes to a choice between data types for a field in a SQL Server database's table, an issue that is frequently discussed in popular forums is a choice between the DATETIME and DATETIME2 data types. According to the official MSDN documentation, it is recommended that you use DATETIME2 for new work because it is more portable, aligns with the SQL Standard, offers more precision and has a greater range. There aren't too many people who would dispute the recommendations of one of the "Big 4" companies, myself included, but, for those curious minds out there, let's see why DATETIME2 is the better choice.


DATETIME2 has a fractional precision of up to 7 digits compared to the DATETIME's precision of 3 fractional digits. The 'up to' part means that the user can manually specify the precision through an optional parameter. The default precision is 7 digits. This increased precision means that a conversion to the DATETIME2 data type of a string like '2016-11-11 20:20:20.4444' will succeed whereas the conversion of the same string to DATETIME will fail.


DATETIME2 supersedes DATETIME in accuracy by a relatively big margin. Although DATETIME has a precision of 3 fractional digits, it will round the last digit to an increment of .000, .003 or .007 whereas the DATETIME2 data type, supports an accuracy of 100 nanoseconds. Let's see how these differences affect the values by converting '2016-11-11 20:20:20.444' to DATETIME and DATETIME2 with 3 digits of precision. 
Even though the conversion is supported by both data types, converting to DATETIME means that you will be sacrificing accuracy. So if you aim to accurately store date and time with more than 2 fractional digits in your database the only choice for the data type is DATETIME2.


DATETIME2 also supports a greater range of values than DATETIME. The former supports dates from 0001-01-01 00:00:00 to 9999-12-31 23:59:59.9999999 whereas the latter supports dates from 1753-01-01 00:00:00 to 9999-12-31 23:59:59.997. As a small additional benefit that avoids some confusion for those developers working with the .NET platform, the range of DATETIME2 complies with the range of the DateTime data type in C# and VB.NET.

Memory space required

If you are thinking that the additional capabilities of the DATETIME2 data type translate into additional storage space requirements, you are mistaken. DATETIME2 requires anywhere between 6 and 8 bytes whereas DATETIME requires 8 bytes of storage. The space required by DATETIME2 depends on the fractional precision you choose for the column: 
  • 0 to 2 digits - 6 Bytes
  • 3 to 4 digits - 7 Bytes
  • more than 4 digits - 8 Bytes
So if your aim is to save storage space and increase read performance, DATETIME2 is the way to go.

Compliance with standards

DATETIME2 is compliant with both the ANSI and ISO 8601 standards for SQL whereas DATETIME is not compliant with any of those standards.

In conclusion, if it's range, precision, accuracy, storage space optimization or compliance with standards that you require, DATETIME2 is a better choice.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

xSQL Profiler v2 with support for SQL 2016 released

We just release version 2 of our xSQL Profiler tool which now supports from SQL Server 2000 to SQL Server 2016, all versions, all editions.

In addition of adding support for SQL Server 2012, 2014 and 2016 the new version also brings:

  • Simplified setup (standard installation)
  • Revised built-in event definitions
  • Improved validation when adding server/starting trace to make sure correct permissions are in place
  • Possibility to set load data timeout limits
  • Other minor bug fixes and improvements
For you who might not be familiar with it xSQL Profiler is an easy to install, easy to use, agent-less SQL Server monitoring tool that can be utilized for performance, auditing and compliance related tasks. It allows you to configure precise traces and schedule those traces to run at certain intervals on multiple servers. What makes the tool even more helpful is the ability to automatically collect the data from all servers into a central repository (SQL Server database) which you can then query / analyse directly. 

xSQL Profiler is FREE for 1 SQL Server Express instance. You can download the new version from: 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Get an Amazon Echo Dot OR a Fitbit Charge 2 on us!

Purchase a new, 1 user, 1 year Silver Subscription before the end of this month (January 2017) and we will send you an Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation) black or white, your choice - just enter the promo code ECHODOT on the shopping cart page. Once you complete the order please email us with your name, the color choice and the address where you want us to ship the Echo Dot.
Make it a new, 5 user Silver Subscription license or any other combination of licenses with a total value of $800 or more and we will send you a Fitbit Charge 2 Heart Rate + Fitness Wristband Black - just enter promo code FITBIT17 on the shopping cart page. Once you complete the order please email us with your name, your size and the address where you want us to ship the FitBit Charge.

