Announcing the SQL Express 2008 Installation Package

Update: The SQL Express 2008 Installation Package (Express Wrapper) is no longer available. Currently the best way to install SQL Server Express is to use Web Platform Installer.


FYI: SQL Server MVP Andrea Montanari has posted his own summary of the experience of using this tool including screen shots of the UI. A quick and useful read to get you familiar with the tool.  

The SQL Express 2008 Installation Package (Express Wrapper) is a new utility we've created to help customers who are installing SQL Express 2008 from the web. Following the lead of products such as the .NET Framework and Visual Studio Express, we've created a wrapper that will streamline installation of SQL Express from the web. If you just can't wait, you can jump to the SQL Express download page and get started right now. If you're interested in learning more, read on.


The Express Wrapper has a very simple goal: reduce the complexity of installing SQL Server 2008 Express from the web by assisting customers with the installation of the SQL prerequisites. We stuck to that goal and followed the principle that the simplest solution is usually the best. You'll see this principle in how the Express Wrapper is focused on doing the hard work of finding the correct prerequisites but not replacing the entire SQL Server installer experience. The Express Wrapper does the following:

  • Allows for selection of any of the three editions of SQL Server 2008 Express.
  • Detects which prerequisites are missing from your computer based on the edition selected.
  • Downloads the correct installers for all the prerequisites and SQL Server 2008 Express based on the edition, language and architecture of your operating system.
  • Launches the installers in the correct order.
  • Continues the installation across reboots.

Using a wrapped installer approach gives us two primary advantages: first is that you only have to find one thing, the wrapper, in order to install SQL Server Express, the wrapper handles downloading everything else. The second advantage is that we can keep the size of the SQL Express package small by not including any of the pre-requisites while still ensuring that any missing prerequisites are downloaded and installed when needed without extra effort on your part.

Running the Express Wrapper

It's pretty straight forward, otherwise what would have been the point of building it? Here is the process you'll go through:

  • Download the Express Wrapper from the SQL Express download page. When prompted, choose the option to Run the application.

  • The Express Wrapper will download a second piece, when prompted, choose the option to Run the application again. (Why? See the section on architecture below.)

  • On the main screen of the Express Wrapper, choose the edition of SQL Express and the language you want to install. The Express Wrapper will default to the language of your system. There are specific rules regarding cross-language support which are documented in the Hardware and Software Requirements topic in BOL.

  • You will see the list of prerequisites that are missing from your machine.

  • Click Install.

  • All necessary prerequisites and the SQL Express package will be downloaded to your hard drive. You will see the progress of the downloads as they happen.

  • Once all components have been downloaded, the installers will be launched in full UI mode in the appropriate order.

  • Step through the individual installer following the prompts provided.

  • Some prerequisites may require a reboot, go ahead and reboot when asked. Log back into the computer as the same user and the Express Wrapper will automatically start and then pick up where it left off.

  • Complete additional installations for each prerequisite or SQL Express as needed. Repeat the reboot process if required.

  • When finished you will receive a success message from the Express Wrapper. SQL Express is installed and ready to go.

    Express Wrapper Architecture

    The Express Wrapper is actually made up of two components:

  • SQLEXPR32_x86_ENU_Bootstrapper.exe - There is a separate bootstrapper for each language supported by SQL Server 2008 (replace ENU with your particular language choice) that will install the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 onto your computer if it detects that it is missing. You may have to reboot your computer after the framework installation, but the bootstrapper will automatically launch when you log in and then it will download the second component of the Express Wrapper.

  • SQLEXPR32_x86_Wrapper.exe - This component does the heavy lifting of detection and download of all other prerequisites and SQL Express itself. This is actually a CAB archive that contains the various pieces of the wrapper that handle all aspects of download and launching other installers.

    The Express Wrapper program files and the downloaded prerequisites and SQL Express installers are cached onto your computer in a location determined by the edition of your operating system:

    • Windows Vista & Windows Server 2008: Express Wrapper files are placed in C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\SQL Server 2008 Express Install.
    • Windows XP & Windows 2003: Express Wrapper files are placed in the user profile directory at C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\SQL Server 2008 Express Install.

    Program files and log files are stored in a folder named based on the timestamp at installation, such as \2008-08-15_10-19-18-318 and downloaded files are placed in \Downloads folder.

    Troubleshooting Installation Problems

    As much as I'd like to believe things will work 100% of the time, reality has a way of destroying my illusions. As such, we've ensured that the Express Wrapper creates a verbose log that not only tells you what is happening at each step of the process, but also surfaces errors that are returned from the individual prerequisite installer and the SQL Express installer. If you run into problems while using the Express Wrapper, your first stop should be the \Logs directory located in the directory where the wrapper program files are stored. Examine this log to determine if there are any errors happening in the Express Wrapper, such as failures to download the required installer packages. If there is an error coming back from one of the wrapped installers, the next step is to examine the logs from that installer. In some cases, the Express Wrapper is able to collect logs from those installers and place copies in the same \Logs folder, so be sure to check there first. For SQL Express primarily, there are many different logs so you'll likely need to go to directly to the setup logs default location which is at C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\100\Setup Bootstrap\Log. At this point you would just follow the same process you'd follow to troubleshoot any SQL Server installation failure, the Express Wrapper runs SQL setup the same as if you had double-clicked the file. Check out the KB Article, How to troubleshoot SQL Server 2008 setup issues and the BOL topic How To: View SQL Server 2008 Log Files.

    Other Questions

    You can always post questions about anything SQL Express related to the SQL Express MSDN Forum.