How to Install SQL Server on a Mac

Here I’ll show you how to get SQL Server 2017 up and running on your Mac in less than half an hour. And the best part is, you’ll have SQL Server running locally without needing any virtualization software.

Prior to SQL Server 2017, if you wanted to run SQL Server on your Mac, you first had to create a virtual machine (using VirtualBox, Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, or Bootcamp), then install Windows onto that VM, then finally SQL Server. This is still a valid option depending on your requirements (here’s how to install SQL Server on a Mac with VirtualBox if you’d like to try that method).

Starting with SQL Server 2017, you can now install SQL Server directly on to a Linux machine. And because macOS is Unix based (and Linux is Unix based), you can run SQL Server for Linux on your Mac. The way to do this is to run SQL Server on Docker.

So let’s go ahead and install Docker. Then we’ll download and install SQL Server.

Install Docker
Download the (free) Docker Community Edition for Mac (unless you’ve already got it installed on your system). This will enable you to run SQL Server from within a Docker container.

To download, visit the Docker CE for Mac download page and click Get Docker.

To install, double-click on the .dmg file and then drag the icon to your Application folder.

Screenshot of the Docker installation.
Docker installation on a Mac.

What is Docker?
Docker is a platform that enables software to run in its own isolated environment. SQL Server 2017 can be run on Docker in its own isolated container. Once Docker is installed, you simply download — or “pull” — the SQL Server on Linux Docker Image to your Mac, then run it as a Docker container. This container is an isolated envionment that contains everything SQL Server needs to run.

Launch Docker
Launch Docker the same way you’d launch any other application (eg, via the Applications folder, the Launchpad, etc).

When you open Docker, you might be prompted for your password so that Docker can install its networking components and links to the Docker apps. Go ahead and provide your password, as Docker needs this to run.

Screenshot of the password request dialog
The password request dialog

Increase the Memory
By default, Docker will have 2GB of memory allocated to it. SQL Server needs at least 3.25GB. To be safe, increase it to 4GB if you can.

To do this:

Select Preferences from the little Docker icon in the top menu
Slide the memory slider up to at least 4GB
Click Apply & Restart
Screenshot of selecting the Preferences
Selecting the preferences.

Screenshot of increasing the memory
Increasing the memory.

Download SQL Server
Now that Docker is installed and its memory has been increased, we can download and install SQL Server for Linux.

Open a Terminal window and run the following command.

docker pull microsoft/mssql-server-linux
This downloads the latest SQL Server for Linux Docker image to your computer.

Launch the Docker Image
Run the following command to launch an instance of the Docker image you just downloaded:

docker run -d –name sql_server_demo -e ‘ACCEPT_EULA=Y’ -e ‘SA_PASSWORD=reallyStrongPwd123’ -p 1433:1433 microsoft/mssql-server-linux
But of course, use your own name and password.

Here’s an explanation of the parameters:

This optional parameter launches the Docker container in daemon mode. This means that it runs in the background and doesn’t need its own Terminal window open. You can omit this parameter to have the container run in its own Terminal window.
–name sql_server_demo
Another optional parameter. This parameter allows you to name the container. This can be handy when stopping and starting your container from the Terminal.
The Y shows that you agree with the EULA (End User Licence Agreement). This is required in order to have SQL Server for Linux run on your Mac.
-e ‘SA_PASSWORD=reallyStrongPwd123’
Required parameter that sets the sa database password.
-p 1433:1433
This maps the local port 1433 to port 1433 on the container. This is the default TCP port that SQL Server uses to listen for connections.
This tells Docker which image to use.
Password Strength
If you get the following error at this step, try again, but with a stronger password.

Microsoft(R) SQL Server(R) setup failed with error code 1. Please check the setup log in /var/opt/mssql/log for more information.
I received this error when using reallyStrongPwd as the password (but of course, it’s not a really strong password!). I was able to overcome this by adding some numbers to the end. However, if it wasn’t just a demo I’d definitely make it stronger than a few dictionary words and numbers.

Check the Docker container (optional)
You can type the following command to check that the Docker container is running.

docker ps
If it’s up and running, it should return something like this:

4e4aa21eb391 microsoft/mssql-server-linux “/bin/sh -c /opt/m…” 23 seconds ago Up 21 seconds>1433/tcp sql_server_demo
Install sql-cli (unless already installed)
Run the following command to install the sql-cli command line tool. This tool allows you to run queries and other commands against your SQL Server instance.

npm install -g sql-cli
This assumes you have NodeJs installed. If you don’t, download it from first. Installing NodeJs will automatically install npm which is what we use in this command to install sql-cli.

Permissions Error?
If you get an error, and part of it reads something like Please try running this command again as root/Administrator, try again, but this time prepend sudo to your command:

sudo npm install -g sql-cli
Connect to SQL Server
Now that sql-cli is installed, we can start working with SQL Server via the Terminal window on our Mac.

Connect to SQL Server using the mssql command, followed by the username and password parameters.

mssql -u sa -p reallyStrongPwd123
You should see something like this:

Connecting to localhost…done

sql-cli version 0.6.0
Enter “.help” for usage hints.
This means you’ve successfully connected to your instance of SQL Server.

Run a Quick Test
Run a quick test to check that SQL Server is up and running and you can query it.

For example, you can run the following command to see which version of SQL Server your running:

select @@version
If it’s running, you should see something like this (but of course, this will depend on which version you’re running):

Microsoft SQL Server vNext (CTP2.0) – 14.0.500.272 (X64)
Apr 13 2017 11:44:40
Copyright (C) 2017 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Developer Edition (64-bit) on Linux (Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS)

1 row(s) returned

Executed in 1 ms
If you see a message like this, congratulations — SQL Server is now up and running on your Mac!

A SQL Server GUI for your Mac – Azure Data Studio
Azure Data Studio dashboard
The Azure Data Studio dashboard.

Azure Data Studio (formerly SQL Operations Studio) is a free GUI management tool that you can use to manage SQL Server on your Mac. You can use it to create and manage databases, write queries, backup and restore databases, and more.

Azure Data Studio is available on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Here are some articles/tutorials I’ve written for Azure Data Studio:

What is Azure Data Studio
How to install Azure Data Studio on your Mac
How to Create a Database with Azure Data Studio
How to Restore a Database with Azure Data Studio on a Mac
Another Free SQL Server GUI – DBeaver
Another SQL Server GUI tool that you can use on your Mac (and Windows/Linux/Solaris) is DBeaver.

DBeaver is a free, open source database management tool that can be used on most database management systems (such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, MariaDB, SQLite, Oracle, DB2, SQL Server, Sybase, Microsoft Access, Teradata, Firebird, Derby, and more).

Screenshot of DBeaver using the Dark theme
DBeaver using the “Dark” theme.

I wrote a little introduction to DBeaver, or you can go straight to the DBeaver download page and try it out with your new SQL Server installation.

How to Install SQL Server on a Mac