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If you set up a dynamic website, you'll need a database to hold all of the content you create. MySQL has risen to prominence because it's free and open source. Most of the hosting packages we've reviewed and rated offer MySQL support, and most of the scripts and applications hosts provide are compatible with this popular relational database management system (RDBMS).

Why MySQL?

When you shop around for web hosting, you'll see a variety of database types mentioned in the specs. The most common are arguably:

  • MySQL, the subject of this article
  • MS SQL, the Microsoft take on a structured query language database
  • MS Access, although this is suitable only for very limited scenarios
  • Oracle, which is a long standing product; it made its first official appearance in 1979
  • PostgreSQL, a Unix and Windows database management system

Across the board, MySQL has the advantage of cross-platform compatibility. It runs on the majority of web hosting accounts and desktop computers, unlike MS SQL and MS Access, and its known for its excellent security features.

MySQL is robust enough to handle large datasets, including websites for enterprise level organisations, yet it's easy enough for a beginner to pick up when they're just learning how to blog. It's also very fast because of the way it stores its data, making it ideal for shared web hosting and other hosting services, where every millisecond of load time counts.

In terms of sheer numbers, MySQL's main boost has come from its compatibility with PHP (and other languages), Linux and Apache. Most Linux web hosting providers offer MySQL with these three components. This is the main reason that MySQL has been downloaded or distributed more than 100 million times, and it's the reason many web hosting customers come into contact with it.

History of MySQL

MySQL was initially released in May 1995. It was developed by David Axmark, Allan Larsson and Michael Widenius; the latter has a daughter called My, which is how the project got its name.

The database technology is open source, and it's owned by MySQL AB. MySQL AB is a company registered in Sweden, but it was bought by Sun in 2008 for $1 billion. Sun was acquired by Oracle two years later, which is how MySQL came to exist under the Oracle brand.

The majority of users download MySQL for free, or use it as part of a web hosting package. It's open source. If the free license does not suit your intended use, you can purchase a different license directly from its parent company. For most web hosting customers, the free version will suffice.

Functionality

MySQL offers a variety of tools for database management, querying and optimisation. Users can search through their data, select from a range of storage engines and see an information schema describing the structure of the data. If you just want to set up an application and forget it, you only need to create the database, the user and the password; usually, your script will handle the rest, and MySQL will tick over in the background unassisted.

For very large databases, look for a web host that provides solid state drives (SSDs). Hard drives generate the biggest bottleneck for MySQL, so the instant access of solid state storage removes the potential for slowdowns and crashes. SSD hosting tends to be more expensive and could potentially be more prone to error, so make sure you have a back up routine in place. (Using WordPress? You could also check out some other ways to speed up your site.)

When you connect to MySQL on your web hosting account, you'll almost certainly use the command line application - mysql. For a beginner, working in this manner can be intimidating. There are various graphical user interfaces for MySQL that make the job easier, but you'll have to go looking for them. If you plan to work with databases for any more than the basics, and you don't use the command line often, a graphical interface is the best option. MySQL produces its own application, Workbench, and the open source edition is free.

For additional features in MySQL, users can opt to pay for a licence. The free version of MySQL is adequate for most web hosting clients, and supports the vast majority of commonly used applications and scripts.

System Requirements

MySQL has different requirements depending on the platform it's installed on. For official guidance, refer to the MySQL manual for your version.

MySQL Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some good reasons to use MySQL?
    MySQL is a database that runs on a wide majority of web servers, and its main purpose is to host all of the custom content you create on your website. In today's modern era of website development and hosting, it is very difficult to conceive a scenario where you will not need a relational database. MySQL is flexible, secure, and can handle database sets of all sizes. While you can use other databases with Linux, Apache, and PHP-based servers, MySQL is the most common database you will find matched up with that server software.
  • Are there any reasons not to use MySQL?

