DBeaver vs HeidiSQL vs dbForge Studio: Comparing Open-Source and Paid SQL Server Tools

May 7th, 2021

If a company has to choose between a free database tool and a paid one, and both of them deliver the same features and performance, it is natural that the paid one doesn’t stand a chance. But what if the free tool doesn’t contain all the necessary functionality for the workflow? What if it has limitations that prevent the employees from becoming more productive? And if it turns out that their work requires either 7 separate, perhaps even hardly compatible free tools, wouldn’t it be more effective to pay for just one tool that would have it all in place?

The fact that our customers tend to continue working with the dbForge database tools after the trial period says a lot about the true value of productivity and convenience. Still, free and open-source database tools will always be popular, since they cover most of the average needs and requirements of a database specialist free of charge.

This very idea inspired us to compare top open-source and commercial solutions for SQL Server development and administration. We wanted to compare their functional capabilities as well as less obvious criteria that might be hidden from the user’s eye. And we took 3 popular examples for this purpose:

  • DBeaver is a free database tool that supports an extensive number of databases. While its closed-source enterprise edition involves a commercial license, DBeaver is mostly known as an open-source solution with a clean user interface and a fine set of tools to handle your routine database work.
  • HeidiSQL is another well-known free and open-source database management and administration tool, a DBeaver alternative that has the aim to be easy to learn. It supports a limited number of database systems (SQL Server, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite), yet delivers enough goodies to gather a large following.
  • dbForge Studio for SQL Server is an IDE that covers nearly all tasks related to the development, management, and administration of SQL Server databases, data analysis and reporting. It delivers a number of features that can’t be found in free tools, e.g. comparison and synchronization of data and schemas, generation of realistic test data and documentation. It should also be noted that, besides SQL Server, there are Studios available for MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle. All of them are paid solutions that are nonetheless available free of charge for a 30-day trial period.

You might already be using one of these tools, but how well does it fare in comparison with others? And would switching to a commercial solution make your daily work easier and more productive? To answer these questions, we made up a list of criteria that we believe matter most to database specialists. Let’s see how each tool handles them.

Functionality

Open-source tools, such as DBeaver and HeidiSQL, typically deliver the essentials for daily work and get gradually expanded with new features. The trick with commercial solutions is their focus. In our case, dbForge Studio for SQL Server delivers an all-encompassing set of tools for SQL Server and easy integration with enterprise-grade systems and corporate DevOps processes. Well-polished user experience for effective teamwork is also included. Let’s take a closer look.

Functionality DBeaver HeidiSQL dbForge Studio for SQL Server
Visual Database Designer No No Yes
Code Autocompletion Yes No Yes
SQL Scripts Management Yes No Yes
SQL Formatting Yes No Yes
SQL Snippets No Yes Yes
Built-in T-SQL Analyzer No No Yes
Integrated Source Control No No Yes
Visual Query Builder Yes Yes Yes
Query Optimization No No Yes (via Query Profiler)
Built-in Data Viewer Yes Yes Yes
Index Management No No Yes
Master-Detail Browser No No Yes
Search for Invalid Objects No No Yes
Built-in T-SQL Debugger No No Yes
Server Security Management No No Yes
Server Diagnostics No No Yes (via Profile Server Events)
Online SQL Server Monitoring No No Yes
Data Import & Export Yes Yes Yes
Export to CSV Yes Yes Yes
Backup & Restore Yes Yes Yes
Automated Unit Tests No No Yes
Test Data Generation Yes No Yes (via Data Generator)
Data Comparison & Synchronization Yes (comparison only) No Yes
Schema Comparison & Synchronization Yes (comparison only) No Yes
Generation of Database Documentation No No Yes
Integration with the DevOps Process No No Yes

Now you can compare these criteria with your daily work (or the daily tasks of your DB team) to see whether the expanded functionality of paid solutions is worth taking note of.

Stability & Security

Now let’s delve deeper into the non-functional value of database tools, the usual adjectives that come with most of them, like “stable”, “secure”, “reliable” and such. For a commercial product, these qualities equal the reputation and profits of the vendor. There is no place for neglecting the competition or the customer. Paid software is continuously kept up to date and expanded to remain viable on the market. On the contrary, the development of open-source tools is rather sporadic and less focused.

Both DBeaver and HeidiSQL boast large user communities, which makes it easier to find problems and vulnerabilities in the source code and eliminate them. Still, with all the openness, you can’t be fully protected from malicious code that might come with another update. Proprietary software, developed in a closed environment, focuses on regular updates and fast responses to any customer emergencies. Thus we assume it’s a safer way, especially for enterprises.

Speaking about enterprises, we should mention the security of business-critical and sensitive personal data. For instance, you need certain volumes of data for testing. Naturally, you cannot use real data for that purpose, but the problem has to be solved somehow. The solution comes with dbForge Studio. It includes a tool that generates varied test data according to your settings. The data combines the best qualities one would want: it is fake, yet realistic, and maintains the compliance of your databases with a range of data protection acts and regulations, e.g. GDPR.

Support & Troubleshooting

Most of what has been said in the previous paragraph applies here as well. Your vendor is always there to answer your questions and help you with the issues that may arise. And if you represent a company, you can get more diverse support options (for instance, special service packages for enterprises) and mutually beneficial long-term business relations with your vendor.

When it comes to free software, your most likely source of help is the user community, where you can ask your questions, look for solutions, and watch countless video guides and tutorials that will make your work easier. Professional support bears additional costs, and it can be received from a third-party consultant (more on that later).

And if you switch to commercial software, your search will be narrowed down to brief official guides and comprehensive product documentation. In other words, along with the commercial software you get fast and certified on-demand answers.

Cost

First the value, then the cost, right? It is obvious that free and open-source products owe much of their popularity to the fact that you don’t have to pay for them (at least, initially). Much like individuals, companies want to cut costs wherever possible and opt to use open-source solutions in their operations. Thus, when a free product of high quality enters the market, it can quickly gather a large community. And if so many people use that product, it simply has to be good (and in many cases, including DBeaver and HeidiSQL, it really is).

However, we should not forget a number of hidden costs that may become evident over time. Mostly, these costs are related to corporate use and can hinder the growth of the employees’ daily performance. Let’s name a few.

  • Open-source software might take much time and effort to be integrated with the existing corporate systems and environments, as well as properly customized.
  • Complex products may require assistance with installation and training. When it comes to open-source products, communities are the most obvious source of help; still, there might be pitfalls that will turn out to be more time-consuming than expected and require the involvement of the abovementioned third-party consultant with an additional price tag.
  • Maintenance is yet another source of hidden costs; the company will need to allocate additional resources to handle it.

The use of commercial software eliminates most of these problems so quickly and effectively that the explanation will fit in a single sentence. Vendors usually take care of product support and maintenance; and if you are purchasing a solution for multiple employees, they can assist you with integration and, if required, provide all the necessary materials for fast training.

Sure, few of us are ready to pay upfront for a product they don’t know yet. But that is why the trial period was invented. In the case of dbForge Studio for SQL Server, every user gets a fully functional product for 30 days to evaluate its capabilities and performance. You can check whether it’s convenient for you and your teammates. You can see how it affects your performance. You can see whether all the added value that comes with it is worth the investment.

Conclusion

It is only up to you to evaluate each criterion according to your own workflow and preferences. All in all, as long as advanced functionality, reliable vendor support, stability, and security are concerned, commercial software pays off.

Finally, we invite you to try dbForge Studio for SQL Server free of charge.

After the trial, you will be able to re-activate it with a purchased activation key. It is also worth noting that we have special offers for enterprises with discounts for multiple purchased licenses.

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