Available to US and Canadian residents only. Limit 1 per customer. Expires on January 31, 2017.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fastest way to create and distribute a dynamic report from SQL Server

From request to delivery in 5 minutes or less! xSQL RSS Reporter for SQL Server enables you to generate standard Atom or RSS feeds containing any data that you are authorized to pull from a SQL Server database. The concept is very simple, you write a query that will be executed against a database and if the query executes successfully, RSS Reporter will automatically provide the output of that query in a standard Atom or RSS feed format that can be consumed from any device, anywhere. All that's left to do is send the url link to the individuals you wish to distribute the report to - every time they they open that report they will see the current data which can also be refreshed on demand. They can also filter and sort the report as they wish.

Here is a screen shot showing how you can define the feed/ report:

Download now and see what you have been missing!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tables can't be compared

"I am trying to compare two databases and xSQL Data Compare has marked all table pairs with a red X and the messages on the output window show something like [16:08:11] Session [New Compare* (2)]: Pair [dbo].[MyTable] - [dbo].[MyTable] can't be compared. - what am I doing wrong?"

This is more or less a typical email we receive quite often from our users. The answer is, you are not doing anything wrong, but whoever designed that database didn't do a great job!

When comparing two database the xSQL Data Compare first reads the list of tables and views as well as their definitions and performs an automatic pairing of the tables and views based on names. There are certain mapping rules that allow the user to configure the mapping but by default it pairs them based on a simple name match. It then pairs the columns from both tables on each table pair and last but not least, it identifies the candidate comparison keys and decides which one to use. A candidate comparison key must uniquely identify each row on the table, so the ideal comparison key would be the Primary Key of the table but a unique index would be ok too. When it does not find a candidate key for a table pair it marks the pair as "non-comparable" since it has no way to match rows to each other. All tables in your database should have a primary key. However, if you find yourself in charge of a database that does not have primary keys defined don't despair - with a little bit of extra work you can still compare those tables. The xSQL Data Compare allows you to manually select comparison keys for each table pair:

To manually define the comparison keys for a table pair, drill down on that pair (click on the ... button on the left of the pair) and on the window that appears click on the "Unique Keys" tab. Choose one or more columns that you know form a unique key for the table and select that combination of columns as the comparison key. You will need to go through this exercise for all table pairs that are shown as non-comparable so it's a bit tedious however, once you have done this xSQL Data Compare will remember and the next time you need to compare those databases you will not see the can't compare message anymore.

xSQL Data Compare supports all SQL Server versions from SQL Server 2000 to SQL Server 2016 as well as SQL Server Azure, and it's free for SQL Server Express edition. Download now and see for yourself why thousands of users love it!

Documenting databases

Open any book or article about database development and administration, and I can all but guarantee that you will find a section for database documentation that describes its importance, best practices, conventions, etc. Why is this? How come so much attention is given to an aspect of databases that, at first sight, has nothing to do with their functionality? Those sections in books and articles, provide dozens of arguments in favor of the importance of database documentation, almost too much to remember. However, most of the reasons boil down to the following:
  • An environment that is less complex.
  • Lower likelihood of errors
  • Databases that are easy to maintain and troubleshoot
  • Low training cost for new staff
  • Higher productivity 
It also offers a common language between IT and business decision makers, and an easy way to find hot spots or areas that are troublesome and could potentially become bottlenecks for the database.

Even though the high importance of documentation is stated and repeated over and over, and is just blatantly obvious, the process of documenting databases is often postponed or overworked by DBAs or developers (myself included). Why? Well, because it is simply too boring. Most DBAs would prefer to perform virtually any other task instead of typing in the descriptions of every element, one by one, in a Word or HTML document. If only there was some kind of tool that would do this instead of having to spend precious human work hours on it. But wait, there is! So we arrive at the goal of this article, to demonstrate how xSQL Documenter reads databases and generates those databases' documentation in Compiled HTML Help document and HTML files. 

For this demo, I'm using the AdventureWorks2012 sample database for the simple reason of it being a very well documented database. The process is fairly straightforward. First, you specify the databases you want to document by supplying the connection strings. xSQL Documenter supports all of the popular database engines such as SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, DB2 etc. (for a full list, have a look here)

Choose the objects in those databases that you want documented:

And then press 'GO'. xSQL Documenter will read each object's type, descriptions (in the case of SQL Server it will read the MS_Description field), relationships with other database objects, and just about any other information it can find about the object. Then, it will use all the information gathered to build the help files. These help files will be saved by default in an 'output' folder on the same location as xSQLDocumenter.exe and will have the following format:

 As you can see, the information is grouped first by database, then by object type, and then by schema. Clicking on any object type will display a list of all the objects of that type along with some other data for each object. These data differ for every object type. For example, for tables, it will display the number of columns, indexes, constraints, number of objects it refers to and objects that refer to it and a comment which is taken from the MS_Description field. For views, it will display the number of columns, code length, number of dependents (like indexes), number of objects the view depends on, the row size and a comment, again taken from MS_Description. If you click on any object a new page will open with detailed information about each column in the table.

