Command Line Tools for SQL Server

TLDR: To efficiently manage multiple SQL Server instances learn PowerShell and check out the dbatools. There is also the mssql-cli to look at too.

Since its introduction in 2005 the SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) was the tool used for development and administration of SQL Server databases. Most of the common, day to day tasks one can perform by pointing and clicking without the need to remember (or at least type in) all those confusing commands. But I never liked mice much and the main reason I kept using SSMS was that the only real alternative was the sqlcmd command line utility which is a command line tool, but doesn’t make you any more productive than SSMS.

But the times are changing. I attended ~SQL~Data Relay earlier this week and it struck me that a lot of SQL Server demos where done without the SSMS. And as I started thinking about it I realised that in fact I don’t use it that frequently in my job either. With the power of PowerShell and the dbatools and dbachecks module I can no longer imagine managing SQL Servers with SSMS.


Imagine you’ve got 3 servers (just to make the example simple, but it could be 30 or 300, it doesn’t really matter). All we have to do is define a variable holding a list of those servers like so:

$s = server1,server2,server3

And now we can get to work. Here are a few example of tasks which in SSMS would involve too much clicking for my liking, and task I can perform with a single PowerShell command.

Find a Database

I’ve got hundreds of databases on each instance but I need to find the specific one. All I have to do is

Find-DbaDatabase -SqlInstance $s -Pattern "PartOfMyDatabaseName"

And it really can be just a part of the name, so I don’t have to remember the whole name, it doesn’t matter if I remember the beginning or the end of the name.

Check server logs

Let’s say I need to check all my servers error logs for a specific five minutes when our system had a wobble. With SSMS it’s hours of mouse abuse. With PowerShell it’s a single command again

Get-DbaSqlLog -SqlInstance $s -Afater '2018-10-10 10:00' -Before '2018-10-10 10:05`

It will collate all error logs for the time period between 10:00 and 10:05 on 10/10/2018. If the output is too long to read in the PowerShell console you can pipe it to Out-GridView. In fact you can do that with any powershell command returning data. Try adding | Out-GridView at the end of any command like so in the log example

Get-DbaSqlLog -SqlInstance $s -Afater '2018-10-10 10:00' -Before '2018-10-10 10:05` | Out-GridView

Find DB Growth Events

How to find when my databases' files have grown recently? It is possible with SSMS but why would you do it if you can do:

Find-DbaDbGrowthEvent -SqlInstance $s | Out-GridView

That’s it. That is how simple it is. The above command returns all the growth events from all of the servers previously defined in the $s variable.


I still use SSMS, especially when it comes to managing Availability Groups and the AG Dashboards. It is useful for report writing and some ad hoc querying although for those sort of tasks I started using ~SQL Server Operations Studio~ recently renamed to Azure Data Studio. It is based on VS Code and runs on Windows, Linux and macOS, and although it doesn’t have all the features of SQL Server Management Studio, it does have some gems of its own which are not available in SSMS. Another reason could be performance tuning and looking at execution plans, but for those reasons I have long switched to the free Sentry One product Plan Explorer.

For anything else I use PowerShell with dbatools. Looking at the content of SQL Relay demos I’m not alone on that trend.

Parsing Database Object Names

Problem: Parse database object identifiers from single name to 4 part name and extract individual elements. So for example Server1.MyDb.dbo.TableA is TableA in schema dbo in MyDb database on a linked server Server1.

I’m not looking for a solution that will validate the name is valid, that it meets all the requirements, or even if it is well formatted. I’m assuming that it is a reasonable name, I just want to extract all the components provided: Linked Server, Database, Schema and Object names.

Solution 1 – PowerShell and String Splitting

Define a function that splits the string by ‘.’ and assigns values based on number of elements in the array.

function Parse-SqlName {
    process {
        $output = [pscustomobject]@{ Server = ""; Database = ""; Schema = ""; Object = ""; }

        $names = $name.Split('.')
        if ($names.Length -ge 4) { $output.Server = $names[-4] }
        if ($names.Length -ge 3) { $output.Database = $names[-3] }
        if ($names.Length -ge 2) { $output.Schema = $names[-2] }
        if ($names.Length -ge 1) { $output.Object = $names[-1] }

        return $output 

To use it call

Parse-SqlName "Server1.MyDb.dbo.TableA"

This returns

Server Database Schema Object
Server1 MyDb dbo TableA

#Solution 2 – Regular Expression

Regular Expression is another way to parse strings so I set myself a challange to create one that will do the same as the above function and would work regardless how many parts of the identifier are present. Here is the result

[\[]?(?:(?:(?:(?<Server>[\w_&@$ -]+)[\.\[\]]+)?(?<Database>[\w_&@$ -]+)[\.\[\]]+)?(?<Schema>[\w_&@$ -]+)[\.\[\]]+)?(?<Object>[\w_&@$ -]+)\]?

