If there’s one thing you can’t have too many of, it’s free tools—especially if they help to solve problems or make your work more productive. I’ll point you to eight cool, useful, and free SQL Server tools that can make your job easier.

SQL Sentry Plan Explorer 2.0

SQL Sentry’s Plan Explorer helps you to better analyze the graphical plan view that SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) query plan analysis produces. Plan Explorer adds color coding to highlight potential problem areas. The Pro version adds query tuning tips. Download SQL Sentry Plan Explorer from the SQL Sentry site.

SQL check 3.5

Idera’s SQL check is a real-time performance-monitoring tool that provides a dashboard display of 20 vital SQL Server performance metrics. The free tool is limited to monitoring a single server. Idera’s commercial SQL diagnostic manager 7.5 monitors multiple servers with more in-depth metrics. You can download SQL check from the Idera site.

SQL Search 1.1

Red Gate Software’s SQL Search is an add-in for SSMS that fills in SSMS’s missing search capabilities by finding all occurrences of a database’s object. SQL Search is free, and it’s also a part of the SQL Developer Bundle and will be incorporated in a future version of SQL Prompt. Download SQL Search from the Red Gate Software site.

SQL fragmentation analyzer 1.0

Idera’s SQL fragmentation analyzer displays a graphical view of the fragmentation level of your SQL Server indexes, helping you see what indexes might require maintenance. Idera’s commercial SQL defrag manager 3.1 takes this a step further and lets you automate defragmentation. You can find SQL fragmentation analyzer at the Idera site.

SQL Server FineBuild 3.1.0

The open-source CodePlex site contains a lot of useful SQL Server tools and utilities as well as the various sample AdventureWorks databases. One of the cool, free SQL Server tools available on CodePlex is FineBuild. FineBuild provides a one-click installation of SQL Server. The installations include a Service Pack, Cumulative Update hotfix, community tools, and best-practice configuration. There are four versions of FineBuild: for SQL Server 2012, 2008 R2, 2008, and 2005. You can get FineBuild from the CodePlex website.

SQL Server Database Copy Tool

Another cool tool from the CodePlex site is the SQL Server Database Copy Tool. This free tool is handy for test and development scenarios where you might want to make quick copies of a database without manually going through the detach, copy, reattach process. You can find the Database Copy Tool at the CodePlex website.

Microsoft SQL Server Data Tools for Visual Studio 2012

Keeping Visual Studio and SQL Server in sync has been a problem. SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) depends on the Visual Studio shell, but when Microsoft released Visual Studio 2012, the two got out of sync. This download adds the SSDT business intelligence templates to the Visual Studio 2012 shell. Get SSDT from the Microsoft Download Center.

Introducing SQL Server 2012

While it might be a bit of a stretch to include a book in a list of tools, you might find this one useful for getting up to speed on SQL Server 2012. Find the free Microsoft Press book Introducing SQL Server 2012 at the MSDN blog for Microsoft Press.