Top 15 Microsoft SQL Server Books

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There are dozens of database engines out there and MS SQL Server is one of the better ones. It’s designed to run on Microsoft servers so it typically works well for .NET applications.

But there are plenty of reasons to learn MSSQL and I’ve organized the best books to help you get there.

Note if you don’t have a background in SQL you might want to grab a SQL book to help you improve faster. Many of these books do cover the SQL/T-SQL language but they also cover SQL Server from a software perspective too.

Top Newbie SQL Server Book

As a complete beginner you may feel overwhelmed on where to get started. The top book I recommend is Learn SQL Server Administration in a Month of Lunches.

This seems like a strange title but it does cover all the fundamentals and it’s incredibly simple to read. This means even non-techie folks can still work through the exercises and pick up the basics.


Microsoft SQL Server 2016

The newest version of Windows Server 2016 is a beast OS with a lot to learn. The same goes for their updated SQL Server edition which you can read all about in Microsoft SQL Server 2016 by Dusan Petkovic.

This is actually the 6th edition of a constantly-updated book covering Microsoft’s SQL Server database. In this latest edition you’ll find almost 900 pages of walkthroughs, guided exercises, and plenty of fundamental lessons for managing an MSSQL DB.

A big part of the book covers Transact-SQL which is Microsoft’s own version of the SQL language. It is far from perfect and it is a tad more detailed than traditional SQL.

But as you work through these lessons you’ll learn how to run this environment smoothly and how to manage tables with just a few lines of code. Later chapters get into data analysis and complex search queries that’ll take your skills higher than most.


Learn SQL Server Administration in a Month of Lunches

I’m rarely a fan of the “month of lunches” series because many of these books rush through the topic. But I have to say I’m impressed with Learn SQL Server Administration in a Month of Lunches.

This lengthy 256-page book is just the right resource to help anyone go from a novice to a skilled practitioner in no time. It’s also uses very simple writing to help keep the reader engaged rather than bored in their seat.

You’ll learn everything about SQL Server setup, maintenance, backup, and sustainability with top security concerns. But you’ll also learn how to access the server using MS tools like PowerShell.

If you just put in one hour a day of practice you can work through this book in a few weeks. It’ll teach you everything you need to get off the ground running as an MS SQL DBA.


Murach’s SQL Server 2016 for Developers

Everyone from application developers to website administrators should take a look at Murach’s SQL Server 2016 for Developers.

This guide specifically covers SQL Server from the perspective of a developer. This forces you to look at databases from a practical standpoint, rather than just a maintenance/security view.

In each chapter you’ll learn a new technique and you’ll find source code you can use to implement that technique quickly. It’ll help you learn how to store and pass data along with running scripts locally on your machine.

Security, triggers, BLOB data and FILESTREAM are all covered in great detail with plenty of examples to go around.

This is a must-have resource for developers who don’t enjoy the DBA side, but still need some knowledge to maintain their own applications.


Delivering Business Intelligence with Microsoft SQL Server 2016

Since Microsoft is a business-oriented company there’s a broad audience for Brian Larson’s Delivering Business Intelligence with Microsoft SQL Server 2016.

In this book you’ll find expert tips on subjects like distribution, the BI Semantic Model, data analysis and creating custom dashboards to track KPIs. Data is only useful if you study it with purpose and use that data to make changes.

This is the stuff you rarely find in SQL books. Practical applications of business databases are crucial for the success of any company, and I absolutely recommend a copy of this book to help you get started.

Just keep in mind you should have some experience with SQL Server before diving into this title. It’s not an easy read and it does assume you know your way around the interface.


Sams Teach Yourself MS SQL Server T-SQL

If you are looking for an easy read I would recommend Sams Teach Yourself MS SQL Server T-SQL currently in its 2nd edition.

This was last updated at the very end of 2016 and the author Ben Forta is a world-class expert on the subject. Ben is Adobe’s Sr. tech evangelist with well over two decades’ worth of experience in coding and DBA work.