Below is the detailed view of the documentation for the Employee table.

First it displays a description and data for all the columns, these data include the column's data type, default value, whether it is nullable or not, a description, etc. Further down, you can also see details about the indexes and a list of all the objects that reference the Employee table and object which this table references.

 At the end of the page you can see a chart showing the relations among objects. Keep in mind that all objects above the Employee table in the chart are objects that are referenced by this table and all objects below it are objects that reference this table. Besides this chart you also see detailed information about all the constraints and foreign keys for the Employee table.

 As demonstrated, with just a few clicks you can generate a full and comprehensive help material that will display info about every database object you want and the relationships between these objects. And, if one has the good sense to provide a description for objects during creation, xSQL Documenter will display that description, making it that much easier to understand the role and function of the object. If this documentation is not to be uploaded in an intranet to be viewed using a browser you can use the .chm file which is indexed and searchable. This makes finding information about a particular object even easier.

This tutorial shows only the tip of the iceberg regarding the capabilities and the information that xSQL Documenter is able to display. For a full reference to this capabilities you can view xSQL Documenter's online help.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Simplifying database deployment

In every discussion I have about the deployment process with other developers or project managers, the same sentence is said over and over again:

Every software development team must have an automated deployment process.
The benefits of automation are obvious to almost everyone, but, for those that are not familiar with the process, they can be summarized to the following statements:

  1. Deployment becomes less error-prone.
  2. No special knowledge is required to perform the deployment because this knowledge is embedded into the system.
  3. Developers can focus on writing code and developing new awesome features
  4. Adding new deployment targets is very simple
  5. Frequent uploads / releases.
However, if you look at the actual number of teams that have actually automated deployment, you'd be surprised by how small it really is. If deployment automation is such an indisputable necessity, how come most development teams shy away from it? The reason is that, at first sight, it seems like the overhead of setting up and configuring the process is too big to justify the potential benefits. While I don't personally agree with this, I find it very hard to convince teams to automate their deployment simply by explaining the benefits or telling them that the overhead is really not that big. So, in this article I've opted for a slightly different approach. Rather than making an argument in favor of switching to a fully automated deployment right away, I think that simplifying / automating only some parts of the deployment process, makes for a smoother and easier transition.

Let's have a look at how one would simplify the database deployment in this process. Suppose you have a web based transaction processing system that is used by multiple companies. Each company would have its own database on their server so every time the database structure is changed, a change script needs to be run on each database to synchronize their schemas. If there are just one or two databases, doing this manually is not really a problem. But when that number starts to grow, this task becomes very tedious and it's quite possible that the person in charge of the task will make a mistake. Thankfully, there are many tools that greatly simplify this process and one that I personally like to use is xSQL Script Executor. It allows you to build script packages that you can execute in any number of servers / databases. Lets see how this is done. I'm using SQL Server databases in this example, however, the process is exactly the same with the other databases engines supported by Script Executor which are MySQL, DB2 and SQL Server Compact. The only difference is the way the connection is specified.

The first thing to do is to create a new project in which you add a database group (right click on the panel and then click "Add database group"). In this group, I will add all the databases that will be used by right-clicking on the group name and clicking "Add database" which will show the dialog below.

I'll be using the NORTHWIND database in this demo so I named the database group Northwind. Then, I proceeded to add all the databases on which I will be executing the script. Here is the structure of the database group:

All of these databases are currently empty. I used xSQL Schema Compare to compare the NORTHWIND database with one of the empty databases, in order to generate the change script for the empty databases, which will be saved in a .sql file. Next, this file will be added to the 'Scripts' panel in Script Executor. Every script needs to reside in a container so first I created a Script Container named 'NorthwindScripts' by right-clicking on the Scripts panel and choosing Create a new container from the menu. This is where I added the script file generated by Schema Compare as shown in the picture below:

All that is left now is to configure the package mappings and then we're all set to run the script. This is done by clicking Package > Configure. This is where you specify which scripts will be run on each Database group. Since there is only one Database group and one Script container they will automatically be mapped together, however you can easily modify the mappings in cases when there are multiple Database groups and Script containers (refer to the online help). The package configuration looks like this. 

