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PostgreSQL vs MySQL: Which One Should You Choose?

August 7, 2023

Let’s see the sparring match between two database titans and see why people choose one, or the other, or something else entirely. After all, whoever does the numbers, runs the show.

At some point, every big-shot developer will ask themselves a question: what exactly is the difference between PostgreSQL vs MySQL. In reality, no one asks this question, but if you’re just getting into relational databases and data types, it’s good to have an overview of what you might be dealing with next. This teeny-tiny article will explore your options.

Oh, and don’t worry that it has little to do with no-code. Getting a hang of databases and how they work will be very valuable regardless. Directual itself runs on NoSQL, which we spoke about at some point. 

Anyway, let’s roll.

Introduction to databases

Data, simply put, is a bunch of facts and observations. 

Developers weren't always bright enough to realize its importance, but as the internet stitched the world closer, it dawned on them that they couldn't just treat data as an optional add-on anymore.

Now, businesses are cashing in on data big time. They dig into it to size up their prospective clients, to understand what they're capable of, to dodge risky ventures, and so much more. Yes, that’s why every website out there is hungry for your cookies, marketing details, habits, and so on. That’s how the buck is made. 

This obviously demands tougher databases to keep up with all that information. Now, we're going to dig into the two heaviest hitters in the open-source database arena: PostgreSQL and MySQL.

What is PostgreSQL?

The World's Most Advanced Open Source Relational Database”. If no one pats you on the back often enough, might as well do it yourself!

Let's rewind 40 years. 

A trailblazer named Michael Stonebraker, the brains behind the Ingres project, ditched Berkley to spin a proprietary version of Ingres. Then he circled back to Berkley to kickstart a post-Ingres project to deal with a bunch of headaches other databases were having at that time.

That's the project we now call PostgreSQL—in case you wondering why its name is so funky.

It came packing a bunch of features to handle multiple "object-relational" data types, including rules to keep tables in a healthy relationship and data replication across servers. PostgreSQL first stepped onto the scene as version 6.0 on January 29, 1997. And since that day, a mixed bag of developers, support companies, and some volunteers have kept the database software ticking over under its open license.

It's an open-source, object-relational database management system that isn't just compliant with SQL, but also crammed full of features. Plus, you can stretch it to fit whatever enterprise tools you need. It was built to run smoothly and you can slam it into just about any software.

A niche PostgreSQL meme you will eventually get if you’re not familiar with the database just yet

PostgreSQL leans towards object-oriented programming, which means you can tweak data types to make your own custom types. And it's pretty much got your back with any database. It is everywhere, sneaking into the top five most used databases, right on the tail of MySQL. Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs, and Nokia have PostgreSQL buzzing away in the background.

This thing isn't picky about industries. It's open to all comers. Let's look at a few ways PostgreSQL is being put to work today.

Web tech: PostgreSQL isn't a one-trick pony. It's not just a relational database, it can also double as a NoSQL-style data store. You can have the best of both worlds - relational and document-oriented - all in one product. It can roll with modern frameworks like Django (Python), Hibernate (Java), Ruby on Rails, PHP, etc. With its replication ability, you can scale up your website to include as many database servers as you need.

Government GIS data: PostgreSQL has this cool extension called PostGIS. It's got a bunch of functions to handle different geometric shapes like points, line strings, and it's been fine-tuned to keep disk and memory use on the low side, which gives query performance a boost. Services like electricity, emergency response, and water infrastructure rely heavily on GIS to track their crews and direct them to the right places, often in pretty gnarly conditions.

Manufacturing: Lots of manufacturing industries need data storage facilities that can keep up with high demands. That's where PostgreSQL can optimize supply chain performance. It's ACID-compliant and can be set up for automatic failover, full redundancy, and near-zero downtime upgrades. Given that Oracle's new license policy is putting the squeeze on smaller businesses, PostgreSQL is becoming the go-to choice.