    Yes. While the majority of web hosting servers are built using Linux and can run MySQL, there are some server types that play better with other database solutions. Although MySQL is compatible on Windows-based servers, you will often find MS SQL to be the database of choice on those servers, as it is a Microsoft-built database solution. Aside from compatibility issues, however, you will be hard pressed to find reasons NOT to use a MySQL database on your website.

  • What are the alternatives to MySQL?

    There are several alternatives to MySQL on the database market, but none are as flexible as MySQL. On Windows-based servers, you will still find MS SQL used from time to time - the Microsoft alternative to MySQL. Some Unix and Windows servers will also use PostgreSQL as their database platform over MySQL to handle multiple custom data sets and custom programming requests. MySQL is still the most commonly used database system on the Internet, but there are alternatives out there based on need.

  • What are the requirements for MySQL hosting?

    MySQL is most commonly deployed with a Linux operating system that powers Apache webservers and PHP scripting languages. While MySQL can often be instantly deployed on Windows and Unix-based platforms, the computers that power the database do have minimum hardware requirements of 2 CPU cores, 2 GB of RAM, and a writeable database. You will also need a minimum of about 2 GB of minimum disk space to be able to run MySQL's service manager and the monitoring agent. In today's virtual web hosting environments, none of these requirements should be too difficult to meet.

  • Do I need to be concerned about installation?

    Probably not. While we can't provide you with step-by-step insights on the procedures of every web hosting provider listed on our website, we can say that most providers offer MySQL as a database solution "out of the box" - meaning it is included with your plan. Unless you are specifically using a Windows or Unix server with MS SQL or PostgreSQL, the chances are very high your database is MySQL. If you require some custom modification to your MySQL database - then the installation may be something you have to be concerned about. Otherwise, it should already be operational when you log in to your hosting account the first time.

  • What does self-hosted mean? I don’t have to run a server myself, do I?

    Self-hosted servers and their associated platforms do not require YOU to personally own the server and manage it to host your site. Instead, self-hosted simply means that hosting is not provided directly by the development team that created the software and systems you are using to run your MySQL database. If you are using MySQL as part of your website hosting, it will probably already be installed when you get access to your server.

  • Do I need managed hosting in order to use MySQL as my database?

    The answer to this question depends on your answer to the question "how much responsibility are you willing to accept for the maintenance of your website?" The more complex your hosting environment becomes, the greater your need will be for professionally managed services. Shared hosting often comes with some managed services included - and since it is highly likely that your shared hosting plan includes a MySQL database, you may have nothing to worry about with shared hosting. If you have a dedicated hosting solution, however, your plan may (or may not) have managed services included. Consider adding it to your package if you are not familiar with how to manage a MySQL database. To be fair, this is the case with any self-hosted database platform - not just MySQL.

  • Can I host a MySQL database on a shared hosting plan?

    Yes. The majority of shared hosting plans are built on a Linux operating system with Apache web servers and PHP scripting languages. MySQL is the preferred database solution to group with this server configuration. If you don't know what type of database you are using to power the custom content of your website, the chances are very high that you are using MySQL. While you may have stricter limits on things like the storage space on a shared hosting plan because of the way those servers pool resources, you will probably be using MySQL as your database.

  • Do I have to know how to program to use MySQL?

    It sure would help. You can setup a MySQL database as part of almost any one-click installation of a content management system or script. There are situations where programming capability will help you manage content stored in your MySQL database, but it certainly is not a requirement to use the database. Many control panels come equipped with a content management system for your databases. If you have the ability to navigate different CMS solutions with confidence, you shouldn't be too far behind in the know-how to manage your MySQL databases.

  • How does MySQL compare to MSSQL as a relational database?

    If you even have the choice between MySQL and MS SQL as a database, then it is safe to assume you are using a Windows server. This assumption can be made because MySQL was developed as an open source solution, and MS SQL was developed as a Microsoft-specific database solution. Because of these two core differences, the two databases have differing feature sets: MySQL is more flexible, cheaper and uses several storage engines, and MS SQL is more secure and fully featured for Windows systems.

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