He knows all the fundamentals like the back of his hand, but more importantly he knows how to explain this stuff to beginners.

If you need to learn T-SQL fast then this is the only book you’ll want. It starts with very basic queries but quickly moves into practical techniques for modern DBAs.

It is not a guide to help you become a complete expert on the subject. However by the end you will have a much higher comfort level with T-SQL and you’ll know how to use this pragmatically in the real world.


Troubleshooting SQL Server

Problems happen all the time in the tech world. That’s why sysadmins are compensated so well!

But that doesn’t mean every problem is a cinch or that you can solve it all yourself. Troubleshooting SQL Server is a guide for beginners or inexperienced DBAs who find themselves working in an MS SQL Server environment.

Through these lessons you’ll learn how to diagnose and solve the most common issues in SQL Server ranging from versions 2003 to 2008. Many of these lessons apply to SQL Server 2012 and 2016 as well.

Because these are mostly common problems you can’t expect to find all the answers in this one book.

However it will teach you how to think about problems and how you should approach troubleshooting no matter what the issue. And this is an invaluable skill to internalize.


Expert Scripting and Automation for SQL Server DBAs

There’s no denying the power of automation. It’s the best way to save time on your job and to reduce stress along the way.

Expert Scripting and Automation for SQL Server DBAs looks into the most repetitive tasks and helps you find easier solutions. The author Peter A. Carter has over a decade’s worth of experience working on SQL Server and knows his way around the interface.

Each chapter covers a bunch of demos with sample scripts you can copy/paste into your workflow. It’s the absolute best guide for scaling database applications while offloading a lot of the work you typically need to do yourself.

If you don’t have any prior scripting knowledge this may be a tougher book to use. However if you’re willing to learn as you go this’ll prove to be invaluable to any DBA from beginners to experts.


High Performance SQL Server

Larger databases with millions or billions of queries can get bogged down fast. High Performance SQL Server offers a solution to this ever-common problem.

Through the lessons in this book you’ll learn how to design, construct, and scale applications that pull(and send) a lot of data. You’ll learn how to deal with slow response times and how to keep read/write requests performing at optimal speeds.

Everything in this book is based on SQL Server 2016 so it’s totally up-to-date with the newest technology. But many of these lessons do apply to older versions so don’t feel left out if your stack is older.

This is one of the most detailed books in this list explaining the core concepts of how queries work at the system level and how to optimize incredibly complex queries. You’ll also learn how to monitor this data so you can stay on top of any potential issues.


Securing SQL Server

Every DBA knows the importance of security. This holds true for everything from web servers to personal computers so it’s definitely a big topic with SQL Server administration.

Securing SQL Server is currently in its 3rd edition spanning a total of 460 pages. The actual code snippets are phenomenal and you can learn a lot about automating security updates or detecting potential holes in your system.

But the one downside is the lack of clean writing. This book is not an easy read so you need to keep this in mind before buying.

There are many run-on sentences which can make it difficult to understand the concepts presented in each chapter. If you can get past this you’ll find a good list of security points to keep in mind while learning SQL Server.


Professional MS SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services and Mobile Reports

In this lengthy title you’ll learn the importance of reporting and business intelligence(BI) with MS SQL Server.

Professional MS SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services and Mobile Reports delves into the newest version of the database covering data analysis and typical reporting. You’ll learn how to gather effective reports and how to organize data in a coherent manner.

Each chapter covers a different report type to help you learn how you can best organize a report to reflect that data. Usability, latency, and filtering techniques are all covered.

Visual Studio also has its own reporting tool that you’ll dive into in later chapters. This is a must-own resource for business intelligence or any DBAs who work at larger companies where KPIs are of the utmost importance.


SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services Cookbook

To get even deeper into reporting you might check out the SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services Cookbook. This is absolutely massive with 600 pages and dozens of recipes you can copy/paste for your BI reporting needs.