Scientific data: Scientific projects can crank out terabytes of data, which need to be handled well. PostgreSQL has strong analytical chops and a powerful SQL engine, so processing big piles of data won't be difficult. It's also easy to expand PostgreSQL. You can hook in Matlab and R to carry out various math functions.

Key features of PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL isn't just any database management system, it's a heavy hitter with a ton of perks. It's praised for being full of features, impressively reliable, high-performing, super flexible, and simple to replicate.

Let's see why:

Reliability

PostgreSQL has support for foreign keys, stored procedures, joins, and views in a slew of languages. It's down for storing photos, sounds, and videos. Being open-source means it's got a whole team of developers constantly hunting for bugs and making it better.

Thanks to its write-ahead logging feature, it can brush off faults with ease, which comes in handy for online backups and point-in-time recovery. You can wind back to any point covered by the WAL data with an old physical backup database installed.

Also, this "physical backup" doesn't need to be a fresh snapshot of the database state. Even if it's old, replaying the WAL log for the required time can iron out any internal inconsistencies.

Replication

Built-in synchronous replication is part of the PostgreSQL package, ensuring the main node waits for each write until a copy node has recorded the data in its transaction log. 

The persistence of the transaction can be set per database, session, and user, regardless of its synchronicity. This speeds up the transaction since it doesn't need to check if the transaction is reaching a synchronous standby, particularly helpful when some workflows don't need these guarantees.

Scalability

Talking about extensibility, it's all about planning for growth. 

PostgreSQL is a master of this. It works catalog-driven, storing info in databases, columns, tables, etc. Plus, the just-in-time (JIT) compilation of expressions means you can write your codes from different programming languages without having to recompile your database and define your data types. This flexibility to tweak any operation on-the-fly makes it ideal for bringing new storage structures into play.

As an open-source project, PostgreSQL lets you tweak the code across platforms, meaning you can shape it to work on whatever platform you like, be it Windows, Solaris, OS X, or Linux. It can also handle multiple users at once, only blocking concurrent updates of the same row.

What is MySQL?

PostgreSQL vs MySQL: an elephant vs a dolphin. Place your bets.

MySQL was birthed by a Swedish company, MySQLAB, in 1995, thanks to the brains of Michael "Monty" Widenius, David Axmark, and Allan Larsson. Then, Sun Microsystems swooped in and bought up MySQLAB.

MySQL was designed to give businesses and home users alike a reliable way to manage their data. Alpha and beta versions of the platform were out in the wild by 2000, and most of them played nice with the big platforms.

Around that time, they threw open the source code. This let third-party devs come in and make major tweaks to the system. Of course, going open-source meant kissing some revenue goodbye, but they managed to get it back as MySQL started getting more attention.

They hit a mind-blowing 2 million active installations by the end of 2001. To give you an idea of scale, that's almost as many people as there are in Slovenia! In 2002, they spread their wings and opened HQ in the US. By that point, the platform was already boasting 3 million users, pulling in $6.5 million in revenue. And it's just been snowballing since then.

Overall, it's a straightforward relational database system. It's both efficient and user-friendly, making it a name you'll often bump into in tech circles. Armed with SQL, you'll be able to wrap your head around a bunch of Structured Query Language (SQL) concepts to whip up some powerful data storage systems. 

The best part? It's free and open-source, but it also comes in a few proprietary flavors if that's your thing.

Too soon?

Key features of MySQL

MySQL server is made to handle intense workloads - it's multithreaded and designed to multitask. It uses both transactional and non-transactional engines and doesn't break a sweat during installation. It's liked by users for being easy, dependable, and quick.

Now you know how MySQL came to be, let's look at what it offers.

User-friendly

MySQL is loved for its simplicity. It offers features like triggers, stored procedures, and more. It's packed with useful utilities, including a backup program, an administrative client, and a GUI. Beginners can navigate the options with the GUI, making it a popular choice.

Flexibility

MySQL can handle big projects securely. It's adaptable to changing environments, and since it's open-source, you're free to play with the code. MySQL is fast, reliable, and inexpensive due to its unique storage engine design. It loads quickly thanks to cache memory.

