Blog Archives

SQL Server Agent in Express Edition

As you probably know, SQL Server Express doesn’t ship with SQL Server Agent.

This is a known limitation and many people offered alternative solutions to schedule jobs, including windows scheduler, free and commercial third-party applications.

My favourite SQL Server Agent replacement to date is Denny Cherry‘s Standalone SQL Agent, for two reasons:

  1. It uses msdb tables to read job information.
    This means that jobs, schedules and the like can be scripted using the same script you would use in the other editions.
  2. It’s open source and it was started by a person I highly respect.

However, while I still find it a great piece of software, there are a couple of downsides to take into account:

  1. It’s still a beta version and the project hasn’t been very active lately.
  2. There’s no GUI tool to edit jobs or monitor job progress.
  3. It fails to install when UAC is turned on
  4. It’s not 100% compatible with SQL Server 2012
  5. It doesn’t restart automatically when the SQL Server instance starts
  6. It requires sysadmin privileges

The UAC problem during installation is easy to solve: open an elevated command prompt and run the installer msi. Easy peasy.

As far as SQL Server 2012 is concerned, the service fails to start when connected to a 2012 instance. In the ERRORLOG file (the one you find in the Standalone SQL Agent directory, not SQL Server’s) you’ll quickly find the reason of the failure: it can’t create the stored procedure sp_help_job_SSA. I don’t know why this happens: I copied the definition of the stored procedure from a 2008 instance and it worked fine.

If you don’t have a SQL Server 2008 instance available, you can extract the definition of the stored procedure from the source code at CodePlex.

Issue 5) is a bit more tricky to tackle. When the service loses the connection to the target SQL Server instance, it won’t restart automatically and it will remain idle until you cycle the service manually. In the ERRORLOG file you’ll find a message that resembles to this:

Error connecting to SQL Instance.
No connection attempt will be made until Sevice is restarted.

You can overcome this limitation using a startup stored procedure that restarts the service:

USE master

EXEC sp_configure 'advanced',1

EXEC sp_configure 'xp_cmdshell',1

USE master

CREATE PROCEDURE startStandaloneSQLAgent

    EXEC xp_cmdshell 'net stop "Standalone SQL Agent"'
    EXEC xp_cmdshell 'net start "Standalone SQL Agent"'


EXEC sp_procoption @ProcName = 'startStandaloneSQLAgent'
      , @OptionName = 'startup'
      , @OptionValue = 'on';

However, you’ll probably notice that the SQL Server service account does not have sufficient rights to restart the service.

The following PowerShell script grants the SQL Server service account all the rights it needs. In order to run it, you need to download the code available at Rohn Edwards’ blog.

# Change to the display name of your SQL Server Express service
$service = Get-WmiObject win32_service |
	where-object { $_.DisplayName -eq "SQL Server (SQLEXPRESS2008R2)" }

$serviceLogonAccount = $service.StartName

$ServiceAcl = Get-ServiceAcl "Standalone SQL Agent"

# Add an ACE allowing the service user Start and Stop service rights:
$ServiceAcl.AddAccessRule((New-AccessControlEntry -ServiceRights "Start,Stop" -Principal $serviceLogonAccount))

# Apply the modified ACL object to the service:
$ServiceAcl | Set-ServiceAcl

# Confirm the ACE was saved:
Get-ServiceAcl "Standalone SQL Agent" | select -ExpandProperty Access

After running this script from an elevated Powershell instance, you can test whether the startup stored procedure has enough privileges by invoking it manually.

If everything works as expected, you can restart the SQL Server Express instance and the Standalone SQL Agent service will restart as well.

In conclusion, Standalone SQL Agent is a good replacement for SQL Server Agent in Express edition and, while it suffers from some limitations, I still believe it’s the best option available.


COPY_ONLY backups and Log Shipping

Last week I was in the process of migrating a couple of SQL Server instances from 2008 R2 to 2012.

In order to let the migration complete quickly, I set up log shipping from the old instance to the new instance. Obviously, the existing backup jobs had to be disabled, otherwise they would have broken the log chain.

That got me thinking: was there a way to keep both “regular” transaction log backups (taken by the backup tool) and the transaction log backups taken by log shipping?


The first thing that came to my mind was the COPY_ONLY option available since SQL Server 2005.

You probably know that COPY_ONLY backups are useful when you have to take a backup for a special purpose, for instance when you have to restore from production to test. With the COPY_ONLY option, database backups don’t break the differential base and transaction log backups don’t break the log chain.

My initial thought was that I could ship COPY_ONLY backups to the secondary and keep taking scheduled transaction log backups with the existing backup tools.

I was dead wrong.

Let’s see it with an example on a TEST database.

