Downgrading SQL Server Editions

At some point in your career working with SQL Server, you will run into a situation where the wrong edition of SQL Server has been installed on a server and will need to change the edition for licensing reasons.  Whether it is Enterprise Edition where Standard Edition should have been installed, Enterprise Edition where Developer Edition should have been used, or my favorite, Evaluation Edition where the 180 day trial has expired and Enterprise Edition isn’t going to be used, the only route available for downgrading the edition is to uninstall and reinstall SQL Server entirely.  SQL Server Setup makes upgrading editions a piece of cake with SKUUPGRADE as a command line option for going from Standard/Developer/Evaluation to Enterprise, but anything else requires a full uninstall and reinstall to change the SKU/Edition and then restore all of the system and user databases to the new instance, which typically means a lot of work.  I hate having to restore system databases and avoid having to do it if possible, so here is how I do this process and minimize the work required:

No matter what you are going to have to do an uninstall and reinstall of the SQL Server instance to downgrade the SKU.  However, you can save yourself some time and the headache of trying to restore the system databases if you are careful about what you do.  I have done a plenty of SKU downgrades in the past and the easiest way to do it, and I am not saying this is the Microsoft supported way but that it works if done correctly, is to:

  1. Take a good backup of all of your databases (system and user).  
  2. Run SELECT @@VERSION and note the specific build number of SQL Server that you are currently on.
  3. Shut down your existing instance of SQL Server.  
  4. Copy the master, model, and msdb database files (both mdf and ldf), don’t move them copy them, from the current location to a new folder that you mark as readonly. 
  5. Uninstall SQL Server from the system.
  6. Reboot the server.
  7. Install SQL Server Standard Edition.
  8. Apply the necessary Service Pack and/or Cumulative Updates to bring the instance up to your previous build number.
  9. Shutdown SQL Server.
  10. Copy the master, model, and msdb database files (both mdf and ldf) from the folder you saved them in to the correct location for the new install and remove the readonly flag from the files, and change the file ACL’s so that the SQL Service account has Full Control over the files.
  11. Startup SQL Server and if you did it correctly it will startup and be exactly where you were before you made any changes, with all of your user databases online and you should be ready to let applications connect and resume operations.

If you screw something up in the above, you still have your backups and you can run setup to rebuild the system databases and then go about following the Microsoft supported path for restoring the system databases and then user databases into the system to bring it online.  Essentially the file copy is no different that what would occur through attach/detach you are just doing it with system databases which is not explicitly supported, but it does work.  The key is to have your backups from before you do anything so you have the supported route available if you encounter an issue.  The only issue I have ever had doing this set of steps is that I didn’t set the file ACL’s correctly and the database engine threw Access Denied errors and failed to start until I fixed the ACL’s correctly.  This can save you many hours of frustration and downtime trying to restore everything since the database files are already there and it is just some small copy operations to put them where you need them to be.

30 thoughts on “Downgrading SQL Server Editions

  1. Jonathan,

    Oh, if I had had this 10 years ago…. But that is how we learn. This article will help a lot of folks and keep them from having a much more difficult time downgrading.

    Thanks
    Jeff Bennett
    St. Louis
    ~ No pithy quote to illustrate how urbane and witty I am.

  2. Thanks Jonathan for another great article.

    One quick question here. Would it also be preferable to go the Microsoft supported way and restore the system databases (master, model and msdb) after the downgrade is complete?

  3. Has worked fine for me on several occasions. Just make sure you use the same service account for the downgraded edition or SQL server will be unable to decrypt any encrypted content in the original master database.

  4. Anyone tested this downgrade path with SQL Server 2016 Enterprise (SP1) -> SQL Server 2016 Standard (SP1)? I have read that this method doesn’t work with SQL Server 2014 and newer.

  5. Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for the article.

    Can this procedure be used for downgrading from SQL Standard edition to Developer edition?
    Have you ever done it?

  6. hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for the fantastic article.

    Is this step can be applied for downgrading from 2017 Developer edition to 2016 Developer edition?

    Regards
    Saby

  7. I know this is an old post, but in case it helps: if things were installed in a different path you might need to update columns subsystem_dll and agent_exe in msdb.dbo.syssubsystems, otherwise you will get errors similar to “The CmdExec subsystem failed to load” when running SQL Agent jobs after switching the system databases.

  8. Hi Jonathan,

    Just come across this excellent piece. One quick question – could the same be achieved by installing Standard Edition alongside the Enterprise Edition but then replace the system DBs on the Std Edtn with those copied from the Ent Edtn instance in step 4?

    Thanks.

    1. No, it’s not the system databases that effect the edition. The steps outlined here put the system databases from Enterprise Edition in Standard Edition and it works just fine. The edition is determined by the installation SKU and not by the system databases at all.

  9. I am going to follow this approach to downgrade a 2005 instance next week. (Which will be retired towards year end but due to licensing reasons I have to downgrade it right now.) I just have one doubt. Current installed Edition is 64 bit whereas the setup I have with me is 32 bit. Just to test, I did a side-by-side install which went fine and build numbers match between the 64 bit and 32 bit version. Will soon find out if the in-place works fine too. Let me know if any word of caution …

    1. Figured out current 64 bit enterprise edition is using 16 GB whereas if i downgrade to 32 bit standard it will use only 2 GB or 3GB max. If I enable AWE , how much can it use then ?

  10. So, what when you made a downgrade but you did not make the backup of service master key 😀
    What can you do?

  11. Hi Jonathan,

    In case of SSAS downgrade, do we need to deploy and process again once server upgrade is done?
    When cubes are deployed, we have to select the SQL Server Edition.

    Thanks

    Ritesh

  12. Hello Jonathan, I have a peculiar situation. I installed sql 2017 evaluation with clustering enabled. Now when trying to enter a key I am getting the error “The edition of the selected SQL Server instance is not supported in this SQL Server edition downgrade scenario. The source Evaluation edition and the target Standard edition is not supported path.” Please what can I do

  13. Will try going from SQL 2012 Enterprise to SQL 2019 Standard in a couple of weeks. So it is a downgrade/upgrade at the same time.

    Will follow these instructions to the letter and keep you posted.

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