After processing a string with it up to four groups will be available. It can be used in any language that supports regex, but here is an example using PowerShell again

function Parse-SqlName2 {
    process {
        if ($name -match '[\[]?(?:(?:(?:(?<Server>[\w_&@$ -]+)[\.\[\]]+)?(?<Database>[\w_&@$ -]+)[\.\[\]]+)?(?<Schema>[\w_&@$ -]+)[\.\[\]]+)?(?<Object>[\w_&@$ -]+)\]?') {
            return [pscustomobject]@{
                Server = $Matches.Server 
                Database = $Matches.Database 
                Schema = $Matches.Schema 
                Object = $Matches.Object 

Reseeding Identity Columns

Recently I have been asked to increase the current value of all identity columns in tens of databases. No, the point is not to argue if it was smart, or a necessary thing to do, it wasn’t production environment and it was helpful to people requesting it, so I focused on how to do it. This blog post is about how dbatools once again proved to be an invaluable tool.

The first instinct was, of course I can do it… just a little bit of dynamic SQL, perhaps a coursor or two and I’ll have it done. But the thing is, since I discovered dbatools I don’t like dynamic T-SQL any more, and I’m sure whatever the task at hand might be, somebody probably has implemented a dbatools function for that alraedy. In this instance it wasn’t not quite so, but there is Test-DbaIdentityUsage which proved to be helpful. With it, in no time, I had code looking like this:

    $db = $psitem.db
    (Test-DbaIdentityUsage -SqlInstance myinstance -Databases $db).ForEach{
        $newid = [int]($psitem.LastValue * 1.2)
        Write-Host "  processing [$db].[$($psitem.Schema)].[$($psitem.Table)] has max ID $($psitem.LastValue), setting it to $newid"
        Invoke-DbaSqlQuery -SqlInstance myinstance -Database $db -Query "dbcc checkident ('[$($psitem.Schema)].[$($psitem.Table)]', reseed, $newid)"

Not quite the one-liner I hoped for, but not all bad either. And after few minutes all the identity column next values were increased by 20%. Dbatools made me look smart again 😉

DB Stuck in Single User Mode

Some Background

TLDR? Solution is at the bottom of this page.

The internet is full of examples how to close all active connections to a database by doing something like

use master
alter database somedb set single_user with rollback immediate
alter database somedb set multi_user 

When you try it on your development machine it works just fine, when you do it in QA it is typically OK too, but one day you realise that you have made a mistake, that the use master should have been use somedb and now you have a production database in a single user mode, there is only one connection allowed at the time and yours is not the one. Worse, there are hundreds of clients, all queueing to be the only user!

You cannot connect to the database

Msg 924, Level 14, State 1, Line 1
Database 'somedb' is already open and can only have one user at a time. 

Trying to do anything that starts with alter database ... will fail too

Msg 5064, Level 16, State 1, Line 1
Changes to the state or options of database 'somedb' cannot be made at this time. The database is in single-user mode, and a user is currently connected to it. 
Msg 5069, Level 16, State 1, Line 1
ALTER DATABASE statement failed. 

Trying to get some ‘authority’ over the server by connecting as the admin (DAC) is of no use either.

So what can be done? If you happen to have one sql login per database (or a handful) then you can revoke that logins permission to log in, but then you have to make sure you grant it back, to all of the ones you revoked it from. It would work but typically either there are too many logins that would have to have rights revoked or there are too few logins and revoking any rights would make the outage wider than it already is.

A fairly obvious solution is to shut down the server and bring it back up in the single user mode. The Sqlservr.exe -m option. Then only one admin user will be allowed to connect to the instance, which will allow you to change the permissions of the affected database. The only problem is, that we were talking about a problem which affects almost exclusively busy production server. Shutting it down to fix just one database sounds like an overkill and I bet there will be a lot of explaining to do afterwards.