I took 5 backups:

  1. FULL database backup, to initialize the log chain. Please note that COPY_ONLY backups cannot be used to initialize the log chain.
  2. LOG backup
  3. LOG backup with the COPY_ONLY option
  4. LOG backup
  5. LOG backup with the COPY_ONLY option

The backup information can be queried from backupset in msdb:

     ROW_NUMBER() OVER(ORDER BY bs.backup_start_date) AS [backup #]
    ,DENSE_RANK() OVER(ORDER BY type, bs.first_lsn) AS sequence
FROM msdb.dbo.backupset bs
WHERE bs.database_name = 'TEST'


As you can see, the COPY_ONLY backups don’t truncate the transaction log and losing one of those backups wouldn’t break the log chain.

However, all backups always start from the first available LSN, which means that scheduled log backups taken without the COPY_ONLY option truncate the transaction log and make significant portions of the transaction log unavailable in the next COPY_ONLY backup.

You can see it clearly in the following picture: the LSNs highlighted in red should contain no gaps in order to be restored successfully to the secondary, but the regular TLOG backups break the log chain in the COPY_ONLY backups.


That means that there’s little or no point in taking COPY_ONLY transaction log backups, as “regular” backups will always determine gaps in the log chain.

When log shipping is used, the secondary server is the only backup you can have, unless you keep the TLOG backups or use your backup tool directly to ship the logs.

Why on earth should one take a COPY_ONLY TLOG backup (more than one at least) is beyond my comprehension, but that’s a whole different story.

Open SSMS Query Results in Excel with a Single Click

The problem

One of the tasks that I often have to complete is manipulate some data in Excel, starting from the query results in SSMS.

Excel is a very convenient tool for one-off reports, quick data manipulation, simple charts.

Unfortunately, SSMS doesn’t ship with a tool to export grid results to Excel quickly.

Excel offers some ways to import data from SQL queries, but none of those offers the rich query tools available in SSMS. A representative example is Microsoft Query: how am I supposed to edit a query in a text editor like this?


Enough said.

Actually, there are many ways to export data from SQL Server to Excel, including SSIS packages and the Import/Export wizard. Again, all those methods require writing your queries in a separate tool, often with very limited editing capabilities.

PowerQuery offers great support for data exploration, but it is a totally different beast and I don’t see it as an alternative to running SQL queries directly.

The solution

How can I edit my queries taking advantage of the query editing features of SSMS, review the results and then format the data directly in Excel?

The answer is SSMS cannot do that, but, fortunately, the good guys at Solutions Crew brought you a great tool that can do that and much more.

SSMSBoost is a free add-in that empowers SSMS with many useful features, among which exporting to Excel is just one. I highly suggest that you check out the feature list, because it’s really impressive.

Once SSMSBoost is installed, every time you right click a results grid, a context menu appears that lets you export the grid data to several formats.

No surprises, one of those formats is indeed Excel.


The feature works great, even with relatively big result sets. However, it requires 5 clicks to create the Spreadsheet file and one more click to open it in Excel:


So, where is the single click I promised in the title of this post?

The good news is that SSMSBoost can be automated combining commands in macros to accomplish complex tasks.

Here’s how to create a one-click “open in Excel” command:

First, open the SSMSBoost settings window clicking the “Extras” button.


In the “Shortcuts & Macros” tab you can edit and add macros to the toolbar or the context menu and even assign a keyboard shortcut.


Clicking the “definitions” field opens the macro editor


Select “Add” and choose the following command: “SSMSBoost.Connect.GridDataCopyTemplateAllGridsDisk3”. This command corresponds to the “Script all grids as Excel to disk” command in SSMSBoost.

Now save everything with OK and close. You will notice a new button in your toolbar:


That button allows to export all grids to Excel in a single click.

You’re almost there: now you just need something to open the Excel file automatically, without the need for additional clicks.

To accomplish this task, you can use a Powershell script, bound to a custom External Tool.

Open the External Tools editor (Tools, External Tools), click “Add” and type these parameters:

Title: Open last XML in Excel

Command: C:\Windows\System32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\powershell.exe

Arguments: -File %USERPROFILE%\openLastExcel.ps1 -ExecutionPolicy Bypass


Click OK to close the External Tools editor.

This command lets you open the last XML file created in the SSMSBoost output directory, using a small Powershell script that you have to create in your %USERPROFILE% directory.

