The 5 Best Free Replacements for MySQL Server

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In this article you’ll learn what are the best free RDBMS replacements for MySQL Server, what they have in common, how they’re different, and in which cases you should prefer one or the other.

MySQL has become one of the world’s most popular database engine. It is also found and supported on the majority of web hosting providers around the globe as standard. But sometimes your first choice doesn’t always work out.

These days there are plenty of Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) in the market. Some focus on specific areas, others just aim to be a complete replacement. MySQL is probably the most popular choice, but it is only one of them.

Relational databases remain at the heart of many different types of applications. In helping you make the right choice for your use-case, below we outlined 5 standout replacements for your MySQL Server.

1. MariaDB

MariaDB

MariaDB is an enhanced drop-in replacement of the MySQL database management system. It is fork of the MySQL developed by MariaDB foundation, and is being led by original developers of MySQL.

Above all, MySQL and MariaDB are almost the same, have the same directory structures and syntax, and same performance. But MariaDB comes with numerous inbuilt powerful features and many usabilities, security and performance improvements that you cannot find in MySQL.

Aside from standard engines supported by MySQL, users would also be able to avail of a large number of alternative database engines for special application scenarios.

MariaDB becomes the main database distribution on many Linux distributions and it’s getting high popularity these days. It’s getting features that are close to the enterprise needs like encryption, hot backups or compatibility with proprietary databases.

MariaDB is a fork of MySQL, so the database structure and indexes of MariaDB are the same as they are with MySQL. The upshot of this is that your applications will still work if you switch, because the way that the data is organized doesn’t need to change.

MariaDB team is making sure that MariaDB can seamlessly replace MySQL in the existing applications. You can do a mysqldump on your current MySQL database and use the output to load all your data into MariaDB. One goal of MariaDB is to be fully compatible with MySQL so you can usually shutdown your existing MySQL server, copy the data folder over to your MariaDB install, and start it up.

2. PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL, also known as “Postgres,” is an open-source object-relational database management system (ORDBMS). It is a fully open source database system released under its own license.

From the very beginning, PostgreSQL has aimed to provide a very robust and feature complete SQL compatible storage. Postgres advertises itself as “the most advanced open-source relational database in the world”. MySQL on the other hand made some compromises in return for performance its early years.

When choosing PostgreSQL as a MySQL replacement, performance should not be a factor. Differences are negligible. In addition, both platforms are also perfectly capable of replication. Therefore, it’s worth it to consider the other advantages of Postgres over MySQL.

Postgres is an object-relational database (ORDBMS), while MySQL is a purely relational database (RDBMS). This means that Postgres includes features that are not available in MySQL, but which can be important to certain applications. In addition, Postgres also adheres more closely to SQL standards.

Postgres supports a number of advanced data types not available in MySQL. Also, PostgreSQL is extensible. You can add your own datatypes, operators, and index types. In other words, it doesn’t just store information about tables and columns, but lets you define data types, index types, and functional languages.

To convert from MySQL to PostgreSQL you can use pgloader. It is a database migration tool for moving data to PostgreSQL, making the process both simple and robust. PGLoader supports migrations from several database engines like MySQL, MS SQL, and SQLite.

However, keep in mind that for simple, read-heavy workflows, Postgres might be a worse choice than MySQL.

3. Firebird

Firebird

Firebird is a relational database offering many ANSI SQL standard features. It offers excellent concurrency, high performance, and powerful language support for stored procedures and triggers. The latest Firebird version adds support for built in replication.

Firebird is well enough suited for embedding it into an application, but also perform extremely well on a standalone server with higher data volumes. It is super-fast, small and easy. Firebird is often compared with PostgreSQL that is much bigger in size, even if it almost has the same functionalities.

So, why is Firebird not as popular as MySQL? The answer is simple. At the time of web server and web application boom, Firebird wasn’t ready to be a web server database backend. MySQL was simply in the right place at the right time. Soon, each ISP had PHP and MySQL support and the LAMP platform was conceded. As it often happens, those first on a new market quickly take it over, and it’s really hard for others to take that marketshare away.

The key Firebird advantages over MySQL are:

  • Firebird is really free and community driven project. MySQL is owned by Oracle.
  • Firebird is really reliable. There are no index or table corruption problems so often with MySQL.
  • Firebird’s database is just one file with .fdb file’s extension. So it’s easy to move or backup database by zipping or moving the file.
  • Firebird has very small installation package. It supports embedded mode. Therefore installation of server is not required when working with local files.

So, it can definitely be said that Firebird can be a reliable replacement for MySQL.

4. Microsoft SQL Server Express

SQL Server Express

SQL Server Express Edition is a free edition of SQL Server. As you know, Microsoft releases the Linux version of its popular RDBMS database, SQL Server. It is a piece of good news for Linux users since they can now deploy MS SQL Server on top of the Linux system.

