Explaining Activity Monitor

This post is not about how to use the Activity Monitor (AM) tool in SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) – there are loads of such posts written already. Also, it is not about dissing AM, you will find such posts as well.

What I want to do is to explain the information in AM, for instance what time span the information covers. I see lots of confusion about this, and incorrect assumptions can be made because of that. This aspect is typically not mentioned in other blog posts on AM that I have seen.

The SQL Server documentation is very vague on the topic. In fact, the most recent documentation article explaining the information in AM that I found is for SQL Server 2008 R2. And that documentation is at many places vague, or even flat out incorrect. For more recent versions of SQL Server, there’s not even an attempt to explain the information. (Please let me know if you find such official articles.)

I know that lots of people uses the Activity Monitor tool in SQL Server, especially the less experienced DBA. The more experienced DBA often uses other tools like Adam Machanic‘s sp_whoisactive (see this and this) , Brent Ozar’s sp_BlitzFirst, etc.

Say for instance that you had massive amount of I/O for one of your databases for the last day, up until a minute ago. I.e., the I/O load for the database varies a bit, but on average is very high. You look in AM which show this database as silent since you happened to have low I/O the last minute, and AM show some other database as being the one with high load.

So, we need to think about the time dimension here. AM does a refresh at certain intervals. By default it is every 10 seconds, but you can change that by right-clicking somewhere in AM and change in that context menu. Keep this in mind. It is important. We will refer to it as the most recent refresh interval, or snapshot.

I’m using SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) 2016, and SQL Server 2016. It is possible that other version combination does other things. With the information in this blog post, you will be able to find and determine that for yourself. Please comment if you find important deviations, or perhaps just confirmations (like “SSMS 2012 does the same thing”).

I mainly used tracing to spy on the SQL submitted by AM.

The four top graphs:

“% Processor Time” is picked up directly from the OS (using WMI, I believe). Most probably a Performance Monitor counter in the end.

“Database I/O” is the sum of I/O for all database files performed since the last snapshot. This is fine since we intuitively understand that, because we have the trail of prior snapshot values displayed in the graph. The information comes from sys.dm_io_virtual_file_stats, doing a SUM over num_of_bytes_read + num_of_bytes_written, converted to MB.

“Batch Requests/sec”
 is the number of batches we have submitted to our SQL Server since the last snapshot. Again, this is pretty intuitive since we have a trail of snapshot values in the graph. The information is from the performance counter “Batch Requests/sec” picked up from sys.sysperfinfo (bad Microsoft, you should use sys.dm_os_performance_counters 🙂 ).

“Waiting Tasks”
 show how many that are waiting for something (a lock to be released, for instance). This is not as straight-forward as the others. The information comes from sys.dm_os_wait_stats UNION ALL with sys.dm_os_waiting_tasks.

The values are compared to those from the prior snapshot. However, a higher weight in that calculation will be given to the prior snapshot values if you have a short refresh interval. Say that you have a 1-second refresh interval. Then only a weight of 9% is from the current interval and 91% is from the prior interval. Since the current interval value will become the prior value for the next snapshot, a “trail” is kept back in time with a diminishing weight the longer back in time you go.

If you refresh every 10 seconds, then current interval weight is 60% and previous interval weight is 40%. It pretty quickly approaches 100% for current snapshot the longer refresh interval you are using. Hats off to Microsoft for so clearly documenting this in the temporary stored procedures that AM is using. It is in the source code, all you need to do is to grab it in a trace and read it. The name of the procedure is #am_generate_waitstats, and it is created when you open the AM window in SSMS.

Note that not all wait types are represented here. See the section below named ‘The “Resource Waits” pane’ for more information. The “Waiting Tasks” diagram and the “Resource Waits” pane shares some T-SQL code.

The “Processes” pane
This is pretty straight forward so I won’t spend much time on it here. It shows information about the sessions you have at the moment the snapshot is produced. It uses a query joining DMVs such as sys.dm_exec_sessions, sys.dm_exec_requests, sys.dm_os_tasks, etc. Go grab the query in a trace and paste into a query window if you want to dig into it.

The “Resource Waits” pane
The idea here is to show where SQL Server is waiting, “wait stats”.