What I found to work quite well is to open two sessions. In the first one I execute a query that will constantly attempt to connect to the database which is stuck in the single suer mode

use somedb
go 200

That ensures that I’ve got a session that constantly is trying to connect. Then in the other session I will look up the SPID of the session currently connected and kill it. Obviously that assumes that I know my system, and I know that the application will recover if I kill the session.

select spid from sys.sysprocesses where dbid = db_id('somedb')
kill <spid>

Do it a couple of times making sure you don’t kill the spid of the first session and your first session should be connected to the database. Now all that is left is to finally do

alter database somedb set multi_user

Automated Environmental Checks

Unit Test Your Environments

Infrastructure as Code has been around for quite some time now. There are many clever definitions one can easily find, but for me it is simply an extension of good coding (or perhaps DevOpsing) principals. You don’t go into production systems and keep making changes until it works. You write your code, you check it into your favourite repository, then there is some process that will automatically test it, and eventually it will make its way to production environment. That way if you make a mistake, you can see where you made it and if it happens to work just fine, you can easily do it again, and again, and again as you scale out.

It’s all ~~very~~ easy when you work with ‘cloud’ virtual environments that wait to ingest next config file and reconfigure themselves automatically. But what if you look after a more traditional setup? Exchange, Share Point, SQL Server clusters hosted on premises on Windows Servers, rather than Docker pods? What if you are not the only admin and people do go in there and make changes to live systems’ configuration, perhaps even for good reasons?

I’d say you do the same as any decent software developer would do when asked to take care of an old, perhaps unfashionable, non-microservice code base: When asked to change anything, start with writing unit tests so you know at the very least you will not make it any worse. That’s right, even if you cannot define your configuration with code, you can test it with it. PowerShell and Pester are great tools to do so. And if you happen to be responsible for SQL Servers, then there are unit tests already written for you, available as the dbachecks module. It’s MIT licensed. Go, install it and use it.

PowerShell and Pester

Pester is an open source test and mock framework for PowerShell. All modern Windows servers have PowerShell, so let’s use it. Jakub Jareš one of the contributors to the Pester project has written an excellent blog post about environmental checks, how to write them in Pester and why you should test you ~~tests~~ checks. That was my starting point when I took it on myself to improve dbachecks. If you haven’t yet, go and read it. I will try not to repeat what Jakub wrote there, but rather where I got from there while trying to find a way to structure checks in such a way, that they are both testable, and easily understood by non-developer sysadmins.

The Difference

Unit tests typically follow the AAA pattern.
* Arrange your context
* Act (as in perform the action you want to test), and finally
* Assert that the outcome matches your expectations

In unit testing the objective is to test the functionality detached (as much as practical) from the outside environment. Obviously, that’s something that cannot be done when doing environmental checks. After all, the environments is what we are testing, so the AAA becomes CCC
* Configure your context, get the configuration for the environment you are validating
* Collect the data about your environment
* Confirm the real life matches your expectations

Describing it like that stopped me going in circles thinking how do I test my tests. Now I’m testing my checks and to do that I follow the AAA pattern.
* I arrange my test by mocking my configure and collect functions
* I act by calling the confirm function passing it the mocked details
* I assert the outcome by checking if the confirm action behaved as expected

Ideally that would be it, write a Pester unit test and then a test for that unit test. In practice it is slightly more complex as we have to work with the limitations of PowerShell and Pester (which after all is primarly for unit test not environmental checks)

Code Examples

Typically, my testable check has 4 components in 3 files. Here is an example from the dbachecks’ Page Verify check.

First, we need to write the confirm function and its configuration
confirms\Database.PageVerify.ps1 which could be as simple as:

function Confirm-PageVerify {
    param (
    process {
        $TestObject.PageVerify | Should -Be "CHECKSUM" -Because "we expect Page Verify to be CHECKSUM"

But to be able to test configuration input and to make the Confirm function fit better with the rest of the framework we do

function Get-ConfigForPageVerifyCheck {
    $pageverifyValidValues = @("NONE", "TORN_PAGE_DETECTION", "CHECKSUM")
    $pageverify = Get-DbcConfigValue policy.pageverify
    if (!($pageverify -in $pageverifyValidValues)) {
        throw "The policy.pageverify is set to $pageverify. Valid values are ($($pageverifyValidValues.Join(", ")))"
    return @{
        PageVerify = (Get-DbcConfigValue policy.pageverify)

function Confirm-PageVerify {
    param (
    process {
        $TestObject.PageVerify | Should -Be $TestSettings.PageVerify -Because $Because

and to make sure it works as expected, we create unit tests for it
tests\checks\Database.PageVerify.Tests.ps1 like so

