The first critical task any data professional should ever learn how to do is how to connect to SQL Server. Without a connection to SQL Server, there is barely anything one could do to be productive in the data professional world (for SQL Server).
Yet, despite the commonality of this requirement and ease of the task, I find that there is frequent need to retrain professionals on how to connect to SQL Server. This connection could be attempted from any of the current options but for some reason it still perplexes many.
Let’s look at just how easy it is (should be) to connect to SQL Server (using both SQL Auth and Windows Auth).
First let’s take a look at the dialog box we would see when we try to connect to a server in SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS).
Circled in red we can see the two types of authentication I would like to focus on: “Windows Authentication” and “SQL Server Authentication”. These are both available from the dropdown box called Authentication. The default value here is “Windows Authentication”.
If I choose the default value for authentication or “Windows Authentication”, I only need to click on the connect button at the bottom of that same window. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the fields “User name:” and “Password:” are disabled and cannot be edited when this default value is selected. This is illustrated in the next image.
Notice that the fields circled in red are greyed out along with their corresponding text boxes. This is normal and is a GOOD thing. Simply click the connect button circled in green and then you will be connected if you have permissions to the specific server in the connection dialog.
Complicating things a touch is the “SQL Server Authentication”. This is where many people get confused. I see many people trying to enter windows credentials in this authentication type. Sure, we are authenticating to SQL Server, but the login used in this method is not a windows account. The account to be used for this type of authentication is strictly the type that is created explicitly inside of SQL Server. This is a type of login where the principal name and the password are both managed by SQL Server.
Let’s take a look at an example here.
Notice here that the text boxes are no longer greyed out and I can type a login and password into the respective boxes. Once done, I then click the “Connect” button and I will be connected (again, presuming I have been granted access and I typed the user name and password correctly).
What if I attempt to type a windows username and password into these boxes?
If I click connect on the preceding image, I will see the following error.
This is by design and to be expected. The authentication methods are different. We should never be able to authenticate to SQL Server when selecting the “SQL Server Authentication” and then providing windows credentials. Windows credentials must be used with the “Windows Authentication” option. If you must run SSMS as a different windows user, then I recommend reading this article.
Sometimes what may be ridiculously easy for some of us may be mind-blowing to others. Sometimes we may use what we think are common terms only to see eyes start to glaze over and roll to the backs of peoples heads. This just so happens to be one of those cases where launching an app as a different principal may be entirely new to the intended audience. In that vein, it is worthwhile to take a step back and “document” how the task can be accomplished.
Connecting to SQL Server is ridiculously easy. Despite the ease, I find myself helping “Senior” level development and/or database staff.