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How to access local MSSQL server using SQL Server Management Studio?

This post was most recently updated on March 9th, 2021.

4 min read.

Every now and then you run into a situation, where you really need to run some SQL against your local development database. That database, at least in my case, is hosted on your local SQL Server Express.

Connecting to a local SQL Server should be a walk in a park, right? Eh, well…

While using a connection string to connect to said DB is easy, you can’t do that with the SQL Server Management Studio. I wish you could, but hey – it is what it is.

There’s a couple of ways to connect, though!

How to connect to your local database with SSMS?

Connecting to the local instance might work by using the name of the instance. While I’m not sure what’s the reason it hasn’t worked for me (I wonder if the instance names differs based on what you’re installing the SQL Server or SQL Express with..?), maybe it works for you.

Essentially, just paste this into the connection window:


Or like shown below:

How to log in to local SQL Server database using SQL Server Management Studio.
How to log in to local SQL Server database using SQL Server Management Studio.

Workaround: Use Named Pipes instead

If it doesn’t – well, there’s a workaround, although it’s a bit laborious. It in fact requires you to know the instance name pipe – a weird, nonsensical URI-looking piece of textual vomit you simply can’t guess. And then, most of the time, you can just use your local user account to log in.

But in order to figure out the said name, you’ll need a tool called “SQL Server Express LocalDB Command Line Tool”. It’s a simple exe file that comes with SQL Server, so chances are you already have it.

The location is something like this:


So, in order to use the tool, let’s fire up a command line window and write the following command:

cd "C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\130\Tools\Binn\"

Replace the version number (bolded) with yours.

After that, you can run this:


The tool should output something like this:

SqlLocalDB.exe output in console.
SqlLocalDB.exe output in console.

Below, the same output in text form.

C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\130\Tools\Binn>SqlLocalDB.exe
 Microsoft (R) SQL Server Express LocalDB Command Line Tool
 Version 13.0.1601.5
 Copyright (c) Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.
 Usage: SqlLocalDB operation [parameters…]
     Prints this information
 create|c ["instance name" [version-number] [-s]]
     Creates a new LocalDB instance with a specified name and version
     If the [version-number] parameter is omitted, it defaults to the
     latest LocalDB version installed in the system.
     -s starts the new LocalDB instance after it's created
 delete|d ["instance name"]
     Deletes the LocalDB instance with the specified name
 start|s ["instance name"]
     Starts the LocalDB instance with the specified name
 stop|p ["instance name" [-i|-k]]
     Stops the LocalDB instance with the specified name,
     after current queries finish
     -i request LocalDB instance shutdown with NOWAIT option
     -k kills LocalDB instance process without contacting it
 share|h ["owner SID or account"] "private name" "shared name"
     Shares the specified private instance using the specified shared name.
     If the user SID or account name is omitted, it defaults to current user.
 unshare|u ["shared name"]
     Stops the sharing of the specified shared LocalDB instance.
     Lists all existing LocalDB instances owned by the current user
     and all shared LocalDB instances.
 info|i "instance name"
     Prints the information about the specified LocalDB instance.
     Lists all LocalDB versions installed on the computer.
 trace|t on|off
     Turns tracing on and off
 SqlLocalDB treats spaces as delimiters. It is necessary to surround
 instance names that contain spaces and special characters with quotes.
 For example:
    SqlLocalDB create "My LocalDB Instance"
 The instance name can sometimes be omitted, as indicated above, or
 specified as "". In this case, the reference is to the default LocalDB
 instance "MSSQLLocalDB".

Okay, so that’s quite a screenful! The command outputs you the instructions on how to use it – great for your reference, but for now, let me guide you through the process. We’ll only need a couple of parameters.

Next, let’s run the command with parameter “info”.

> SqlLocalDB info

Ah, great. Now we know what the SQL Server instances on the machine are named. The one we’re mostly interested in is MSSQLLocalDB – that’s the server instance hosting our local dev databases.

Most likely, you’ll get an output somewhat like this:

You’ll want to get this server up and running. That’s easy – just run the command below:

SqlLocalDB start MSSQLLocalDB

The output might be something like below:

SqlLocalDB info MSSQLLocalDB
Name: MSSQLLocalDB
Version: 13.1.4001.0
Shared name:
Owner: [username]
Auto-create: Yes
State: Running
Last start time: 2019-08-12 1:22:49 PM
Instance pipe name: np:\.\pipe\LOCALDB#A4E758FA\tsql\query

Pay very close attention to the state – it should now be “running” – and note “Instance pipe name”!

While you can’t easily use the connection string to connect to the server, you can use the “named pipe” instead! Grab the path, starting with np:\\ to your clipboard.

Next, you should be able to use your local log-in for the SQL Server. See the screenshot down below:

How to log in to local SQL Server using named pipes.
How to log in to local SQL Server using named pipes.

And boom! You should be good.

References and appendices

Updated 13.2.2020: Added mention of the easier method (hopefully that works for y’all!), thanks Mika Berglund.

For further reference, check out these links:

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