It uses the same procedure as the “Waiting Tasks” diagram uses, #am_generate_waitstats, to get the information. See the above section for “Waiting Tasks” to understand the time dimension for this. For simplicity, we can say that it shows only wait stats for the past 30-60 seconds. This is important. Imagine that you had loads of a certain wait stats, but none just for the last minute. This pane can now fool you that you didn’t have any waits of that kind, just because you didn’t for the past minute. Note, though, that the “Cumulative Wait Time” column is the sum of wait in the group since SQL Server was re-started or since we last cleared the wait state (DBCC SQLPERF(“sys.dm_os_wait_stats”,CLEAR)).

In an attempt to be friendly, it will group and summarize wait stats into various groups. That would be fine if there were some documentation about which individual wait type is in each group. Also, some wait types are ignored. One of the ignored wait types is CXPACKET, another is THREADPOOL.

AM creates a table named #am_wait_types when you open the AM window, which it populates with various wait types and the group each wait stats is in. This table has a column named “ignore”. The two wait types I mentioned above has 1 in this “ignore” column. There are 35 rows which has 1 for the “ignore” column. To be fair, most are benign but the two which I immediately reacted on are the ones I mentioned above.

But hang on, how many rows do we have in this #am_wait_types table in total?  The answer is 263. Are there more than 263 wait types in 2016? You bet! I did a select from sys.dm_os_wait_stats and I got 875 rows. So, 633 of the wait types in 2016 are not at all considered by AM. That of course begs the question whether I found any interesting wait types that aren’t in #am_wait_types? I didn’t go through them all, but I glanced only quickly and for instance SOS_SCHEDULER_YIELD caught my attention. If you want to go through them, then I highly recommend Paul Randal’s wait types library. If you find anything that stands out, then please post a comment.

SELECT ws.wait_type FROM sys.dm_os_wait_stats AS ws
WHERE ws.wait_type NOT IN(
SELECT wt.wait_type FROM #am_wait_types AS wt WHERE wt.ignore = 0
ORDER BY wait_type

The “Data File I/O” pane
This shows I/O activity per database file since the last snapshot. Again, you could for instance have had lots of I/O for a database the last day, but if it was silent the past minute, then this dialog will potentially mislead you.

The “Recent Expensive Queries” pane
This shows the most expensive queries, based on what column you sort on, executed since the last snapshot. If you have, say, a 10 second snapshot interval, you will only see the queries executed during these 10 seconds. AM uses a procedure named #am_get_querystats to collect the information. There are a few things going on inside this procedure, but at the most basic level, it uses sys.dm_exec_query_stats and sys.dm_exec_requests to get queries from cache and currently executing queries. It then does some processing and store the result in temp tables so we later can sort on different columns depending on what metric we are interested in. I suggest that you spend some time with the source code if you want to dig deeper.

The “Active Expensive Queries” pane
This is very straight forward. It executes a query which uses sys.dm_exec_requests joined to a few other DMVs.

How to dig deeper
I thought about including snippets of AM’s source code, the list of wait stats grouping etc here. But I decided against that. It would litter this post, and the code might differ between releases and builds of SSMS. So, if you are interested in digging deeper, fire up your favorite trace tool (Extended Events, Profiler, Server-side trace, …) and catch the SQL submitted by AM.

When you open the AM window, it executes a few batches that creates procedures and tables that it will later use for each refresh interval. Here are the ones that I found:

  • The table #am_wait_types, which contains the wait types that AM bothers about, along with the grouping and which of those that are ignored. This is the one you want to investigate to see which wait types that are ignores by AM; either having 1 in the “ignore” column, or by not being in that table in the first place. Match against sys.dm_os_wait_stats.
  • The procedure #am_generate_waitstats which collects wait stats with some trail back in time, as explained above.
  • The table #am_dbfileio in which file I/O stats is stored.
  • The tables #am_request_countand and #am_fingerprint_stats_snapshots, used for query statistics.
  • The procedure #am_get_querystats, which collects and stores the query statistics.

At each refresh interval, you see 4 T-SQL batches submitted for the top 3 graphs that are T-SQL based (ignoring the “dead” graph that I have in SSMS 2016, and also ignoring “% Processor Time” since it is WMI-based).

If you have expanded the “Processes” pane, you also see a batch that collects that information at every refresh interval.