The script looks like this:

## =============================================
## Author:      Gianluca Sartori - @spaghettidba
## Create date: 2014-01-15
## Description: Open the last XML file in the SSMSBoost
##              output dicrectory with Excel
## =============================================

sl $env:UserProfile

# This is the SSMSBoost 2012 settings file
# If you have the 2008 version, change this path
# Sorry, I could not find a registry key to automate it.
$settingsFile = "$env:UserProfile\AppData\Local\Solutions Crew\Ssms2012\SSMSBoostSettings.xml"

# Open the settings file to look up the export directory
$xmldata=[xml](get-content $settingsFile)

$xlsTemplate = $xmldata.SSMSBoostSettings.GridDataCopyTemplates.ChildNodes |
    Where-Object { $_.Name -eq "Excel (MS XML Spreadsheet)" }

$SSMSBoostPath = [System.IO.Path]::GetDirectoryName($xlsTemplate.SavePath)

$SSMSBoostPath = [System.Environment]::ExpandEnvironmentVariables($SSMSBoostPath)

# we filter out files created before (now -1 second)
$startTime = (get-date).addSeconds(-1);

$targetFile = $null;

while($targetFile -eq $null){
    $targetFile = Get-ChildItem -Path $SSMSBoostPath |
        Where-Object { $_.extension -eq '.xml' -and $_.lastWriteTime -gt $startTime } |
        Sort-Object -Property LastWriteTime |
        Select-Object -Last 1;

    # file not found? Wait SSMSBoost to finish exporting
    if($targetFile -eq $null) {
        Start-Sleep -Milliseconds 100

$fileToOpen = $targetFile.FullName

# enclose the output file path in quotes if needed
if($fileToOpen -like "* *"){
    $fileToOpen = "`"" + $fileToOpen + "`""

# open the file in Excel
# ShellExecute is much safer than messing with COM objects...
$sh = new-object -com 'Shell.Application'
$sh.ShellExecute('excel', "/r " + $fileToOpen, '', 'open', 1)

Now you just have to go back to the SSMSBoost settings window and edit the macro you created above.


In the definitions field click … to edit the macro and add a second step. The Command to select is “Tools.ExternalCommand1”.

Save and close everything and now your nice toolbar button will be able to open the export file in Excel automagically. Yay!



If nothing happens, you might need to change your Powershell Execution Policy. Remember that SSMS is a 32-bit application and you have to set the Execution Policy for the x86 version of Powershell.

Starting Powershell x86 is not easy in Windows 8/8.1, The documentation says to look up “Windows Powershell (x86)” in the start menu, but I could not find it.

The easiest way I have found is through another External Tool in SSMS. Start SSMS as an Administrator (otherwise the UAC will prevent you from changing the Execution Policy) and configure an external tool to run Powershell. Once you’re in, type “Set-ExecutionPolicy Remotesigned” and hit return. The external tool in your macro will now run without issues.

Bottom line

Nothing compares to SSMS when it comes down to writing queries, but Excel is the best place to format and manipulate data.

Now you have a method to take advantage of the best of both worlds. And it only takes one single click.


Copy user databases to a different server with PowerShell

Sometimes you have to copy all user databases from a source server to a destination server.

Copying from development to test could be one reason, but I’m sure there are others.

Since the question came up on the forums at SQLServerCentral, I decided to modify a script I published some months ago to accomplish this task.

Here is the code:

## =============================================
## Author:      Gianluca Sartori - @spaghettidba
## Create date: 2013-10-07
## Description: Copy user databases to a destination
##              server
## =============================================
sl "c:\"
$ErrorActionPreference = "Stop"

# Input your parameters here
$source = "SourceServer\Instance"
$sourceServerUNC = "SourceServer"
$destination = "DestServer\Instance"

# Shared folder on the destination server
# For instance "\\DestServer\D$"
$sharedFolder = "\\DestServer\sharedfolder"
# Path to the shared folder on the destination server
# For instance "D:"
$remoteSharedFolder = "PathOfSharedFolderOnDestServer"

$ts = Get-Date -Format yyyyMMdd

# Read default backup path of the source from the registry

$SQL_BackupDirectory = @"
    EXEC master.dbo.xp_instance_regread

$info = Invoke-sqlcmd -Query $SQL_BackupDirectory -ServerInstance $source

$BackupDirectory = $info.Data

# Read master database files location
$SQL_Defaultpaths = "
    SELECT *
    FROM (
        SELECT type_desc,
            SUBSTRING(physical_name,1,LEN(physical_name) - CHARINDEX('\', REVERSE(physical_name)) + 1) AS physical_name
        FROM master.sys.database_files
    ) AS src
    PIVOT( MIN(physical_name) FOR type_desc IN ([ROWS],[LOG])) AS pvt

$info = Invoke-sqlcmd -Query $SQL_Defaultpaths -ServerInstance $destination

$DefaultData = $info.ROWS
$DefaultLog = $info.LOG

# Process all user databases
$SQL_FullRecoveryDatabases = @"
    SELECT name
    FROM master.sys.databases
    WHERE name NOT IN ('master', 'model', 'tempdb', 'msdb', 'distribution')

$info = Invoke-sqlcmd -Query $SQL_FullRecoveryDatabases -ServerInstance $source

$info | ForEach-Object {

    try {

        $DatabaseName = $_.Name

        Write-Output "Processing database $DatabaseName"