MySQL has improved its performance over time with features like B-tree disk tables with index compression, optimized nested-loop joins, and thread-based memory allocation. It provides additional performance benefits for multi-user concurrency with row-level locking and constant reads.

Security

MySQL, like PostgreSQL, sticks to the ACID model, making transactions safe. It protects data with point-in-time recovery and auto-commit.

If there's a crash, the system recovers to the last checkpoint, avoiding data loss. The open-source community is there to help with issues and bug fixes.

It also maintains data integrity with foreign key constraints. It uses a password system to ensure a secure interface, checking the password based on the host before accessing the database. Passwords are encrypted during connection to the server.

Scalability

MySQL is free, open-source, and can be coded in various languages. The MySQL connector/NET links data to the database, and Connector/J offers MySQL support for Java client programs. A client library written in C is available for clients using C or C++, or languages with C bindings.

It provides APIs for several languages and is a preferred cross-platform database system that can be used in Linux, Windows, Solarix, and more. Its wide compatibility makes it scalable.

Users can freely use and modify MySQL's open-source licensed code. The open-source community is there to quickly fix any bugs or security issues. MySQL provides user groups, forums, and support to promptly resolve problems while educating users about the database.

MySQL is a big deal in web applications, with many servers depending on it. Not just for WordPress, but other non-WordPress businesses like Joomla, TYPO3, and Drupal use MySQL as their go-to database.

Here's how MySQL shows its reliability:

OLTP transactions

Transactions need speed and precision both. MYSQL can handle thousands of queries per second. Transactions must stick to Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, and Durability (ACID). MySQL follows these ACID principles, making it safe for important transactions. If a system fails mid-transaction, it goes back to a checkpoint.

LAMP open-source stack

MySQL is a key part of many applications on the LAMP open-source software stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Python/Perl). LAMP is a go-to solution stack for web services, and is often chosen for dynamic websites and high-performance web applications.

E-commerce applications

MySQL is a common transactional machine for eCommerce platforms. It's handy for managing customer data, transactions, and product catalogs. In ecommerce solutions, MySQL is often used alongside other, non-relational databases, such as key-value stores for syncing order data, and storing non-product data.

PostgreSQL vs MySQL: a feature comparison

If you're still scratching your head about the right database for your business, this is where you'll figure out what you need. PostgreSQL and MySQL are both solid, but you’ll need pick the one that fits your demands like a glove.

Let's do a deep dive into how these databases differ.

Syntax

PostgreSQL and MySQL are more or less identical. 

That being said, MySQL is a bit of a slacker when it comes to supporting some subqueries like “LIMIT” or “ALL”, and standard SQL clauses like “INTERSECT” or “OUTER JOIN.” It's not as SQL-compliant as PostgreSQL which does play nice with all the aforementioned sub-queries. So, if your business is subquery heavy, you'd be better off picking PostgreSQL.

Supported languages

Both PostgreSQL and MySQL do well, but PostgreSQL beats MySQL with a wider selection:

  • C/ C++
  • Delphi
  • Erlang
  • Go
  • Java
  • Javascript
  • JSON (native since version 9.2)
  • .NET
  • Python
  • R
  • and more.

MySQL supports the following languages:

  • C/C++
  • Delphi
  • Erlang
  • Go
  • Java
  • Lisp
  • Node.js
  • Perl
  • PHP
  • R

Speed

A speedy database isn't just about making your website zippier, but also about easing up your server load by highlighting data trash you can kick out.

PostgreSQL and MySQL are both known speedsters. But, there's no undisputed champion here. Benchmark scores favor one or the other based on the test environment and the hardware used. Depending on the situation, one might be better at managing multiple tasks, while the other might perform better on a less powerful machine.

MySQL typically outpaces PostgreSQL on read-only commands but at the cost of concurrent operations. PostgreSQL, on the other hand, shines with read-write operations, large datasets, and complex queries.

