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Postgres is hot, but developers haven’t lost their love for MySQL. Here’s why

Commentary: MySQL isn’t the cool kid on the database block anymore, but developers keep using it anyway.

Image: iStock/GaudiLab

The data world has gone gaga for Postgres, and for good reason. The open source database stalwart has upped its innovations over the past few years, offering startups and enterprises alike a powerful, open alternative to proprietary incumbents like Oracle. Yet even as we rightly laud Postgres, we’d do well to keep an eye on MySQL. Over the past few years, MySQL seems to have fallen out of the spotlight, yet it still exceeds Postgres in terms of installed base and adoption. 

As TechRepublic contributing writer Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols said, “… I know a lot of businesses using MySQL or variants of it like MariaDB, and I don’t see them moving off it anytime soon. It Just Works.” 

SEE: From start to finish: How to deploy a MariaDB database server; create a database (TechRepublic Premium)

MySQL: It’s not broken, don’t fix it

That “just works” idea accounts for much of the continued popularity of MySQL. This, because of and despite Oracle’s ownership of the database. Oracle keeps investing in MySQL (yay!) or related, proprietary add-ons like Heat Wave, even as it has historically pilloried its own project (boo!). 

Because of these ongoing investments, MySQL keeps improving upon what already was a great open source database. Sure, former MySQL AB CEO (and current HackerOne CEO) Mårten Mickos might be overstating his case when he argued, “Don’t use MySQL unless you need unparalleled speed, scalability and robustness,” but it is the case that MySQL, decades after its first release (1995), remains a fabulous database.  

Importantly, it’s also a database that fits the world of SQL that most database professionals grow up with. We’ve seen so-called NoSQL databases like MongoDB and Apache Cassandra boom in popularity, but relational databases remain the heart of much of enterprise computing. For developers who want to use the SQL skills they may have learned with Oracle and SQL Server, but code unfettered by proprietary restrictions, they’re often going to turn to MySQL.

And for many developers, there hasn’t been sufficient reason to jump from MySQL to Postgres, no matter its rising popularity.

MySQL: There is no need to leave

“I think the installed base of MySQL dwarfs PostgreSQL and that momentum continues. MySQL is still my go-to if I need a cheap and cheerful way to store data that I later want to do something else with,” noted Nick Heudecker. That installed base is largely a result of history: Many developers got their first taste of a full-featured, open source database with MySQL, suggested Domenic Ravita. 

Since then, millions of developers have continued to turn to MySQL. Why haven’t they moved to Postgres? Some have, of course, but as one developer put it, “MySQL is easier. It’s not a lot easier but for your average crud [Create, Read, Update, Delete] web app, it’s first 5 minute experience is better.” This mirrors Heudecker’s experience: MySQL makes it easy for a developer to get up and moving. It may not be the best database for obscure functionality, Goran Opacic said, but “MySQL is superperformant and relevant in all things which are relevant to users.” 

In short, MySQL isn’t going anywhere. MySQL is not the most loved database on Stack Overflow’s 2020 developer survey (that distinction goes to Redis), but it’s a trusted, safe choice for developers. It’s been around for more than 25 years. Odds are very good that it will still be around for another 25.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine.

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