Before I execute the scripts on the Northwind database group, note that you can further customize which scripts are executed on the databases in a database group by checking / unchecking the check boxes in the panel to the right. Then, by clicking the 'Execute' button, all the checked scripts are executed on the databases to create the Northwind database objects on the empty databases I created earlier. As you can see from the screen shot below, the Northwind database's objects are created on the Northwind database on SQLServer2016 which was one of the Servers added to Script Executor.

The last thing that I want to cover in this article is how you can automate the entire database deployment process by using the command line versions of xSQL Schema Compare and Script Executor. Here is what you would do:
  1. Generate an XML file that has the configurations for a schema comparison between the development database and one of the live databases. Instead of the synchronization, specify an option on the XML to have the change script saved in a .sql file. Keep in mind to add the Synchronize="false" attribute so that Schema Compare Command Line won't excecute the script (this will be done by Script Executor). Here is how that XML file would look:
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
    <CommandLineParameters xmlns="">
        <CompareSchema Direction="RightAsLeft" Synchronize="false"></CompareSchema>
  2. Then, create a project in the Script Executor Interface (as explained in this article), where you add all the databases that you want to be updated and the script file whose path you specified on the XML file as in the example above (if the file does not exist, just create an empty .sql file). Here is how the batch file would look:
    "C:\Program Files (x86)\xSQL Software\SQL Server Comparison Bundle v9\xSQLSchemaCmd.exe" PathToXMLFile
    "C:\Program Files (x86)\xSQL Software\Script Executor\ExecCmd.exe" /p:PathToProjectFile

Simply by executing these two commands you can transfer any changes from the development schema to any number of live databases you wish.

So there you have it, with xSQL Script Executor and just a few simple steps you can greatly simplify and automate a quite tedious part of the deployment process.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

xSQL Documenter now supports SQL Server 2016 and SQL Azure

The best database documenting tool in the market, xSQL Documenter, just got better! The new version 5 released today now supports SQL Server 2014, SQL Server 2016 and SQL Azure.

When you reach the download page you will notice that there are 5 different packages - we left the "2008" package selected by default but please choose the correct package based on the version of the SQL Server client tools you have installed on your machine. The xSQL Documenter relies on the SMO api and since the SMO is updated with every version of SQL Server we provide a different package for each version. Note however that the SMO is backwards compatible, so if for example you have the SQL 2016 client tools installed, you only need the 2016 version of the xSQL Documenter and you can document all the earlier versions of SQL Server.
Today only, you can get a 15% discount on a new xSQL Documenter license. Use code DOCV5NEW on checkout.

Download your free trial now and see for yourself why xSQL Documenter is the best!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How to push database schema changes to hosts you cannot connect to

In most cases when you need to push database schema changes from your dev environment to QA/staging or from QA to production you are able to connect to both environments, the source and the target, at the same time in which case a tool like xSQL Schema Compare makes pushing the changes from the source to the target very easy and straightforward.
However, if you do not have access to the target database then pushing the changes becomes a bit of a challenge. Imagine for example that you have to upgrade a client’s database. To complicate things further imagine having tens or hundreds of clients running your software with a SQL Server back-end and to make matters worse your clients are running different versions of the software / database. In the past (I think there are still software publishers doing that) you would likely send your clients a set of scripts with detailed instructions telling them which scripts to run in what order based on whatever version they were upgrading from. If you have experience with that process you know it’s painful for both the software publisher and the client. In the case of small clients they would often have to hire outside help to perform the upgrade based on your instructions as the client lacks the in-house expertise so the process for them becomes not just painful but expensive too.

This is exactly what we build xSQL Builder for, to allow you to make the pushing of the schema changes to your clients’ environments easy and painless. A very simple and intuitive wizard guides you in creating a self-contained executable package in just minutes. You can then send the executable to your clients and all they would need to do is run it.

The executable package contains a snapshot of the master or source database schema that you wish to push to your clients. When executed it compares that schema snapshot to the target database on the client’s environment and performs the necessary schema changes on the target to make it the same as the source. The fact that your clients may have different versions of the database does not matter, the same executable package will upgrade any previous version to the current version you are pushing.

There are a few other convenient features like specifying pre and post synchronization scripts you may wish to run on a target and customizing the comparison and synchronization process based on your needs.

What makes this even better is that the distribution of the run-time library that makes this possible is royalty free. In other words you only need a single license for yourself and you can send those "magic" executable packages to as many clients as you need to.

xSQL Builder supports SQL Server versions from SQL Server 2005 and up, including SQL Server 2016 and SQL Azure.

Download and try the xSQL Builder now and if you decide to buy before the end of January 2017 ask us for a special discount.