Architecture

MySQL is a straight-up relational database, whereas PostgreSQL is an object-relational database. PostgreSQL has more advanced data types, and allows objects to inherit properties, which can make things complicated. PostgreSQL has a single, ACID-compliant storage engine, while MySQL has 15 additional storage engines besides its default, InnoDB. The choice of storage engine depends on your use case.

PostgreSQL creates a new system process for every new connection, consuming more memory with many connections. MySQL, however, uses a single process and maintains a single thread for each connection, making it a better fit for small-scale applications.

Performance

PostgreSQL is built to adhere to standards, be feature-rich, and extendable. Its performance has been on par—slower reads than MySQL but more efficient large data writes. Plus, PostgreSQL handles concurrent tasks better than MySQL.

The difference in capabilities between MySQL and PostgreSQL has been shrinking over the years. MySQL, especially with the old MyISAM engine, still does a fine job at reading data. It's also managed to tune up to match PostgreSQL's heavy data writing skills.

Don't make a fuss about performance when you're picking a tool for everyday applications. PostgreSQL and MySQL are nearly identical when it comes to performance.

Replication & Clustering

What this means is that they're basically copying data from one database to its duplicates, so everyone's got the same info. It gives you benefits like fault tolerance, scalability, auto backups, and long queries not messing with the main cluster.

Both MySQL and PostgreSQL can handle replication. PostgreSQL offers synchronous replication, meaning it's got two databases running and synced. You can even have synchronous and cascading replication with PostgreSQL. In MySQL, the replication is one-way asynchronous, meaning one database is primary, the others are copies.

They both do clustering too, which is using shared storage to duplicate data across each node in an environment. It helps databases handle failures because of the redundancy from duplicating data across different nodes.

Data & Table Structure

MySQL's got a leg up with JSON support, a top NoSQL feature. But PostgreSQL supports user-defined types, arrays, hstore, and XML. More data types mean more functionality. For instance, PostgreSQL takes arrays as a data type and has functions compatible with them.

A tell tale of MySQL table structures

Even though different data formats have their benefits, they can be a pain to handle since they don't follow a set standard. So, things that work with the database might not always fit with PostgreSQL formats.

SQL compliance

MySQL only half-heartedly supports it since it doesn't have all the features like the no check constraint. It does have a bunch of extensions, though. PostgreSQL supports a majority of primary SQL features — 160 out of 179 mandatory ones, to be exact.

Extensibility

PostgreSQL is a bit of a showoff in this regard. It supports advanced data types you won't find in MySQL — network address types, native UUID, geometric/GIS, indexable JSON, and timezone-aware timestamps. You can even add your own operators, data types, and index types. So, if your app deals with unstructured data or these unique data types, PostgreSQL might be your guy. But for basic numeric and character data types, either database should do the trick.

Indexes can speed up your SQL queries when dealing with big data tables and boost your database performance. Without indexes, your queries will drag and be a pain for the DBMS.

PostgreSQL and MySQL have their own indexing options. PostgreSQL has partial indexes, B-tree indexes, hash indexes, and expression indexes. MySQL has indexes stored on R-trees, B-trees, inverted lists, and hash indexes.

Security 

Both PostgreSQL and MySQL handle group and user management and SQL privilege granting. MySQL uses native window services, PAM, and LDAP for user authentication, while PostgreSQL uses IP-based client authentication and filtering with Kerberos and PAM. So, in security, they're pretty much tied.

Community

PostgreSQL has a bunch of volunteers providing free advice through mailing lists and IRC. You can also buy paid support from third parties. There are also PostgreSQL books and manuals to help you troubleshoot.

MySQL also has a big volunteer community providing free support. You can get this on the Percona and MySQL websites. Oracle offers 24/7 paid support with their commercial versions. There are also plenty of MySQL guides, books, and tutorials for troubleshooting.

Choosing between PostgreSQL and MySQL

Well, then. 

