Five Critical Differences Between MySQL and MariaDB

  • MySQL is much older than MariaDB. MariaDB is a relatively recent fork of the MySQL project.
  • MySQL is available under GPL or proprietary license. MariaDB is fully licensed under GPL.
  • MySQL is owned and distributed by Oracle. MariaDB is entirely open-source.
  • MySQL is autonomous of other systems. MariaDB tracks and mirrors the current version of MySQL.
  • MariaDB is often faster than MySQL.

MariaDB vs. MySQL: two forks of the same project, but that doesn't mean they're the same. In this guide, you'll learn more about the difference between MySQL and MariaDB, and discover which one is better suited to your needs

Table of Contents

  1. MariaDB vs. MySQL: What Are They?
  2. MariaDB vs. MySQL: Main Technical Differences
  3. MariaDB vs. MySQL: Which RDBMS is Best For Enterprise
  4. MariaDB vs. MySQL: Integration

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MariaDB vs. MySQL: What Are They?

Around 79% of websites on the open internet use Linux, Apache, and PHP, three pillars of the LAMP stack.

The M in LAMP can refer to either Oracle's MySQL or the community- developed MariaDB. These two popular RDBMSs are forks of the same project, with very similar architecture.

What is MySQL?

Before the dotcom boom of the mid-90s, two proprietary systems dominated the world of databases: Oracle Database and Microsoft SQL Server. In 1995, a small Swedish software company released a new product that would change everything: MySQL.

MySQL was small, light, and worked well in a UNIX or Linux environment. But what really helped it thrive was the innovative dual-licensing model. MySQL was free for use under the terms of the Gnu Public License (GPL), but commercial development required a proprietary enterprise license.  

The 21st century saw the rise of Web 2.0, mostly powered by the LAMP stack, with MySQL providing the necessary data management services. MySQL went on to become the default RDBMS for open-source content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. 

In 2010, Oracle acquired MySQL, and they continue to operate a dual-license model. 

Popular features of MySQL include:

  • Multi-platform: MySQL runs on Windows and Mac OSX, and it is a default component in several Linux distros.
  • Multi-language: MySQL is most commonly associated with PHP, but it also supports Java, C++, Python, Ruby, Perl, Haskel, Tcl, and Eiffel.  
  • Flexible storage engine: MySQL uses the InnoDB storage engine as default, but developers can use plug-in storage engines for greater flexibility. 
  • Multi-version concurrency control (MVCC) and ACID compliance: These features are part of the InnoDB storage engine, and may not be available with other engines. 
  • Fast performance: MySQL is lighter than some rival RDBMSs. While this means that some functions may be absent, it also means that performance is much faster, especially when handling high volumes of read-only transactions.
  • Cloud-ready: MySQL deploys almost anywhere, making it a favorite for cloud-based applications and services. 

Some of the biggest companies in the world use MySql, including Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, Uber, Pinterest, Slack, and Airbnb. 

What is MariaDB?

MySQL became a major rival to the main players, Microsoft and Oracle. So, when Oracle acquired MySQL in 2010, it looked like it might be the end of the road for the open-source RDBMS. 

The founders of MySQL immediately got to work on a fork of the project named MariaDB. The goal was not to create a new database system but to create an alternative that could serve as a like-for-like replacement if Oracle discontinued MySQL or made it a fully proprietary product. 

In the end, Oracle did neither of those things. The open-source version of MySQL continues to this day. But MariaDB found an audience that connected with its licensing model and community support. 

The main features of MariaDB are:

  • Full MySQL compatibility: MariaDB performs a monthly code merge with MySQL to ensure ongoing compatibility.
  • Plug-in replacement for MySQL: MariaDB's data files are generally compatible with MySQL's relevant versions, including similar filenames, paths, and data and table definition files. 
  • Full GPL licensing: While there are some restrictions on commercial development as per GPL's terms, MariaDB is fully covered by the public license.
  • Extensive community support: MariaDB has a thriving developer community that offers support and works on future versions. 

Several prominent MySQL users have switched to MariaDB, including WikipediaGoogle, and Harvard.

MariaDB vs. MySQL: Main Technical Differences

On a surface level, there are few notable differences between these two RDBMSs. MariaDB still aims to be a drop-in replacement for MySQL, so there's a great degree of similarity between the two. 

But that doesn't mean that they're identical. Differences have appeared between them, and some might make a real difference to your choice of database. Here are a few of the most notable variations:

1) Deployment

MariaDB runs in a number of Linux environments, including Ubuntu, Debian, and CentOS. It's got native support for Windows, and you can get it running on Mac OSX by using Homebrew

MySQL deploys on a wider range of environments, including OSX, Solaris, and FreeBSD, as well as Linux and Windows.  

2) Data Types

MySQL includes a native JSON data type. This allows storage of JSON (JavaScript Object Notification) data in its existing format, rather than conversion to a string. This offers two significant advantages. First, MySQL can parse JSON-type data, and an invalid document will produce an error. Second, there is quick access to JSONs stored in this format. 