        $BackupFile = $DatabaseName + "_" + $ts + ".bak"
        $BackupPath = $BackupDirectory + "\" + $BackupFile
        $RemoteBackupPath = $remoteSharedFolder + "\" + $BackupFile

        $SQL_BackupDatabase = "BACKUP DATABASE $DatabaseName TO DISK='$BackupPath' WITH INIT, COPY_ONLY, COMPRESSION;"

        # Backup database to local path
        Invoke-Sqlcmd -Query $SQL_BackupDatabase -ServerInstance $source -QueryTimeout 65535

        Write-Output "Database backed up to $BackupPath"

        $BackupPath = $BackupPath

        $BackupFile = [System.IO.Path]::GetFileName($BackupPath)

        $SQL_RestoreDatabase = "
            RESTORE DATABASE $DatabaseName
            FROM DISK='$RemoteBackupPath'

        $SQL_RestoreFilelistOnly = "
            FROM DISK='$RemoteBackupPath';

        # Move the backup to the destination

        $remotesourcefile = $BackupPath.Substring(1, 2)
        $remotesourcefile = $BackupPath.Replace($remotesourcefile, $remotesourcefile.replace(":","$"))
        $remotesourcefile = "\\" + $sourceServerUNC + "\" + $remotesourcefile

        Write-Output "Moving $remotesourcefile to $sharedFolder"
        Move-Item $remotesourcefile $sharedFolder -Force

        # Restore the backup on the destination
        $i = 0
        Invoke-Sqlcmd -Query $SQL_RestoreFilelistOnly -ServerInstance $destination -QueryTimeout 65535 | ForEach-Object {
            $currentRow = $_
            $physicalName = [System.IO.Path]::GetFileName($CurrentRow.PhysicalName)
            if($CurrentRow.Type -eq "D") {
                $newName = $DefaultData + $physicalName
            else {
                $newName = $DefaultLog + $physicalName
            if($i -gt 0) {$SQL_RestoreDatabase += ","}
            $SQL_RestoreDatabase += " MOVE '$($CurrentRow.LogicalName)' TO '$NewName'"
            $i += 1

        Write-Output "invoking restore command: $SQL_RestoreDatabase"
        Invoke-Sqlcmd -Query $SQL_RestoreDatabase -ServerInstance $destination -QueryTimeout 65535
        Write-Output "Restored database from $RemoteBackupPath"

        # Delete the backup file
        Write-Output "Deleting $($sharedFolder + "\" + $BackupFile) "
        Remove-Item $($sharedFolder + "\" + $BackupFile) -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue

    catch {
       Write-Error $_


It’s a quick’n’dirty script, I’m sure there might be something to fix here and there.  Just drop a comment if you find something.

Ten features you had in Profiler that are missing in Extended Events



I exchanged some emails about my post with Jonathan Kehayias and looks like I was wrong on many of the points I made.

I don’t want to keep misleading information around and I definitely need to fix my wrong assumptions.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to correct it immediately and I’m afraid it will have to remain like this for a while.

Sorry for the inconvenience, I promise I will try to fix it in the next few days.

Error upgrading MDW from 2008R2 to 2012

Some months ago I posted a method to overcome some quirks in the MDW database in a clustered environment.

Today I tried to upgrade that clustered instance (in a test environment, fortunately) and I got some really annoying errors.

Actually, I got what I deserved for messing with the system databases and I wouldn’t even dare posting my experience if  it wasn’t cause by something I suggested on this blog.

However, every cloud has a silver lining: many things can go wrong when upgrading a cluster and the resolution I will describe here can fit many failed upgrade situations.

So, what’s wrong with the solution I proposed back in march?

The offending line in that code is the following:

EXEC sp_rename 'core.source_info_internal', 'source_info_internal_ms'

What happened here? Basically, I renamed a table in the MDW and I created a view in its place.

One of the steps of the setup process tries to upgrade the MDW database with a script, that is executed at the first startup on an upgraded cluster node.

The script fails and the following message is found in the ERRORLOG:

Creating table [core].[source_info_internal]...
2013-10-24 09:21:02.99 spid8s Error: 2714, Severity: 16, State: 6.
2013-10-24 09:21:02.99 spid8s There is already an object named 'source_info_internal' in the database.
2013-10-24 09:21:02.99 spid8s Error: 912, Severity: 21, State: 2.
2013-10-24 09:21:02.99 spid8s Script level upgrade for database 'master' failed because upgrade step 'upgrade_ucp_cmdw.sql' encountered error 3602, state 51, severity 25. This is a serious error condition which might interfere with regular operation and the database will be taken offline. If the error happened during upgrade of the 'master' database, it will prevent the entire SQL Server instance from starting. Examine the previous errorlog entries for errors, take the appropriate corrective actions and re-start the database so that the script upgrade steps run to completion.
2013-10-24 09:21:02.99 spid8s Error: 3417, Severity: 21, State: 3.
2013-10-24 09:21:02.99 spid8s Cannot recover the master database. SQL Server is unable to run. Restore master from a full backup, repair it, or rebuild it. For more information about how to rebuild the master database, see SQL Server Books Online.