Describe "Testing Page Verify Confirms" {
    Context "Test configuration" {
        $cases = @(
            @{ Option = "CHECKSUM" },
            @{ Option = "TORN_PAGE_DETECTION" },
            @{ Option = "NONE" }

        It "<Option> is acceptable as policy.pageverify value" -TestCases $cases {
            Mock Get-DbcConfigValue { return $Option } -ParameterFilter { $Name -like "policy.pageverify" }
            (Get-ConfigForPageVerifyCheck).PageVerify | Should -Be $Option

        It "Throw exception when policy.pageverify is set to unsupported option" {
            Mock Get-DbcConfigValue { return "NOT_SUPPORTED_OPTION" } -ParameterFilter { $Name -like "policy.pageverify" }
            { Get-ConfigForPageVerifyCheck } | Should -Throw 

    Context "Test the confirm function" {
        Mock Get-DbcConfigValue { return "CHECKSUM" } -ParameterFilter { $Name -like "policy.pageverify" }

        $testConfig = Get-ConfigForPageVerifyCheck 

        It "The test should pass when the PageVerify is as configured" {
                PageVerify = "CHECKSUM"
            } | 
                Confirm-PageVerify -With $testConfig 

        It "The test should fail when the PageVerify is not as configured" {
                    PageVerify = "NONE"
                } | 
                    Confirm-PageVerify -With $testConfig
            } | Should -Throw 

And finally, when we know the configuration and confirm functions are working as expected, the checks\Database.Tests.ps1 which provides the definition of the check could be as simple as:

$config = Get-ConfigForPageVerifyCheck                  # Configure
@(Get-Instance).ForEach{                                # Collect on instance level
    @(Get-DatabaseInfo -SqlInstance $psitem).ForEach{   # Collect on database level
        It "$($psitem.Database) should have page verify set to $($config.PageVerify)" {
            # Confirm environmental details (in $psitem)
            $psitem | Confirm-PageVerify -With $config -Because "Page verify helps SQL Server to detect corruption"

But to make it display better, and to provide more information to the curious sysadmin who would like to know what the check does we do this instead:

Describe "Page Verify Settings Check" {
    $config = Get-SettingsForPageVerifyCheck                    # Configure
    @(Get-Instance).ForEach{                                    # Collect on instance level
        Context "Testing page verify setting on $psitem" {          
            @(Get-DatabaseInfo -SqlInstance $psitem).ForEach{   # Collect on database level
                It "$($psitem.Database) should have page verify set to $($config.PageVerify)" {
                    # Confirm environmental details (in $psitem)
                    $psitem | Confirm-PageVerify -With $config -Because "Page verify helps SQL Server to detect corruption"

If somebody is simply curious what the check checks, and why, all he has to do is to read the strings here or in the Pester output
* “Page Verify Settings Check”
* “Testing page verify setting on ”
* “Each should have page verify set to ”
* “Because page verify helps SQL Server to detect corruption”

The Small Print

To make sure the checks are easy to read and have as high as practical test coverage I came up with a number of guidelines

  • Try to unit test your checks. But it is better to have a manually tested check than don’t have one at all.
  • Prioritise readability in the checks’ file. Assume that is the file for non-developer to read.
  • Confirm-* functions should have -Because parameter which value is defined in the checks file, rather than have -Because in the Confirm-* function directly. That improves readability.
  • While Pester’s test cases might be useful for unit testing our checks, they should be avoided in the checks themselves. The code is less complex to read to an untrained eye.
  • The checks’ file should have as little logic as possible. The collection of data has to happen here, and it will include typically some looping and parameter passing. That is unavoidable, but try to avoid what you can, definitely the conditional bits like if and else should not be there. Put them in the Confirm-* function and validate it with unit tests.
  • If the test is not applicable for a resource in a certain condition, it is better to get that resource and skip that test from inside the Confirm-* function. That way we know nothing is missed, and the skipping logic can be unit tested as well. OK, that would be the ideal solution, but unfortunately it is currently impossible in Pester, so instead you can mark the test as inconclusive using Set-TestInconclusive. (Check the GitHub issue I raised about that extra functionality).

Next Steps

Go and write some environmental checks for your servers!
If you work with SQL Servers, get dbachecks and try them out.