If you have expanded the “Resource waits” pane, you also see a batch that does a SELECT from the #am_resource_mon_snap table at every refresh interval, with grouping and SUM based on resource type.

If you have expanded the “Data File I/O” pane, you also see a batch that collects that information at every refresh interval.

If you have expanded the “Recent Expensive Queries” pane, you also see a batch that executes the #am_get_querystats procedure to collects that information. It is executed at refresh intervals, but not necessarily at every refresh interval. Check the source code for the procedure and you see that SM will execute this no more frequently than every 15 seconds.

If you have expanded the “Active Expensive Queries” pane, you also see a batch that executes a query to collects that information. It seems to be limited so it doesn’t execute more frequently than every 5 seconds (even with a shorter refresh interval).

The bottom line
As always, with understanding of the data we see, we have a chance to make information out of it. The Activity Monitor certainly has its quirks, but if you do feel like using a GUI for these type of things, I hope that you are better equipped now to interpret what it is you are seeing. Personally, I find “Resource Waits”, “Data File I/O” and “Recent Expensive Queries” less useful because of the time dimension handling. As for expensive queries, IMO nothing beats the Query Store in SQL Server 2016.

SSMS 17.3 has built-in Profiler

We all know that Profiler and its background functionality SQL Trace has been deprecated since 2012. Right?

And we have all switched to using Extended Events (XE), a long time ago, right?

No, the reality is that many of us still uses the old tracing infrastructure. This can be for various reasons, like:

  • Familiarity
  • Existing templates and stuff
  • Ease of use
  • Lack of functionality in the replacement


I have been gradually switching over to XE over the last few years. And I have been gradually becoming to like it more and more. It is a learning curve, for sure, but it is so superior and even the GUI is in my opinion more powerful if you are a) looking at a saved trace and b) use a trace file instead of the ring buffer. Just the ability to be able to sort, group and aggregate with a few clicks is for me great.

But enough about the general stuff, I’m actually going somewhere with this.

One functionally for which I haven’t been using XE much is to look at live data. I’m talking about scenarios such a “I wonder what happen when you press this button?”. Or, something I very frequently do is to look at the resource usage for SQL command from a trace instead of using commands such as SET STATISTICS IO ON. For these type of tasks, I often just fire up Profiler and use my own Profiler templates.

A very promising new functionality in SQL Server Manager Studio (SSMS) 17.3 is the new XE Profiler. This is a Profiler-like experience built-in to SSMS.

XE Profiler

Just double-click any of the two entries and you have a live trace window. This is built on the SSMS XE “Watch Live Data” functionality. There’s actually no magic going on here. What happens is that SSMS creates a trace session if it doesn’t exist, starts that session and opens a live data window for that trace session. There’s no target for the trace, live data doesn’t require a target. The event sessions that will be created are named:

  • Standard          QuickSessionStandard
  • TSQL               QuickSessionTSQL

The above corresponds to the Profiler templates with the same names. The really cool thing is that you can customize these sessions. I, for once, frequently want to see resource usage for queries. I modify QuickSessionTSQL to grab the completed events instead of the started events. Don’t worry if you mess it up – just delete the trace session and let SSMS re-create it for you next time you open a that Quick Session!

Here’s an example

IF EXISTS(SELECT * FROM sys.server_event_sessions WHERE name = 'QuickSessionTSQL')
ADD EVENT sqlserver.rpc_completed(
ADD EVENT sqlserver.sql_batch_completed(

When you Launch Session then by default it will show the columns that was relevant for the session definitions that shipped with SSMS. What you might want to do is to re-configure the columns that is shown.

To remove a column: Right-click on the column header that you don’t want to see and remove that column.

To add a column in the display: You can in the lower window, the “Details” section, right-click a field and “Show Column in Table”. Or you can in the column header in the top column header section right-click and “Choose Columns”.
Choose Columns 2Choose Columns

I might over time build some more “alternate” templates for XE Profiler, which I will add here.