Every attempt to bring the SQL Server resource online results in a similar error message.

The only way to fix the error is to restore the initial state of the MDW database, renaming the table core.source_info_internal_ms to its original name.

But how can it be done, since the instance refuses to start?

Microsoft added and documented trace flag 902, that can be used to bypass the upgrade scripts at instance startup.

Remember that the startup parameters of a clustered instance cannot be modified while the resource is offline, because the registry checkpointing mechanism will restore the registry values stored in the quorum disk while bringing the resource online.

There are three ways to start the instance in this situation:

  1. modify the startup parameters by disabling checkpointing
  2. modify the startup parameters in the quorum registry hives
  3. start the instance manually at the command prompt

Method N.3 is the simplest one in this situation and is what I ended up doing.

Once the instance started, I renamed the view core.source_info_internal and renamed core.source_info_internal_ms to its original name.

The instance could then be stopped (CTRL+C at the command prompt or SHUTDOWN WITH NOWAIT in sqlcmd) and restarted removing the trace flag.

With the MDW in its correct state, the upgrade scripts completed without errors and the clustered instance could be upgraded to SQL Server 2012 without issues.

Lessons learned:

  1. Never, ever mess with the system databases. The MDW is not technically a system database, but it’s shipped by Microsoft and should be kept untouched. If you decide you absolutely need to modify something there, remember to undo your changes before upgrading and applying service packs.
  2. Always test your environment before upgrading. It took me 1 hour to fix the issue and not every upgrade scenario tolerates 1 hour of downtime. Think about it.
  3. Test your upgrade.
  4. Did I mention you need to test?

Jokes aside, I caught my error in a test environment and I’m happy it was not in production.

As the saying goes, better safe than sorry.

SQL Server services are gone after upgrading to Windows 8.1

Yesterday I upgraded my laptop to Windows 8.1 and everything seemed to have gone smoothly.

I really like the improvements in Windows 8.1 and I think they’re worth the hassle of an upgrade if you’re still on Windows 8.

As I was saying, everything seemed to upgrade smoothly. Unfortunately, today I found out that SQL Server services were gone.

My configuration manager looked like this:


My laptop had an instance of SQL Server 2012 SP1 Developer Edition and the windows upgrade process had deleted all SQL Server services but SQL Server Browser.

I thought that a repair would fix the issue, so I took out my SQL Server iso and ran the setup.

Unfortunately, during the repair process, something went wrong and it complained multiple times about “no mappings between Security IDs and account names” or something similar.

Anyway, the setup completed and the services were back in place, but were totally misconfigured.


SQL Server agent had start mode “disabled” and the service account had been changed to “localsystem” (go figure…)

After changing start mode and service accounts, everything were back to normal.

I hope this post helps others that are facing the same issue.

Check SQL Server logins with weak password

SQL Server logins can implement the same password policies found in Active Directory to make sure that strong passwords are being used.

Unfortunately, especially for servers upgraded from previous versions, the password policies are often disabled and some logins have very weak passwords.

In particular, some logins could have the password set as equal to the login name, which would by one of the first things I would try to hack a server.

Are you sure none of your logins has such a poor password?

PowerShell to the rescue!

try {
    if((Get-PSSnapin -Name SQlServerCmdletSnapin100 -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue) -eq $null){
        Add-PSSnapin SQlServerCmdletSnapin100
catch {
    Write-Error "This script requires the SQLServerCmdletSnapIn100 snapin"


# Query server names from your Central Management Server
$qry = "
SELECT server_name
FROM msdb.dbo.sysmanagement_shared_registered_servers

$servers = Invoke-Sqlcmd -Query $qry -ServerInstance "YourCMSServerGoesHere"

# Extract SQL Server logins
# Why syslogins and not sys.server_principals?
# Believe it or not, I still support a couple of SQL Server 2000
$qry_logins = "
SELECT loginname, sysadmin
FROM syslogins
WHERE isntname = 0
AND loginname NOT LIKE '##%##'

$dangerous_logins = @()

$servers | % {
    $currentServer = $_.server_name
    $logins = Invoke-Sqlcmd -Query $qry_logins -ServerInstance $currentServer

    $logins | % {

        $currentLogin = $_.loginname
        $isSysAdmin = $_.sysadmin

        try {
            # Attempt logging in with login = password
            $one = Invoke-Sqlcmd -Query "SELECT 1" -ServerInstance $currentServer -Username $currentLogin -Password $currentLogin -ErrorAction Stop
            # OMG! Login successful
            # Add the login to $dangerous_logins
            $info = @{}
            $info.LoginName = $currentLogin
            $info.Sysadmin = $isSysAdmin
            $info.ServerName = $currentServer
            $loginInfo = New-Object -TypeName PsObject -Property $info
            $dangerous_logins += $loginInfo
        catch {
            # If the login attempt fails, don't add the login to $dangerous_logins


#display dangerous logins

A viable alternative to dynamic SQL in administration scripts

As a DBA, you probably have your toolbox full of scripts, procedures and functions that you use for the day-to-day administration of your instances.

