If you need advanced SQL support, strong data integrity checks and excellent performance under heavy loads, PostgreSQL is likely the better choice. But if you want an easy to use database with flexible schema and great community support, MySQL is hard to beat.
Both PostgreSQL and MySQL are mature open source databases with overlapping capabilities. But depending on your specific needs, one may be a better fit than the other. Let‘s dive into the key differences that help determine when to use PostgreSQL vs MySQL for your next project.
History and Origins
Understanding the origins of PostgreSQL and MySQL provides insight into their differing philosophies and design principles.
PostgreSQL was created at the University of California at Berkeley by Professor Michael Stonebraker and has been under constant development since 1986. The initial database was named POSTGRES and was conceived by Stonebraker as a next generation successor to the Ingres database. In 1996, POSTGRES was renamed to PostgreSQL to reflect its support for SQL.
Key milestones in PostgreSQL history:
- 1986 – POSTGRES project started at UC Berkeley
- 1989 – Version 1 of POSTGRES released
- 1996 – PostgreSQL 7.0 released, adding SQL support
- 1996 – PostgreSQL released as open source
- 2001 – PostgreSQL 8.0 added window functions, CTEs, and multiversion concurrency control
PostgreSQL is maintained by a large developer community and is overseen by the PostgreSQL Global Development Group. It has benefitted greatly from its constant evolution over 30+ years in academia.
MySQL originated in Sweden in 1995 with version 3.19. It was created by David Axmark, Allan Larsson, and Michael "Monty" Widenius as a lightweight alternative to existing databases which were perceived as bloated, slow and expensive. MySQL was designed from the outset to be easy to use, nimble and low cost.
Key milestones for MySQL include:
- 1995 – MySQL 3.19 released
- 1999 – MySQL AB founded to commercially distribute MySQL
- 2008 – Sun Microsystems acquired MySQL AB
- 2010 – Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems
In 2010, Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, which had previously acquired MySQL AB, the company behind MySQL. Development of MySQL continues under Oracle, along with a fork named MariaDB led by some of the original MySQL developers.
So in summary, PostgreSQL has its roots in academia and benefits from constant evolution over 30+ years while MySQL was designed from the beginning to be a simple, fast, low-cost database option.
Licensing and Cost
Both PostgreSQL and MySQL are open source databases, so the core software can be used without paying license fees. However, there are some key differences in the licenses:
PostgreSQL uses the permissive PostgreSQL license which allows companies to use, modify, and distribute the software freely, even in proprietary products. No attribution is required.
MySQL uses the GPL license which also allows free use and distribution of the software. However, companies who modify the MySQL source code are required to release their modifications under the GPL as well. This "copyleft" provision discourages some companies from using MySQL.
In addition to the core open source databases, both PostgreSQL and MySQL offer commercial distributions which include extra tools, plugins, technical support, and other services:
PostgreSQL – Key commercial options include EnterpriseDB Postgres Advanced Server ($5,000 per server per year) and Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL ($0.12 per hour)
MySQL – MySQL offers MySQL Enterprise Edition ($5,000 per server per year), MySQL Cluster Carrier Grade Edition (pricing unavailable), and Amazon RDS for MySQL ($0.11 per hour)
So while the databases themselves are free, there may still be commercial costs around enterprise features, support, and cloud hosting that should be factored in. Overall, PostgreSQL provides more licensing flexibility while MySQL is more restrictive.
Features and Capabilities
PostgreSQL and MySQL share many common features as traditional relational database systems:
- Support for fundamental SQL commands like SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE etc.
- ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) compliant transactions
- Indexing for faster queries
- Client/server architecture
- Trigger and stored procedures
- Views, Cursors and other advanced SQL functionality
- Replication and clustering for high availability
However, there are also important differences in features and capabilities:
Object-relational vs Pure Relational – PostgreSQL supports additional data types, inheritance, user defined types, and other object-relational capabilities beyond a standard relational DBMS like MySQL.
Strict SQL Standards – PostgreSQL aims to strongly conform to SQL standards like ANSI, ISO, and SQL:2016. MySQL has historically implemented a subset of SQL which sometimes deviates from formal standards.
Data Integrity – PostgreSQL enforces stringent data integrity checks and constraints by default. MySQL has fewer automatic checks which provides flexibility but also risks data corruption issues.
NoSQL Capabilities – PostgreSQL offers some NoSQL capabilities like JSON support, XML support and key-value storage with HSTORE. MySQL 5.7 added a separate non-relational JSON document store called MySQL Document Store.
Geospatial Data – PostgreSQL has robust native support for spatial data like geographic information system (GIS) data. MySQL‘s spatial support is more limited unless using geographic extensions.
Programming Languages – PostgreSQL integrates with a wide array of languages like C/C++, Java, .NET, Python, Perl, Tcl, ODBC, among others. MySQL has fewer language drivers and APIs available.
In summary, PostgreSQL offers stronger adherence to SQL standards, stricter data integrity checks, and more advanced non-relational capabilities. MySQL aims for speed and simplicity over strict consistency.