July SSMS 2016 changes transaction semantics

This can be a very nasty one if you’re not observant. The July update of SSMS now has the option to change XACT_ABORT setting for a query window using

  • Tools
  • Options
  • Query Execution
  • SQL Server
  • Advanced
Now, exposing one more SET option can’t be bad, right? But Erland Sommarskog found out that this is checked by default. Now, using XACT_ABORT might now be a bad thing, au contraire. See this one of Erland’s series of error handle articles.
The problem is that it is a change. Quite of a sudden, your transaction semantics isn’t the same, and if you execute that script from somewhere else, or even an older SSMS, it doesn’t behave the same. For instance, if you don’t use TRY CATCH (which you should be using), then the batch will now stop and rollback on most errors, instead of allowing you to do the old eighties style IF @@ERROR <> 0 dance.
Personally, I SET my set commands instead of checking a checkbox in SSMS. But I don’t SET all set options there are, just the ones I want to change from default. I hope that this one can be reverted so it isn’t checked by default.

Restoreability and SSMS

I have written about this before, how SSMS generates restore commands that will fail. This post is about showing what it might look like using screenshots. If you always use T-SQL directly to do restore, then you won’t be affected by this. But if you expect to be able to perform restore using the restore dialog, then read on.

The problem
The issue is that SSMS base a restore sequence on backups that are impossible to restore from. There are two cases I have found:

Copy only backups
The purpose of the COPY_ONLY option for the backup command is to do an out-of-bands backup. I.e., you do an ad-hoc backup as a one-time thing, restore this on your test server and then delete the backup file. The copy only option is for you to say that you don’t want to affect your scheduled backups with this ad-hoc backup. We expect SSMS to not base the restore sequence on these backups – since it is likely that the backup file has been deleted.

Snapshot backups
If you perform a snapshot of a virtual machine (or “checkpoint” as Hyper-V calls it) then this snapshot might interact with VSS in Windows so you get a consistent state of your SQL Server databases. I.e., when you restore/apply such a snapshot, your databases should be just fine. This is great, as long as it doesn’t mess up the SQL Server backups that we produce. It won’t. But the restore GUI in SSMS can be messed up by such a snapshot.

The timeline dialog
The problem seems to occur in the timeline dialog. In the restore GUI, there’s a nifty timeline dialog where you can use a slider to graphically specify at what point in time you want to restore the database to. The GUI uses the backup history information in msdb and based on that figures out what restore operations to perform. This is actually really nice and friendly. As long as it works. The problem is when you specify an earlier point in time, it sometimes uses the incorrect full backup – a full backup which isn’t possible to restore from.



Above, the GUI correctly skips a copy only backup. A full copy only backup was produced after the full backup listed above, but the GUI is smart enough to not base the restore sequence on this copy only backup. This is how it should work.



Above, the GUI incorrectly base the restore on a copy only backup. After using the timeline dialog to point to an earlier point in time, you can see that the GUI now has changed so it bases the restore on this potentially non-existing copy only backup. Not a nice situation to be in if the person doing the restore hasn’t practiced using the T-SQL RESTORE commands.


Above, the GUI correctly skips a snapshot backup. A snapshot backup using VSS was produced after the full backup listed above, but the GUI is smart enough to not base the restore sequence on this snapshot backup. This is how it should work.



Above, the GUI incorrectly base the restore on a snapshot backup. After using the timeline dialog to point to an earlier point in time, you can see that the GUI now has changed so it bases the restore on the snapshot backup. This is immensely bad since the snapshot doesn’t exist in SQL Server. It is just a placeholder so that SQL Server is aware that a snapshot was performed at that point in time. Look at the RESTORE command it produces!

You might wonder how to tell if something is producing VSS snapshots of your machine? You can see that in the errorlog file. Here are a few lines from the errorlog on a machine where I used Hyper-V to produce a proper VSS snapshot (edited for readability):

2016-03-16 13:30:23.75      I/O is frozen on database Adventureworks2014.
2016-03-16 13:30:23.75      I/O is frozen on database theBackupTestTib.
2016-03-16 13:30:23.75      I/O is frozen on database master.
2016-03-16 13:30:29.33      I/O was resumed on database master.
2016-03-16 13:30:29.33      I/O was resumed on database theBackupTestTib.
2016-03-16 13:30:29.34      I/O was resumed on database Adventureworks2014.

Bottom line
You already know this. Practice doing restores – as realistically as possible and using different scenarios.