Microsoft SQL Server Express is the entry-level, free database and is ideal for building desktop and small server data-driven applications. It can be also used in production.

SQL Server Express has deep integration with Visual Studio, Visual Web Developer and SQL Server Management allowing for ease-of-use and rich table and query designers. It may be the best choice for someone who develops in the Microsoft environment.

However, SQL Server Express comes with some technical restrictions in place that are unsuitable for large-scale deployments. You should be aware of the following limitations:

  • The maximum database size is 10 Gb
  • No support for the high availability configurations
  • Limited support for management tools
  • No support for the disaster recovery configurations
  • Limited support for performance tuning tools
  • No support for encryption and compression
  • SQL Server Agent is not available

As you see, there are significant limitations. So, you might ask what for would anyone use it at all? The short answer is: it is for low budget needs, regarding to the fact that SQL Server Express is completely free to download, distribute and use.

Therefore, you need to consider things carefully before making decision to choose SQL Server Express as a MySQL replacement.

5. SQLite

SQLite

SQLite is a self-contained, serverless relational database management system. It is a database, which is zero-configured, which means like other databases you do not need to configure it in your system.

SQLite is an open source lightweight database, with no requirements of a server or installation. The lite in SQLite means light weight in terms of setup, database administration, and required resource. Despite its simplicity, it is laden with popular features of database management systems.

A typical SQLite database is contained on a single file on the disk storage with all the database objects (tables, views, triggers, etc.) included in that file.

Supported datatypes is a large difference between MySQL and SQLite. SQLite only has five primitive data types: NULL, INTEGER, REAL, TEXT, and BLOB. On the other hand, MySQL is a lot more flexible. It supports a wide variety of data types, including different numeric types, date and time types, and string types.

One of the main drawbacks of the SQLite to act as a MySQL replacement is its lack of multi-user capabilities. With MySQL, different users may be created with a range of different permissions, while with SQLite user management is not a capability and therefore not supported.

Another big disadvantage of SQLite is its handling of writes operations. SQLite is only able to handle one connection. This can be a major bottleneck for applications that require concurrency.

As we mentioned above, SQLite is serverless whereas MySQL is not. Therefore, if portability is of a concern, go with SQLite. However, if you want any real degree of concurrency or require higher levels of security as well as user permissions management, MySQL wins over SQLite.

Conclusion

So, as is with many other IT solutions, the most popular choice is not always the best choice. You need to choose the one which best fits your needs.

We hope this article has helped you by providing a thorough description of each of the aforementioned databases which can help you in making an informed decision.

Know of any other free RDBMS replacements for MySQL that you think should have made the list? Make your case in the comments below.

7 Comments

    • Yes, it’s a really a great option. Percona is fully compatible with MySQL, so generally speaking, it also can be used as a drop-in replacement for the MySQL.
      Thank you for the suggestion, Alejandro!

  1. “But MySQL comes with numerous inbuilt powerful features and many usabilities, security and performance improvements that you cannot find in MySQL.”

    Pardon? MySQL comes with features, that you can’t find in MySQL???

    So… sqlite as a replacement for MySQL???
    Are you kidding???

    • Hi,

      Thank you for the remark! It has already been corrected.
      Yes, for some use cases, I believe it can be a replacement for MySQL.

      • Thanks!
        But… Sqlite (IMHO) is not a real RDBMS. It is a SQL interface for an in memory db (roughly).
        Yes, if someone uses MySQL for a wrong task, then yes, he/she can use sqlite instead of it. But in a multiuser environment, with transactions etc., where MySQL could be a good choice… I doubt…

        Ps: many times I try to post my comment, I get a 503 error…

  2. The article author should have also mentioned that these Microsoft SQL Server Express tools..”Visual Studio, Visual Web Developer and SQL Server Management ” don’t run on Linux.

    Many of SQL Server and therefore Express version SQL commands and functions are not ISO compliant, and will not work in a Linux directory Server environment like 389 Directory server or any other non-proprietary directory environment designed and configured for Windows server alone.
    Enen as near as March 2020 just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the USA badly, SQL Server and SQL Server express ran ridiculously slower on Linux than other databases in comparison, and experienced considerably greater reliability issues – during a SUSE Linux Expert Days exposition in NYC.

    These critical factors should have negated a Microsoft database included for a Linux OS server.

  3. The Author should have mentioned Oracle XE edition, it’s a totally free version of the Oracle Database, with replication, encryption, in-memory acceleration and a few other features you have to pay for in the paid versions of the Oracle database. It’s is limited to only 12G of disk space, but that is 2G more the MS SQL Server Express. You all get all the management tools, like SQL Developer and Oracle Enterprise Manager.

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