Choosing the right database for your application is a bit like choosing the right car for a road trip. You could go with a sports car if you want speed, or a SUV if you're expecting rough terrains. In the realm of databases, your sportscar could be MySQL—known for its speed. Your rugged SUV could be PostgreSQL—with its capabilities for handling both complex queries and high concurrency.

When to choose PostgreSQL

You're building a complex system: Maybe you're creating a system that's more than just storing and fetching data. Perhaps it's a scientific analysis tool or a sophisticated CRM that needs to crunch data and perform complex calculations. PostgreSQL's ability to define your own data types and create custom functions in various programming languages will he,p with that.

You're a stickler for standards: If you're someone who likes to follow the rulebook to the letter, then go for Postgre. It adheres to ANSI-SQL standards like a monk to his vows. It's got all the fancy SQL standard features in its arsenal.

You're building the next Uber: Dealing with location-based services? PostgreSQL, in tandem with PostGIS, can handle GIS (Geographic Information Systems) data no problem. It can manipulate geospatial data with ease, helping you deliver location-based services smoothly.

High traffic: If you're building an application with high traffic that'll have many users trying to read or write data simultaneously, PostgreSQL's concurrency control will be something ensuring proper speed even during peak hours.

When to choose MySQL

Quick: Need to get something up and running fast? MySQL.. It's fast, simple to set up, and even simpler to use. Especially if your application is read-heavy, MySQL is a speed demon.

Redundancy: If you're looking to create a system with excellent redundancy and backup facilities, MySQL can distribute your database across multiple servers and you can sleep better knowing your data is safe.

You've got a web project: MySQL's compatibility with PHP makes it a favorite for web development. If you're building a website or a web-based application, look no further.

Budget constraints: Working in a startup or a small business with just a penny to go around? MySQL is easier to manage, requires less computational power, and generally offers a more cost-effective solution.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it’s all pretty simple. Here we go:

Just don’t hav Excel or Google Sheets as your database. Most people figure out their tech stack by trying to build little things and seeing how they work. Of course, you expect to supplant mr. Musk and launch a proper Twitter some day, then PostgreSQL is your pick. Need something lighter for the time being? MySQL. 

For all other needs, there’s NoSQL, which is the backbone of Directual and every single one of its users. After all, why bother with databases when no bothering do trick?

Let us know if you’d like to learn more, or just say hello by shooting a message at hello@directual.com. Or, hop into our communities - the links are in the footer below.

FAQ

Is PostgreSQL better than MySQL?
Is PostgreSQL better than MySQL?

Look, there's no definitive "better" here. Each has its own strengths. PostgreSQL has robust features for complex queries and high concurrency, while MySQL is known for speed and simplicity. It's like asking if a screwdriver is better than a hammer - it all depends on what you're trying to do.

What is PostgreSQL good for?
What is PostgreSQL good for?

PostgreSQL shines in scenarios where you need more than just simple data storage. Complex systems, standards adherence, geospatial data handling, high traffic scenarios—you name it. If your project is more than just CRUD operations, PostgreSQL is a strong contender.

Does PostgreSQL have a GUI?
Does PostgreSQL have a GUI?

Yes, it does. pgAdmin is the most popular graphical user interface for PostgreSQL. It's open-source, full-featured, and you can manage your PostgreSQL databases from a web browser.

Is it easy to learn PostgreSQL?
Is it easy to learn PostgreSQL?

"Easy" is relative. If you're already familiar with SQL, you won't have a lot of trouble getting to grips with PostgreSQL. However, mastering its advanced features will take time and practice, as with any other complex tool. There are plenty of tutorials and resources out there, so you won't be alone in your learning journey. Or opt for a no-code platform using NoSQL—it’ll be even easier.

Do big companies use PostgreSQL?
Do big companies use PostgreSQL?

Absolutely. Companies like Apple, Cisco, Fujitsu, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration use PostgreSQL. Even tech giants like Uber and Instagram have utilized PostgreSQL at different stages of their development. So yes, PostgreSQL is definitely trusted by big businesses.

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