I’m no exception and my hard drive is full of scripts that I tend to accumulate and never throw away, even if I know I will never need (or find?) them again.

However, my preferred way to organize and maintain my administration scripts is a database called “TOOLS”, which contains all the scripts I regularly use.

One of the challenges involved in keeping the scripts in a database rather than in a script file is the inability to choose a database context for the execution. When a statement is encapsulated in a view, function or stored procedure in a database, every reference to a database-specific object is limited to the database that contains the programmable object itself. The only way to overcome this limitation is the use of dynamic sql.

For instance, if I want to query the name of the tables in a database, I can use the following statement:

SELECT name FROM sys.tables

The statement references a catalog view specific to a single database, so if I enclose it in a stored procedure, the table names returned by this query are those found in the database that contains the stored procedure itself:


SELECT name FROM sys.tables;

EXEC getTableNames;

This is usually not an issue, since most stored procedures will not cross the boundaries of the database they are created in. Administration scripts are different, because they are meant as a single entry point to maintain the whole SQL server instance.

In order to let the statement work against a different database, you need to choose one of the following solutions:

  1. dynamic SQL
  2. sp_executesql
  3. marking as a system object
  4. … an alternative way

Each of these techniques has its PROs and its CONs and I will try to describe them in this post.

1. Dynamic SQL

It’s probably the easiest way to solve the issue: you just have to concatenate the database name to the objects names.


ALTER PROCEDURE getTableNames @db_name sysname
    DECLARE @sql nvarchar(max)
    SET @sql = 'SELECT name FROM '+ QUOTENAME(@db_name) +'.sys.tables';


EXEC getTableNames 'msdb';


  • very easy to implement for simple statements


  • can rapidly turn to a nightmare with big, complicated statements, as each object must be concatenated with the database name. Different objects have different ways to be related to the database: tables and views can be concatenated directly, while functions such as OBJECT_NAME accept an additional parameter to specify the database name.
  • the statement has to be treated as a string and enclosed in quotes, which means that:
    • quotes must be escaped, and escaped quotes must be escaped again and escaped and re-escaped quotes… ok, you know what I mean
    • no development aids such as intellisense, just-in-time syntax checks and syntax coloring


2. sp_executesql

It’s a neater way to avoid concatenating the database name to each object referenced in the statement.


ALTER PROCEDURE getTableNames @db_name sysname

    -- use a @sql variable to store the whole query
    -- without concatenating the database name

    DECLARE @sql nvarchar(max);

    SET @sql = 'SELECT name FROM sys.tables';

    -- concatenate the database name to the
    -- sp_executesql call, just once

    DECLARE @cmd nvarchar(max);

    SET @cmd = 'EXEC '+ QUOTENAME(@db_name) +'.sys.sp_executesql @sql';

    EXEC sp_executesql @cmd, N'@sql nvarchar(max)', @sql


EXEC getTableNames 'msdb';


  • the dynamic sql is taken as a whole and does not need to be cluttered with multiple concatenations


  • needs some more work than a straight concatenation and can be seen as “obscure”
  • suffers from the same issues found with plain dynamic sql, because the statement is, again, treated as a string

3. System object

Nice and easy: every stored procedure you create in the master database with the “sp_” prefix can be executed from any database context.

Using the undocumented stored procedure sp_MS_marksystemobject you can also mark the stored procedure as a “system object” and let it reference the tables in the database from which it is invoked.

USE master;

ALTER PROCEDURE sp_getTableNames
    SELECT name FROM sys.tables

EXEC sys.sp_MS_marksystemobject 'sp_getTableNames'

USE msdb;

EXEC sp_getTableNames;


  • no need to use dynamic sql


  • requires creating objects in the “master” database, which is something I tend to avoid
  • works with stored procedures only (actually, it works with other objects, such as tables and views, but you have to use the “sp_” prefix. The day I will find a view named “sp_getTableNames” in the master database it won’t be safe to stay near me)

An alternative method:

It would be really helpful if we could store the statement we want to execute inside an object that doesn’t involve dynamic sql and doesn’t need to be stored in the master database. In other words, we need a way to get the best of both worlds.

Is there such a solution? Apparently, there isn’t.

The ideal object to store a statement and reuse it later is a view, but there is no way to “execute” a view against a different database. In fact you don’t execute a view, you just select from it, which is quite a different thing.

What you “execute” when you select from a view is the statement in its definition (not really, but let me simplify).

