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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 Frequently Asked Questions

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