Performance is often one of the most important considerations when choosing a database platform. Both PostgreSQL and MySQL can deliver great performance for web and enterprise applications. However, PostgreSQL has some advantages for more intensive workloads:
Read/Write Speed – PostgreSQL offers very fast reads using MVCC. Writes are also decently fast though MySQL edges out PostgreSQL in write performance.
Throughput – PostgreSQL maintains higher overall throughput with heavy workloads and complex queries due to its efficient query optimizer and index usage. MySQL throughput degrades more rapidly under load.
Scalability – PostgreSQL scales very well vertically with the number of CPUs and amount of RAM available. MySQL doesn‘t take advantage of additional resources as effectively.
Data Warehouse/Analytics – For analytics or data warehousing, PostgreSQL performs significantly better for intensive queries across large datasets according to benchmarks:
|TPC-H Power Test SF-100
|Selects per second
So PostgreSQL is the winner for heavy OLTP workloads as well as analytics and data warehousing applications, thanks to its advanced SQL capabilities and performance optimizations. MySQL is better suited for lighter workloads.
Data Integrity and Durability
All major relational databases aim for strong data integrity, durability and protection against data loss or corruption. PostgreSQL goes above and beyond in providing rock solid reliability:
ACID Compliance – PostgreSQL adheres closely to ACID principles with transactions that pass the acid test. MySQL has improved but still lags PostgreSQL in robust ACID support.
Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC) – PostgreSQL uses MVCC to provide strong read consistency while preventing writers from blocking readers. MySQL primarily uses row or table level locking which reduces concurrency.
Transaction Atomicity – PostgreSQL transactions offer "all or nothing" atomicity that prevents partial completion of failed transactions. MySQL behaviour is less predictable when errors occur.
Data Constraints – PostgreSQL enforces strict data types, constraints, foreign keys and other validation by default to prevent bad data. MySQL is more flexible which impacts data quality.
The bottom line is that PostgreSQL offers some of the strongest data integrity mechanisms of any database system. It adheres closely to ACID principles and provides excellent transactional reliability. MySQL has improved in recent years but still lags behind PostgreSQL for mission critical data.
Ease of Use
Both databases aim to be reasonably user-friendly to work with, but overall PostgreSQL does require a bit more expertise:
Administration – PostgreSQL administration is more involved compared to the simpler approach of MySQL. PostgreSQL requires deep knowledge of indexes, query tuning, memory configuration, etc.
Installation – Getting up and running with MySQL is very straightforward. PostgreSQL installation is not overly difficult but does require some additional steps and configuration.
Maintenance – Ongoing maintenance tends to be more challenging with PostgreSQL. Tasks like backups, upgrades, high availability and performance tuning require higher skill levels.
Tooling – MySQL Workbench and client tools are bit more polished and user friendly compared to pgAdmin and other PostgreSQL tools.
Community Support – As one of the world‘s most popular databases, MySQL has an enormous community with tutorials, examples, and support readily available. PostgreSQL community is also strong but smaller.
So MySQL generally wins when it comes to simplicity and ease of use for developers and DBAs. PostgreSQL is more complex but don‘t let that scare you – it‘s capabilities may be worth the extra learning.
Both databases enjoy widespread popularity across a diverse range of industries and companies. However, MySQL does have considerably higher adoption rates, especially amongst startups and smaller companies.
Some key popularity metrics:
DB-Engines Ranking – MySQL is #1, PostgreSQL is #4
GitHub Stars – MySQL has over 50K stars, PostgreSQL has 17K stars
Stack Overflow Questions – MySQL has over 175K questions asked, PostgreSQL around 45K
Notable Users – MySQL boasts users like Facebook, Google, Adobe, Twitter, Uber, Netflix, YouTube. PostgreSQL also has big users like Apple, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, Spotify, IMDb.
The simpler feature set and greater ease of use makes MySQL more appealing for many smaller organizations. But PostgreSQL adoption amongst startups is growing quickly too. And PostgreSQL remains very popular amongst enterprises that require advanced SQL support.
Given the various strengths and weaknesses of each database, certain use cases tend to favor PostgreSQL or MySQL:
PostgreSQL tends to be better for:
- Complex business intelligence and analytics
- Applications with high concurrency and contention
- Applications requiring rock solid data integrity
- Data warehousing, IoT sensor data, time series data
- Geospatial and scientific applications
MySQL tends to be better for:
- High traffic web/mobile applications
- E-commerce sites where read speed is critical
- Applications where horizontal scaling is needed
- Situations where flexibility trumps strict consistency
- Embedded databases/software
Both databases can be used for nearly any purpose, but their sweet spots based on unique capabilities and performance tradeoffs align with the above profiles.
PostgreSQL and MySQL both offer robust relational database solutions for web and enterprise applications. Choosing between them really depends on your specific priorities.
If you need advanced SQL support, rock solid data integrity checks, complex analytics, and fast performance under heavy loads – PostgreSQL is likely the better choice. The unrestricted licensing is also a plus for many organizations.
But if you want a flexible SQL database that is easy to use, simple to get started with, and has great community support, then MySQL is hard to beat. Its high-scalability architecture also suits many modern web and mobile apps.
By understanding their origins, differences, and ideal use cases – you can determine whether PostgreSQL or MySQL is the better choice for your next project!