So, what we would need to do is just read the definition from a view and use the statement against the target database. Sounds straightforward, but it’s not.

The definition of a view also contains the “CREATE VIEW” statement and stripping it off is not just as easy as it seems.

Let’s see the issue with an example: I will create a view to query the last update date of the index statistics in a database, using the query from Glenn Berry’s Diagnostic Queries.


-- When were Statistics last updated on all indexes?  (Query 48)
CREATE VIEW statisticsLastUpdate
     DB_NAME() AS database_name
    ,o.NAME AS stat_name
    ,i.NAME AS [Index Name]
    ,STATS_DATE(i.[object_id], i.index_id) AS [Statistics Date]
FROM sys.objects AS o WITH (NOLOCK)
    ON o.[object_id] = i.[object_id]
    ON i.[object_id] = s.[object_id]
    AND i.index_id = s.stats_id
INNER JOIN sys.dm_db_partition_stats AS st WITH (NOLOCK)
    ON o.[object_id] = st.[object_id]
    AND i.[index_id] = st.[index_id]
WHERE o.[type] = 'U';

I just had to remove ORDER BY and OPTION(RECOMPILE) because query hints cannot be used in views.

Querying the object definition returns the whole definition of the view, not only the SELECT statement:

SELECT OBJECT_DEFINITION(OBJECT_ID('statisticsLastUpdate')) AS definition
-- When were Statistics last updated on all indexes?  (Query 48)
CREATE VIEW statisticsLastUpdate
     DB_NAME() AS database_name
    ,o.NAME AS stat_name
    ,i.NAME AS [Index Name]
    ,STATS_DATE(i.[object_id], i.index_id) AS [Statistics Date]

(1 row(s) affected)

In order to extract the SELECT statement, we would need something able to parse (properly!) the view definition and we all know how complex it can be.

Fortunately, SQL Server ships with an undocumented function used in replication that can help solving the problem: its name is fn_replgetparsedddlcmd.

This function accepts some parameters, lightly documented in the code: fn_replgetparsedddlcmd (@ddlcmd, @FirstToken, @objectType, @dbname, @owner, @objname, @targetobject)

Going back to the example, we can use this function to extract the SELECT statement from the view definition:

SELECT master.sys.fn_replgetparsedddlcmd(
) AS statement
     DB_NAME() AS database_name
    ,o.NAME AS stat_name
    ,i.NAME AS [Index Name]
    ,STATS_DATE(i.[object_id], i.index_id) AS [Statistics Date]

(1 row(s) affected)

The text returned by the function still contains the “AS” keyword, but removing it is a no-brainer:

DECLARE @cmd nvarchar(max)
SELECT @cmd = master.sys.fn_replgetparsedddlcmd(

SELECT @cmd = RIGHT(@cmd, LEN(@cmd) - 2) -- Removes "AS"

SELECT @cmd AS statement

     DB_NAME() AS database_name
    ,o.NAME AS stat_name
    ,i.NAME AS [Index Name]
    ,STATS_DATE(i.[object_id], i.index_id) AS [Statistics Date]

(1 row(s) affected)

Now that we are able to read the SELECT statement from a view’s definition, we can execute that statement against any database we like, or even against all the databases in the instance.

-- =============================================
-- Author:      Gianluca Sartori - spaghettidba
-- Create date: 2013-04-16
-- Description: Extracts the view definition
--              and runs the statement in the
--              database specified by @db_name
--              If the target database is a pattern,
--              the statement gets executed against
--              all databases matching the pattern.
-- =============================================

CREATE PROCEDURE [dba_execute_view]
     @view_name sysname
    ,@db_name sysname


DECLARE @cmd nvarchar(max)
DECLARE @sql nvarchar(max)

DECLARE @vw_schema sysname
DECLARE @vw_name sysname

IF OBJECT_ID(@view_name) IS NULL
    RAISERROR('No suitable object found for name %s',16,1,@view_name)

IF DB_ID(@db_name) IS NULL
    AND @db_name NOT IN ('[USER]','[SYSTEM]')
    AND @db_name IS NOT NULL
    RAISERROR('No suitable database found for name %s',16,1,@view_name)

SELECT @vw_schema = OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(OBJECT_ID(@view_name)),
    @vw_name = OBJECT_NAME(OBJECT_ID(@view_name))

SELECT @cmd = master.sys.fn_replgetparsedddlcmd(

SELECT @cmd = RIGHT(@cmd, LEN(@cmd) - 2) -- Removes "AS"

SET @sql = N'
    SELECT TOP(0) * INTO #results FROM ' + @view_name + ';

    INSERT #results
    EXEC [dba_ForEachDB]
        @statement = @cmd,
        @name_pattern = @db_name;

    SELECT * FROM #results;'

EXEC sp_executesql
    ,N'@cmd nvarchar(max), @db_name sysname'


The procedure depends on dba_ForEachDB, the stored procedure I posted a couple of years ago that replaces the one shipped by Microsoft. If you still prefer their version, you’re free to modify the code as you wish.