MariaDB chose not to add this datatype. There is a JSON datatype in MariaDB, but this stores the data as a LONGTEXT type. It's possible to perform a validity check on this datatype to see if it holds a valid JSON. 

3) Document Store

As part of the X Protocol, MySQL can now offer some document storage functionality. This functionality looks like MongoDB, although it uses different syntax and protocols, which means that it's not directly compatible with MongoDB. But still, it means that there is now a degree of NoSQL functionality built into MySQL. 

MariaDB hasn't implemented X Protocol and doesn't have native support for document storage. However, the CONNECT engine allows MariaDB to connect with other data stores and query them, extending the range of available data sources. 

4) Command-Line Access

Both of these RDBMSs include very similar command-line editors. However, they are no longer directly compatible with each other, mainly due to the implementation of X Protocol in MySQL. The MySQL editor allows scripting in JavaScript and Python, plus you can interact with the document store. 

MariaDB users will have to work with the MariaDB command-line editor, which is a simple shell that allows basic database operations. 

5) Optimized Views

Views are a kind of virtual table, drawing data from physical tables within the database. When you perform a query on a view, the view has to retrieve data from those physical tables. 

MariaDB optimizes these views so that it only queries relevant tables. MySQL doesn't have the same kind of optimization, so it may sometimes query tables unnecessarily, which can add to processing overheads.

6) Thread Pooling

In some database architectures, each connection requires the creation of a new thread. Thread pooling is a more dynamic way of handling this, where a pool of currently open threads are available for use. When you need to run a small query, you can use one of the open threads. 

Thread pooling is a standard feature in MariaDB. It does exist in MySQL too, but for now, it's only in the enterprise edition. 

7) Columnar Storage

MariaDB comes with the ColumnStore storage engine, which allows the creation of columnar databases. In basic terms, this is a regular database flipped sideways, so that it extends horizontally rather than vertically. 

This structure is immensely useful when dealing with large datasets spread over a number of physical volumes. The writing process tends to group rows together, which means that the system needs to keep jumping between volumes if you want to retrieve a single column. ColumnStore flips the alignment, which keeps the column data in one location. This feature is not present in MySQL. 

8) Segmented Key Cache

Segmented key caching is a MariaDB feature that can sometimes help it outperform MySQL. Both RDBMSs use caching, with processes often competing for access to the cache. When it is in use by one process, all other processes are fully locked out. 

MariaDB divides these locks into 64 segments, which can allow some processes to work in parallel. This improves overall efficiency while lowering process overheads. 

9) System Variables

As MySQL and MariaDB have diverged, they have developed a growing list of unique system variables. Some of these relate to functions that only exist on one platform. For example, MariaDB has several variables relating to engines that are nor present on MySQL. 

MySQL has some variables such as SUPER_READ_ONLY, which can set super users to read-only access, and TRANSACTION_ALLOW_BATCHING, which enables batching of statements. The MariaDB Foundation maintains a full list of incompatible system variables on its knowledge base. 

10) Temporal Data Tables

Temporal tables are views of historical data. For example, you may want to query a database but see values as they were this on this day last year. This can be useful for analytics, recovery, reporting, or data investigation.  

This feature does not exist on MySQL but is a part of MariaDB 10.5. The MariaDB implementation uses a much simpler syntax than that described in the SQL:2011 standard.

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MariaDB vs. MySQL: Which RDBMS is Best For Enterprise

Some of these technical differences might sway your decision one way or another when thinking about MariaDB vs. MySQL. But for most businesses, the most important factor will be the cost. That means looking at two things: licensing and support. 

Both the MariaDB and the community edition of MySQL are free to use for many purposes, such as:

  • Powering your website
  • Internal data storage
  • Building applications for distribution under GNU

If you want to start building commercial applications with either, then you'll need to look at an enterprise license of MySQL. 

The enterprise version of MySQL contains some premium features, many of which are freely available in the community edition of MariaDB. 

Both platforms offer two levels of service. First, you can engage with the developer community for advice and support. MariaDB, being a truly open source project, has a more active community, although MySQL's popularity means that there are plenty of people online who can offer advice. 

Both database systems offer premium support to Enterprise users. For MySQL, this means that you have support directly from Oracle. For MariaDB users, you'll have support from the people who built the latest version. 

Whichever option you choose, you'll have a fast and reliable pillar of your LAMP stack. From there, you can build scalable services that wow your customers. 

MariaDB vs. MySQL: Integration

Both of these platforms integrate fluidly with your analytics, business intelligence, repositories, and other data applications. All you need is a reliable data pipeline, powered by the best Extract, Transform, Load technology. 

Xplenty is the right platform to make the most of your data, with reliable, no-code integrations. Contact Xplenty to learn how our solutions can solve your data integration challenges.