Disclaimer: Things might change. The tests I did was using SSMS 2014 for the copy only backups and for SSMS 2016 CTP 3.3 for snapshot backups. I have seen this behaviour since SQL Server 2012, though. I wish that this will be fixed in a future version of SSMS, but considering that my requests has gone unnoticed before, I don’t have much hopes. But if you do see something different, let me know and I can re-test. Just make sure to add as much details as possible.

I used my stored procedure at found here to perform the backups – made the T-SQL used for these tests a bit easier to read:

--Show that restore based on backup history idn't possible
--is the most recent full backup is missing, even if COPY_ONLY was used.

--Create the BackupDbWithTs procedure first:

--We will do full backups, diff backups and log backups.
--In between, we will also do a COPY_ONLY full backup (think of it as an ad-hos backup subsequentially deleted).

--Drop and create the test database
--NOTE: This will drop a database named theBackupTestTib is such exists!!!!
IF DB_ID('theBackupTestTib') IS NOT NULL
DROP DATABASE theBackupTestTib


--Set to full recovery

--Create a table so we can make a modification in the database between each backup
IF OBJECT_ID('theBackupTestTib.dbo.t') IS NOT NULL DROP TABLE theBackupTestTib.dbo.t

CREATE TABLE theBackupTestTib.dbo.t(c1 INT IDENTITY, c2 CHAR(30) DEFAULT 'Hello backup world')

--Declare and set variables.
--Adjust to your liking.
@i INT = 1
,@time_in_between VARCHAR(20) = '00:01:00'    --Time between each backup. 1 sec is fine to test thet restore GUI work.
--Set to higher if you want to use the timeline restore dialog and visually see your backups.
,@iterations INT = 2                      --Number of iterations. Adjust as you wish, but do at least two.
,@db SYSNAME = 'theBackupTestTib'
,@path VARCHAR(200) = 'R:\'                   --Where to put your backup files. Delete backup files after you are finished.

WHILE @i <= @iterations

EXEC MASTER..BackupDbWithTs @db, @path, 'FULL', 'N', 'N', 'N'; INSERT INTO theBackupTestTib.dbo.t DEFAULT VALUES; WAITFOR DELAY @time_in_between
EXEC MASTER..BackupDbWithTs @db, @path, 'LOG ', 'N', 'N', 'N'; INSERT INTO theBackupTestTib.dbo.t DEFAULT VALUES; WAITFOR DELAY @time_in_between
EXEC MASTER..BackupDbWithTs @db, @path, 'LOG ', 'N', 'N', 'N'; INSERT INTO theBackupTestTib.dbo.t DEFAULT VALUES; WAITFOR DELAY @time_in_between

--Perform the COPY_ONLY or snapshot backup now:
EXEC MASTER..BackupDbWithTs @db, @path, 'FULL', 'N', 'N', 'Y'; INSERT INTO theBackupTestTib.dbo.t DEFAULT VALUES; WAITFOR DELAY @time_in_between --COPY_ONLY

EXEC MASTER..BackupDbWithTs @db, @path, 'DIFF', 'N', 'N', 'N'; INSERT INTO theBackupTestTib.dbo.t DEFAULT VALUES; WAITFOR DELAY @time_in_between
EXEC MASTER..BackupDbWithTs @db, @path, 'LOG ', 'N', 'N', 'N'; INSERT INTO theBackupTestTib.dbo.t DEFAULT VALUES; WAITFOR DELAY @time_in_between
EXEC MASTER..BackupDbWithTs @db, @path, 'LOG ', 'N', 'N', 'N'; WAITFOR DELAY @time_in_between

SET @i = @i + 1

Can you restore from your backups? Are you sure?


A few days ago, we were doing restore practice drills with a client. I had tested the stuff before this, so the practice was more for the client’s DBAs to test various restore scenarios, with me being able to point to the right direction (when needed), supplement the run-book and stuff like that. Always fun, I like these drills!

Anyhow, This client does regular SQL Server backups to disk (full, and for some databases also log) at 19:00. They also snap the machines every night at 04:00. We don’t want to have dependencies on the machine snap, but it is nice to have in case a machine it totaled and we now can restore from such a snapshot. The issue is that this machine snapshot is seen as a full backup by SQL Server. We all know that a full backup do not affect the log backup chain, but the restore GUI doesn’t care about that!

