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Quest Software's TOAD for SQL Server

Last updated Mar 28, 2003.

(d) TOAD for SQL Server

TOAD for SQL Server

TOAD, which was originally created as a development tool for Oracle, now includes versions for MySQL and SQL Server platforms. The software is designed as an application development tool, allowing you to create, alter, and browse various database objects, edit Transact-SQL scripts, and find and fix errors in code. Is the software worth the download for you to add to your DBA toolbox?

If you manage a multi-platform environment including Oracle, MySQL, or SQL Server, there is almost no reason not to have this product. It's free, it works, and it's easy to understand and use. While it can be a pain to download repeatedly (you have to), it's worth the effort. Although it never claims to be a maintenance tool, TOAD even performs some basic maintenance tasks well enough.

On the other hand, if you don't manage multiple environments, it's less vital to have. Microsoft does a much better job on its tools interface than does just about any other database platform out there, and TOAD doesn't really bring much new functionality to what you already have with standard tools – just a different format. Even with this caveat, it doesn't hurt to have this tool available; it's small and free, and it works well.

There are a few versions of TOAD; this review covers only the freeware product for SQL Server. The paid versions are more powerful and don't require repeated downloads; the freeware version requires a new download every sixty days. I'm not sure what the point of that is, other than to be a kind of "nagware" that might tempt you to upgrade to the commercial product. Even those repeated downloads are a small inconvenience to a product as good as this.

It's a simple matter to get and install TOAD. You simply visit the Web site, navigate through the "Downloads" section, and agree to the license agreement. There's nothing to fill out, send in, or pay for. Once you finish the download, the ZIP file contains only two files: the product and the help file. There is no install required. Just place the software where you want it, and run it from there.

For the software to work, you also need enough client software on your machine to operate Data Management Objects (DMO) programs. If you've installed the client tools for SQL Server, you've already got what you need, but if not, the TOAD Web site has a download with all the instructions you need to make the software function.

I installed the software on my test system running SQL Server 2000. It also worked against SQL Server 2005 with the corresponding client, but since SQL Server 2005 is beta at the moment, and TOAD makes no claims about it, I've left it out of this evaluation.

I had to create a connection to a server and database, a function which I subsequently automated. I did that using one of the great strengths in this graphical tool: the ability to customize it. I'm a stickler on efficient interface design, and TOAD gave me lots of options from fonts to colors. Since the interface revolves around several "forms," or windows, it's nice to be able to be able to set them to auto-max or stay in a minimal format.

Once inside and configured, the functions I tested were object browsing, creation, and alteration; entering and editing T-SQL statements; and various other DBA tasks.

In the "Data Browser" area, various objects are presented in tabs on the left of the screen, and information and action tabs are presented on the right. This dual-tab interface is very powerful and allows you to move quickly throughout the objects. One special touch is the ability to sort ascending and descending on any column in any tab. I like that; it's a pet peeve of mine not to include that feature when software presents columns of data.

Most items in the left-hand tabs have right-click context-sensitive menus for various actions. While the Help file documents all these, you probably won't need much help. Everything is really intuitive in the interface, and a lot of forethought has gone into every part of the product. I found it very easy to use.

Of special note in the data browsing area are the "Deps (Uses)" and "Deps (Used By)" tabs. These tabs show you what the dependent objects are and what dependencies this object has. This is a very useful feature; it keeps you from going down a design path only to find that you forgot to consider dependencies.

Each tab (where appropriate) also has a scripting option. The script is always there, and you don't have to wait to have it generated. Various options within the program allow you to control the contents and format of the script.

After the browsing and object editing tests, I moved to the SQL Editor function. This was a bit more problematic. Here's the statement I typed:

SELECT * 
FROM authors

This is a pretty simple, but it didn't return any data – or any errors. I added a GO to the next line, and received a SQL-DMO Error. I thought I might need to add a semi-colon, and this seemed to do the trick. This didn't make sense; SQL Server doesn't want semi-colons. I took them out again, retried the operation, and the program worked. I may have mistyped the first time, but I don't think so. In any case, this error never occurred again.

What will fail every time, however, is placing a blank line between SQL statements, like this:

SELECT * 

FROM authors

This produces a syntax error. I'm assuming that has to do with the way the code parses what it thinks is a statement block. This same code does work in SQL Server's Query analyzer, since it ignores block whitespace. The T-SQL editor doesn't have color-coding, block indents, query plans, and other niceties you already have in Query Analyzer.

The output tabs at the bottom of the T-SQL editor include text and HTML. The HTML view shows source HTML and a rendered view. Other than testing I'm not sure what the HTML output is for since most HTML formatting these days is created using style sheets. Since style sheets change the format dramatically, seeing the results in flat HTML isn't really very useful.

Everything else worked flawlessly. The data browsing has a great interface, and other than the T-SQL errors I encountered the functioned as advertised.

Overall, the product is great, and keeps getting better. The online community for TOAD is fantastic, and the developers respond to most requests quickly.

I think Quest has done a fantastic job on the code, especially in the object browser mode. It doesn't, however, have enough features to make you want to throw away Enterprise Manager and Query Analyzer. With those standard products you get most everything you need, including optimization helps and maintenance functions. If, however, you're using multiple platforms with SQL Server, it's nice to learn just one interface to access multiple environments.

Enter SQL Server 2005. There the interface is consolidated into one pretty fantastic view, based on Visual Studio Dot Net. The new tools in SQL Server 2005 include much of the tabbed ease-of-use features you'll get in TOAD.

So should you get TOAD? Absolutely! It's free, and you might find a feature or two that makes it essential to have. If you're in a multi-platform environment, it's a must-have.

Testing Environment

Computer

Pentium 4 2.8 Ghz, 512MB RAM, 80GB Hard Drive

OS

Windows 2000 Server, Service Pack 4

SQL Server Edition

SQL Server Professional, Service pack 3a

Hits

  • Free!
  • Works well
  • Great object browser
  • Great configuration options
  • Good documentation
  • Active online community
  • Single interface for multiple platforms

Misses

  • Repeated downloads
  • Some quirks and feature lack in the T-SQL editor

Product Information

Name: Quest Software's TOAD for SQL Server, Freeware

Download location: http://www.toadsoft.com/#

Price: Free