Server vs Instance. A rant.


July 29, 2021 by Kenneth Fisher

It’s a SQL Server Instance not a SQL Server.

  • The product is SQL Server.
  • The installed copy is an Instance.
  • The location it is installed on is frequently a Server. Windows, Linux, whatever. I say frequently because I’ve had it installed in a container, a laptop, a desktop etc over time. (If I’m going to post a pedantic rant I should probably be very specific with my terms right?)

I can not tell you how much confusion this has caused over the years. Both for me and the developers I assist.

Dev: Can you connect to this server.
Me: Yes, I can RDP to that server.
Dev: No, I mean can you connect using Management Studio.
Me: To which of the 6 instances you have installed on that server?

And that’s an easy one. The confusion in connection strings and when developing request forms is something else to behold.

Not that I can really blame anyone. The name SQL Server kind of lends itself to the problem and at this point I don’t see Microsoft re-naming it. I certainly hope not anyway. On top of that the word instance means different things depending on your database of choice which just adds to the confusion. Hopefully as we move more and more into the cloud and get new names (Azure SQL Database, Azure SQL Managed Instance, Synapse, etc) this will start to become less of an issue. For now at least, all I can do is be careful of the words I use (yes I mess this up sometimes too) and hope that you will as well.

3 thoughts on “Server vs Instance. A rant.

  1. Dan Coffey says:

    I feel your pain. My devs are the same way. It gets even worse when you deal with SQL failover cluster because now you have to explain why the instance is also called a role. It has become easier though because I have been educating them over the years so they understand the difference.

  2. Jason Hopkins says:

    In the old days, “a SQL server” was literally a server that served SQL requests- before MS essentially coopted the industry term. I think technically the name is “Microsoft SQL Server”, somewhat more forgivable… as opposed to, say, “Sybase SQL Server”.

  3. […] done more than a few rants in my time blogging. One more should be a piece of cake. Interestingly the day I read the invite we were […]

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