So the restore GUI suggest that you restore from 04:00 full backup (which isn’t a restoreable backup as it was a snapshot) and then the subsequent log backups. What we need to do is to restore from earlier 19:00 full backup, and then all log backups – ignoring the 04:00 snapshot backup.

Fortunately, my client by themselves (without my intervention) did the restore using T-SQL commands, knowing what backup exists, and figuring out what to restore. But I also wanted them to test the GUI, just so they know how that look like. Of course, you can do a restore from 19:00 to 03:55, and script that to a query window. Then then from 04:00 to current time (or whatever) and script that too,. And then stitch these together. But just typing (with some copy-paste) the commands are much easier.

My point? Test your restores. Do not expect anything. A production situation is not the right time to try to figure these things and trying to cope with it.

About this snapshot software: The next version is expected to have an option to produce the snapshot as a COPY_ONLY backup. Isn’t that great? Now we expect the restore GUI to skip this COPY_ONLY backup, right? No, that was not that I saw. Having an option to produce the backup as COPY_ONLY finally allow us to implement differential backups, but it (from my tests) won’t help with the restore GUI issues. Btw, here is a related post.

Here’s a query that might be helpful if you want to see what type of backups are produced. (I appreciate feedback from anybody if you can see if a snapshot backup sets 1 in the is_snapshot column – I don’t have environment to test at the moment…)


WHEN 'D' THEN 'Full'
WHEN 'I' THEN 'Differential'
WHEN 'F' THEN 'File or filegroup'
WHEN 'G' THEN 'Differential file '
WHEN 'P' THEN 'Partial'
WHEN 'Q' THEN 'Differential partial'
END AS backup_type
,DATEDIFF(SECOND, bs.backup_start_date, bs.backup_finish_date) AS backup_time_sec
FROM msdb.dbo.backupset AS bs
INNER JOIN msdb.dbo.backupmediafamily AS mf ON bs.media_set_id = mf.media_set_id
ORDER BY backup_finish_date DESC;



Express Edition revisited, focus on SSMS

(Note: I have re-written parts of this post in the light of the comments that SP1 of 2012 include Complete tools.)

I have decided to revisit the topic of whats included in Express Edition, with focus on the tools. I have a couple of reasons for this:

  • In my 2011 post, I never tried to connect from Express SSMS to a non-Express database engine.
  • I want to check if there are any significant differences in SQL Server 2012 Express Edition, compared to SQL Server 2008R2 Express Edition.

It isn’t uncommon that people want to have SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) on their machines; and instead of searching for the install files for the full product, they download the freely available Express Edition and install SSMS from there. This was the main reason for this update post, and the reason I focus on SSMS and the tools in this post.

It turns out that both 2008R2 and 2012 RTM Express editions of SSMS includes a lot, but not quite everyting that the full version of SSMS has. And they don’t have Profiler or Database Engine Tuning Advisor. 2012 SP1 Express download does indeed have the Complete tool package.

Basic and Complete
The full SSMS (etc.) is referred to as “Management Tools – Complete”. This is only available with the Product you pay for and with 2012 SP1 Express. The only one available with the various free Express downloads (prior to 2012 SP1), is called “Management Tools – Basic”. You can explicitly request to install Basic from an install media that includes Complete, but you have to explicitly request that in the setup program. You don’t want to do that.

One difference between 2008R2 and 2012 is when you install from a pay-media and select that you want to install Express. For 2008R2, you then only have SSMS Basic available. For 2012, you have Complete. In other words, if you use a 2012 pay-media and select Express to install SSMS, you have the option to have the full-blown SSMS – Complete (including other tools, like Profiler).

The downloads
For SQL Server 2008R2, you have “Express Edition” and “Express Edition with Advanced Services”. The former is basically only the database engine, where the later has some Tools (SSMS Basic, primarily). See my earlier blog post for more details about 2008R2.

For 2012, there are bunch of downloads available. Note that if you want Complete tools, you need to download SP1 of the installers. You find SP1 here (and RTM, which you don’t want to use, here). SP1 includes Complete tools, and you will see that those downloads are significantly larger compared to RTM. It isn’t obvious what each exe files stand for, but scroll down and you will find pretty good explanations. I tried several of these (SSMS only, Express with Tools, Express with Advanced Services). They all have in common that for RTM the tool included is Basic, where for SP1 we have Complete.