Now that we have a stored procedure that “executes” a view, we can use it to query statistics update information from a different database:

EXEC [dba_execute_view] 'statisticsLastUpdate', 'msdb'


We could also query the same information from all user databases:

EXEC [dba_execute_view] 'statisticsLastUpdate', '[USER]'


That’s it, very easy and straightforward.

Just one suggestion for the SELECT statements in the views: add a DB_NAME() column, in order to understand where the data comes from, or it’s going to be a total mess.

Next steps:

This is just the basic idea, the code can be improved in many ways.

For instance, we could add a parameter to decide whether the results must be piped to a temporary table or not. As you probably know, INSERT…EXEC cannot be nested, so you might want to pipe the results to a table in a different way.

Another thing you might want to add is the ability to order the results according to an additional parameter.

To sum it up, with a little help from Microsoft, we can now safely create a database packed with all our administration stuff and execute the queries against any database in our instance.

Moving system databases to the default data and log paths

Recently I had to assess and tune quite a lot of SQL Server instances and one the things that are often overlooked is the location of the system databases.

I often see instance where the system databases are located in the system drives under the SQL Server default installation path, which is bad for many reasons, especially for tempdb.

I had to move the system databases so many times that I ended up coding a script to automate the process.

The script finds all system databases that are not sitting in the default data and log paths and issues the ALTER DATABASE statements needed to move the files to the default paths.

Obviously, to let the script work, the default data and log paths must have been set in the instance properties:


You may also point out that moving all system databases to the default data and log paths is not always a good idea. And you would be right: for instance, if possible, the tempdb database should be working on a fast dedicated disk. However, very often I find myself dealing with low-end servers where separate data and log disks are a luxury, not to mention a dedicated tempdb disk.  If you are concerned about moving tempd to the default data and log paths, you can modify the script accordingly.

-- =============================================
-- Author:      Gianluca Sartori - spaghettidba
-- Create date: 2013-03-22
-- Description: Moves the system databases to the
--              default data and log paths and 
--              updates SQL Server startup params
--              accordingly.
-- =============================================

USE master;

-- Find default data and log paths
-- reading from the registry

DECLARE @defaultDataLocation nvarchar(4000)
DECLARE @defaultLogLocation nvarchar(4000)

EXEC master.dbo.xp_instance_regread
    @defaultDataLocation OUTPUT

EXEC master.dbo.xp_instance_regread
    @defaultLogLocation OUTPUT

-- Loop through all system databases
-- and move to the default data and log paths

DECLARE @sql nvarchar(max)

    ' ALTER DATABASE '+ DB_NAME(database_id) +
    ' MODIFY FILE ( ' +
    '     NAME = '''+ name +''', ' +
    '     FILENAME = '''+
    CASE type_desc
        WHEN 'ROWS' THEN @defaultDataLocation
        ELSE @defaultLogLocation
    END +
    '\'+ RIGHT(physical_name,CHARINDEX('\',REVERSE(physical_name),1)-1) +'''' +
    ' )'
FROM sys.master_files
WHERE DB_NAME(database_id) IN ('master','model','msdb','tempdb')
    AND (
        physical_name NOT LIKE @defaultDataLocation + '%'
        OR physical_name NOT LIKE @defaultLogLocation + '%'

OPEN stmts


    PRINT @sql

    FETCH NEXT FROM stmts INTO @sql

CLOSE stmts

-- Update SQL Server startup parameters
-- to reflect the new master data and log
-- files locations

DECLARE @val nvarchar(500)
DECLARE @key nvarchar(100)

DECLARE @regvalues TABLE (
    parameter nvarchar(100),
    value nvarchar(500)

INSERT @regvalues
EXEC master.dbo.xp_instance_regenumvalues

FROM @regvalues
WHERE value LIKE '-d%'
    OR value LIKE '-l%'

OPEN reg

FETCH NEXT FROM reg INTO @key, @val


    IF @val LIKE '-d%'
        SET @val = '-d' + (
            SELECT physical_name
            FROM sys.master_files
            WHERE DB_NAME(database_id) = 'master'
                AND type_desc = 'ROWS'
    IF @val LIKE '-l%'
        SET @val = '-l' + (
            SELECT physical_name
            FROM sys.master_files
            WHERE DB_NAME(database_id) = 'master'
                AND type_desc = 'LOG'

    EXEC master.dbo.xp_instance_regwrite

    FETCH NEXT FROM reg INTO @key, @val



After running this script, you can shut down the SQL Server service and move the data and log files to the appropriate locations.

When the files are ready, you can bring SQL Server back online.

BE CAREFUL! Before running this script against a clustered instance, check what the xp_instance_regread commands return: I have seen cases with SQL Server not reading from the appropriate keys.