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If you have any experience with SQL Server, you’ve already spent a lot of time in Management Studio or “SSMS”: The ultimate swiss-knife for working with SQL Server databases. Maybe your SSMS morning-routine is similar to mine:

  1. You sit down.
  2. You log-in.
  3. You open up SQL Server Management Studio.
  4. You connect to some servers.
  5. You visit use the SQL Server Agent to view executions reports / the “Job History” (I’m very bad at this one).
  6. You make the world a better place by writing some sweet T-SQL of course!

This was my perfect morning routine. Until one day, I wanted to try out a “dark mode” on SSMS… don’t do it. It’s awful and it requires administrator privileges just to enable it (why?!). One day, a colleague of mine told me about “Azure Data Studio“. I’ve been using it everyday since then, not as a replacement to SSMS but rather a handy complement. Here are three reasons why I love Azure Data Studio and think you should try it out too.

1. Lightweight and multi-platform

I love that Azure Data Studio has a User Installer in addition to the traditional System Installer. A User-based installation does not require administrator rights and makes the update process smoother (Data Studio is updated almost every month). And, in contrast with SSMS, which just runs on Windows, Azure Data Studio can run on Linux and MacOS too. I’ve experienced some bugs here and there – but so far Data Studio opens much quicker than SSMS on my machine. That lightness comes at a cost: Azure Data Studio comes with way less features than SSMS… out-of-the box at least.

2. Extensions

Opening Azure Data Studio for the first time will feel very empty if you are used to SSMS: No SQL Server Agent, no SQL Server Profiler, … That is because Azure Data Studio is meant to be used with extensions. These extensions can be updated individually, similar to the way Apps are updated on your phone. I’m using 1% of SSMS’capabilities so I feel OK with the emptiness. Browsing and downloading extensions allows me to learn features at my own pace. Here are some tips to get started with the extensions.

2.1 Install the must-have extensions

Extensions are super-light and easy to download, so I advice you to install the following extensions right away:

  • Admin Pack for SQL Server, which contains the following DBA tools:
    • SQL Server Agent
    • SQL Server Profiler
    • SQL Server Import
    • SQL Server Dacpac
  • SSMS Keymap (to get the keyboard shortcuts from SSMS)
  • PoorSQL (to auto-format your SQL code in the blink of an eye!)
  • RedGate SQL Search (useful to search for data objects across several databases)

2.2 Set up your keyboard shortcuts

The best way to call many of the extensions is to set up your own keyboard shortcuts. Once you have installed some extensions, head over to the “keyboard shortcuts”.

We’ll take the example of PoorSQL to format your SQL (I’m sure you’ve already used PoorSQL to format your code!). Once installed, use the searchbox to find “Poor SQL: Format T-SQL” in the list of shortcuts. You can now remap the action to a shortcut of your choice by clicking on the keybinding. To try out your new shortcut, select some SQL and see the magic happen!

3. It has a sleek & modern interface

This one is up to personal preference, but in case I need to work with several queries I much prefer managing this in Data Studio rather than SSMS. It’s super easy to move windows around. The list of servers is also presented more clearly if you set it up correctly. Some extensions, such as SandDance allow you to make data exploration more visual than just looking at tables & columns. The possibility to make custom dashboards is great too. And I’ve already mentioned the dark mode but let’s not forget about it 😊


There is a lot I haven’t tried to do with Azure Data Studio yet. I want to play with notebooks, Source Control, do some query tuning, and get a closer look to the DBA-oriented tasks. I’ll write other blog posts if I find ideas worth sharing. See you next time!

Edouard Clément

Data Analyst