SQL vs. MySQL: Which Relational Database is Right for You?


Illustration of a scale over a background pattern of databases

Structured query language (SQL) is the language of relational databases. Several database platforms use SQL, but a slight variation on it—each tend to have a slightly different syntax. Microsoft SQL and MySQL are two of the most common database platforms on the web. Once you go with one, it can be very difficult to switch to the other. That’s because the database platform you choose will end up being the core of your dynamic content moving forward. It stores, secures, and retrieves all the data for your applications.

It’s an important decision to make, and will likely hinge on a few things. If you’re having a hard time deciding which one is right for your project, here’s a look at some similarities and differences between the two, SQL and MySQL.

The Basics

Whether you want to store, retrieve or edit your data—the way dynamic websites and applications perform nearly every request a user makes—SQL is the language of choice for relational databases. On the surface, both Microsoft and MySQL look similar:

  • They both give you the ability to host several databases on one server.
  • They use tables to store data.
  • They have primary and foreign key constraints.
  • They use indexes to sort data and speed up performance, and they both support desktop and web applications.

SQL Server is slightly older than MySQL. Microsoft SQL Server was introduced in 1989 and MySQL was introduced in 1995 as an open-source project. Since both of them have been in production for years, they both have a firm foothold in the market. MySQL runs on either Windows or Linux, typically as a part of a LAMP environment. SQL Server runs on Windows, and is usually a part of a Windows environment.

Both platforms handle small and large software projects, so you should anticipate similar performance from both, provided the database designer and programmer are familiar with the right way to optimize queries and code.

Microsoft SQL Server vs. MySQL: Similarities

Both Microsoft and MySQL are relational database platforms, so they have several similarities. Most developers specialize in either one or the other, because although they appear similar, the way they work in the underlying architecture is very different. Here are some similarities, which make it somewhat easy for a database developer to work on both platforms efficiently, even if they specialize in only one.

  • Scalability: Both platforms allow you to scale as your business grows. You can use both for small projects, however should these projects take off to an enterprise-level, they can still support millions of transactions a day.
  • High-performance: A database is your application’s backbone. It stores your all of data, so you need a database that can return data in less than a second. Both platforms can handle this type of high-performance speed.
  • Tables: Both platforms use the standard relational database table model to store data in rows and columns.
  • Keys: Both platforms use primary and foreign keys to establish relationships between tables.
  • Syntax: Syntax between the two database platforms are similar, although there are some minor differences across different CRUD (create, read, update, delete) statements.
  • Web-based popularity: Aside from Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server and MySQL are the most common databases used for web applications. When you sign up for hosting, you typically get a choice between MySQL databases or SQL Server.
  • Drivers: You can find connection drivers for almost any popular language on the web, so you can easily connect to both platforms without writing complex code.

Microsoft SQL Server vs. MySQL: Differences

While the two platforms are similar in the interface and basic relational database standards, they are two very different programs and operate differently. Most of the differences are in the way they operate in the background, and these differences are not seen by the average user. As long as the database performs well, it can be used with your project. However, it’s still important to know these differences because they’ll play a huge role in your developer’s choice platform.

  • Native compatibility: You can use either database with both Windows and Linux projects, but MySQL works natively with PHP and MSSQL is mainly used with .NET. It makes integration simpler if you stick with MySQL for PHP and MSSQL for Windows projects.
  • MyISAM and InnoDB: Both of these engines are configurations for MySQL and allow the developer to perform very different design and programming. With MSSQL, you create a database and don’t specify different engines.
  • Cost: SQL Server is generally expensive to run, because you need licenses for the server running the software. MySQL is free and open-source, but you’ll pay for support if you need it.
  • LINQ: With MSSQL, you can set up your entity framework classes in .NET and get started with LINQ queries. With MySQL and .NET, you need to download third-party provider tools.
  • IDE tools: Both platforms have IDE tools, but you need the right tool with the right server. MSSQL uses Management Studio and MySQL has Enterprise Manager. These tools let you connect to the server and manage settings and configurations for security, architecture, and table design.

Which One Should You Use?

The database you use usually depends on the hosting environment you choose. Linux hosting providers usually offer MySQL. Since MySQL is open-source and free, you can have as many databases as you need. You can have 10 of them to support 10 different projects if need be.

Because SQL Server costs money for licenses, Windows hosts will give you one MSSQL database and you must pay for additional ones. Overall, this makes SQL Server more costly than MySQL. However, SQL Server works natively with .NET applications, so it’s the choice for software that runs on a Windows server or desktop. The development tools are free, but the production environment is not free.

The best way to determine the right platform is to first post your project in the marketplace and discuss your requirements with a few developers. You will get different opinions and preferences based on the developer’s area of expertise, but most Windows developers work with MSSQL and Linux developers work with MySQL. You should decide which environment you want to target, and then you can get a clearer idea of which platform is right for you.

This article originally appeared in Upwork.

This article was written by Jennifer Marsh from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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