When you think about SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a personal database application. Although that’s certainly something that SQL Server Express is good for, it’s really more than a single-database system. Derived from the full-blown, enterprise-ready version of SQL Server 2005, SQL Server Express is really a database server, and as such, there’s more to it than just being a personal database. So what does it mean to be a database server? The primary answer is that SQL Server Express runs as a background service and is available to multiple applications. This is functionally different from the capabilities of database applications such as Microsoft Access or even the new SQL Server Compact Edition, both of which run in process and are primarily designed for single application or user access. When the SQL Server Express service is running, SQL Server Express can provide database services to local and remote systems as long as its networking capabilities have been enabled. If the SQL Server Express service is stopped, no database services will be available until the service is restarted.

You can manage the SQL Server Express service in a couple of different ways. First, when SQL Server Express is installed on your system, it provides you with the built-in SQL Server Configuration Manger and the SQL Server Surface Area Configuration tools. Both of these programs manage the SQL Server Express service. In addition, you can manage the SQL Server Express service in the traditional Windows way by using the services applet from the Administrative Tools menu. If you’re comfortable with command-line tools, you can also manage the service by using the Net Start and Net Stop commands.

The SQL Server Express service name is MSSQL$SQLEXPRESS and the display name is SQL Server (SQLEXPRESS). All of these tools let you start, stop, pause, and resume the SQL Server Express service. In addition, you can control whether the start type is automatic, manual, or disabled. Automatic means the service starts automatically when the systems boots up. Manual means that the service must be manually started. Disabled means the service will not start until the startup type is changed. The default startup type for SQL Server Express is automatic. The SQL Server Configuration Manager and the Administrative Tools Service applet also perform more advanced functions, such as specifying the login used if the service startup type is set to Automatic.

The SQL Server Express service is the key to SQL Server Express’ multi-user database server capabilities. When the SQL Server Express service is active, SQL Server Express really is at your service.