It is a newer book so all examples run on SQL Server 2016. Each chapter covers different reporting types including production, Ad-hoc, dashboard, and analytical.

But the first few chapters talk about configuration and setting up the basic components needed for a SQL Server reporting environment. From there you’ll learn about mobile reporting solutions and how to use these efficiently with MS features like SharePoint.

All-in-all this book offers a comprehensive look behind the curtain to see how reporting can be done in a professional setting. It’s not the perfect book and you’ll still need to apply these techniques into your own workflow.

Yet for a cookbook this one is phenomenal and it’s something you can consistently reference for many years to come.


T-SQL Fundamentals

If you’re running MS SQL Server then you’ll need to learn T-SQL. It’s not all that different from regular SQL but it does have a different set of rules and extra functionality.

To get started I recommend T-SQL Fundamentals written by Itzik Ben-Gan. Currently in its 3rd edition with 460 pages this book covers everything about T-SQL that you’ll use on a daily basis.

What I like most about this book is how it can work for anyone. It’s great for beginners and experts alike with examples at all skill levels. The writing is also incredibly clear so there’s no way you’ll struggle to understand these concepts.

Topics include subqueries, single-table queries, table expressions and set operators that all come with live code examples. You’ll also learn how to work with programmable objects which are definitely useful in a production environment.


Pro SQL Server Internals

Systems administrators and DBAs will fall in love with Pro SQL Server Internals. This book goes under the hood to find out what makes SQL Server purr.

It does get into some complex features like the In-Memory OLTP Engine and custom indexes for varying table styles/datatypes. The early lessons cover schema and T-SQL examining how this works and how it connects with a database.

But you’ll also learn about various server-side technologies that help SQL Server run smoothly. These include backend programs and database objects that look much clearer when you get into the details.

This is an advanced-level book so make sure you already have a working knowledge of SQL Server before diving into any of this content.


SQL Server Internals: In-Memory OLTP

Here’s another advanced book on the internals of MSSQL Server with a focus on the In-Memory OLTP Engine. It’s only a few years outdated but the concepts are still incredibly accurate.

SQL Server Internals: In-Memory OLTP by Kalen Delaney offers a very strong introduction to MS’ memory tables. This started with the SQL Server 2014 release but it has been carried over into the 2016 update.

This book is packed with information on SQL migration techniques and how you can use memory data storage in a practical scenario. I don’t think this book is great for beginners but I do think a semi-experienced beginner could pick this up and work through it.

But this is most practical once you already have some experience so keep this in mind if you want a clean introduction to In-Memory OLTP with an easy-to-read format.


SQL Server Execution Plans

The query execution plan is a big topic covering how to organize & handle certain behaviors/errors in an environment.

Most DBAs don’t think about execution plans but they are useful to explain what’s going on behind the scenes with every single query. The book SQL Server Execution Plans is an excellent primer on this subject.

You’ll learn about the basics of SQL Server administration and how to optimize this process through an execution plan of your own. But this comes through practice and experience studying other plans, many of which you’ll find in this book.

This includes common problems like diagnosing slow queries or how to pull data in raw XML or display it graphically through Visual Studio.

Also totally no problem if you have no idea what an execution plan is. This book explains it all so you can pick up the basics without any prior knowledge.

If you’re an absolute beginner at Microsoft SQL Server and have no idea where to start consider grabbing a copy of Learn SQL Server Administration in a Month of Lunches. This is by far the simplest introductory book for anyone regardless of background.

However if you’re a coder using SQL Server you might prefer Murach’s SQL Server 2016 for Developers for its clearer writing style geared towards devs.

Still there are tons of books here on many topics from T-SQL to optimization and business intelligence so regardless of what you’re trying to learn there’s something here that can help.

Author: Jaime Morrison

Jaime is a jr. designer interested in mobile UI/UX research and frontend web development with JavaScript frameworks. He covers general news and useful resources in the web design space.