So what is the difference between Basic and Complete?

In the table below, my focus was on what isn’t in Basic. In general, I don’t bother to list functionality which is available in both Basic and Complete. So, if the functionality isn’t in the table below, it is likely available in Basic. I might have missed something, of course! And my main focus was on SSMS and the database engine.


Component/Functionality 2008R2 2012 RTM 2012 SP1
Functionality in SSMS
Node for Agent Y Y Y
Graphical Execution Plans Y Y Y
Projects and Solutions N Y Y
Maint Plans, Wizard Y Y Y
Maint Plans, New, designer N (1) N (2) Y
Maint Plans, Modify N (1) N (2) Y
Node for SSIS Catalog N/A Y Y
Tools menu, Profiler N N Y
Tools menu, Tuning Advisor N N Y
Connect Object Explorer to:
Analysis Services N N Y
Reporting Services N N Y
Integration Services N N Y
Profiler N N Y
Database Engine Tuning Advisor N N Y

(1): The selections are there, but they were dead – nothing happened when you select them.
(2): The selections are there, but I got an error message when selecting any of them.

Spooky: What do you connect to?

I only recently discovered that SSMS will connect to different things. For instance, press the “New query” button. What were you connected to? The answer is the same server as your “current” server. But what is the current server? It is the server where you happened to have focus when the pressed the “New query” button. So, can you say whether you had focus in a query window, Object Exporer or Registered Servers?

This also applies to when you double-click a .sql file. And it doesn’t stop there. Open the “Registered Servers” window. Now, click on a server group. Go to explorer and double-click a .sql file. What were you connected to? Yes, all the servers in that group. Now, don’t get me wrong here; the ability to open the same query window against several servers can be a very useful thing. What I had no idea until just about now is how easily thsi can happen by mistake. Just by cklicking the New Query window, or even double-clicking an .sql file. So – be aware…

(FYI: SSMS 2005 doesn’t seem to do this for clicking a file in explorer, and the functionality to have a query window against several server didn’t exist in SSMS 2005…)

Missing F8 or ctrl-N in SSMS 2008?

Short story: Turn on 2000 keyboard layout and then back to Standard layout.

Long story:

This topic has been discussed in both the MCT (MS Certified Trainer) as well as MVP groups. Also, see http://sqlblog.com/blogs/andy_leonard/archive/2008/08/08/sql-server-2008-management-studio-function-keys.aspx, including the comments.

The mystery seems to be that in some cases you do have F8 and Ctrl-N in Standard layout, where in other cases you don’t. For instance I did a check on 4 installations where one had the desired layout (with F8) and the others didn’t:

  1. VPC. XP. Clean install. No prior SQL Server stuff. No F8 or ctrl-N.
  2. My laptop, XP. I have 2000, 2005 and 2008 tools as well as 2000, 2005 and 2008 instances installed. No F8 or ctrl-N.
  3. My desktop machine, Vista. I have 2005 and also 2008 instances. I have had 2005 SSMS which was uninstalled before I installed 2008 SSMS. Here both ctrl-N and F8 work.
  4. VPC. XP. Had 2005 both tools and instance which were upgraded to 2008. No F8 or ctrl-N.

I was doing training on 2008 last week and I really needed to find my shortcut keys (I couldn’t keep stumbling after menus all the time – too slow). So I switched to what I’m familiar with: the 2000 keyboard layout. I recall thinking for myself that perhaps if I now switch back I will have the desired Standard layout (F8 and Ctrl-N). I forgot all about it until today reading a post in the MVP group from Craig Beere suggesting exactly this. To confirm, I tried this in both a virtual machine (1 above) as well as my laptop (2 above) and it worked indeed.

One thing to watch out for: There doesn’t seem to be a way to go back to Standard layout *without* F8 and Ctrl-N. For instance when you get F8 etc, you also get a different shortcut for comment code (or was it uncomment?). So you might want to think a little bit before setting to 2000 layout and back. I’m sure in the end that somebody finds a setting somewhere to control the behavior – and then we know how to switch between the two Standard alternatives…