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What is PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL is a database management system (DBMS) that’s designed to compete with applications such as MySQL and MS SQL, two popular Linux-based and Windows-based Structured Query Language (SQL) solutions. Used to store, sort, edit and serve data stored in databases to websites, applications, and more, this open-source, relational DBMS enjoys growing support among developers and hosting providers alike.

The term "database management system" (DBMS) may not be at the forefront of your mind as you choose a hosting provider for your website, but a DBMS is more integral to most websites than you might think. These applications are invaluable in the storage, editing and serving of data big and small to apps and websites around the Internet.

For anything other than the most basic static HTML website, using a DBMS is essential for storing data. You may have heard of other DBMS solutions like MS SQL or MySQL. Many popular CMS (content management system) applications, including WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, all store their data using MySQL. The data that’s stored includes not only blog posts, but individual headlines, comments, users, numerous post revisions, and more.

The majority of hosting providers offer comprehensive support for industry favorites such as MS SQL and MySQL, the premier Structured Query Language (SQL) DBMS for Windows and Linux servers, respectively. However, alternative open-source solutions like database veteran PostgreSQL are growing in both popularity and availability.

What Makes PostgreSQL Different?

Billed as "The World's Most Advanced Open-source Database," PostgreSQL is a powerful, flexible, and absolutely free DBMS. Descended from a research project begun in the '70s at the University of California, Berkeley, PostgreSQL has offered SQL support since the mid-'90s.

PostgreSQL’s open-source nature has led to many crowd-sourced refinements and performance enhancements over the life of the application, as well as extensive documentation available online. The PostgreSQL License also gives all users the ability to adapt and modify the source code to their needs, making it ideal for complex, customized uses.

PostgreSQL has many features that other DBMS solutions lack:

  • The ability to define your own custom data types, as well as built-in JSON, XML, and others
  • Multi-index queries (queries multiple columns without having to create an index to combine them)
  • Ability to interface with PostgreSQl databases using the language of your choice: C/C++, Java, .Net, Perl, Python, Ruby, and others.
  • Save space automatically by zipping data with TOAST (The Oversized-Attribute Storage Technique)
  • Many extensions available for added features

While MySQL might be a popular solution for bloggers, PostgreSQL has come to be the most popular relational DBMS by far among database programmers. It’s won numerous awards over the years, including several Linux Journal Editors' Choice Awards for Best Database, and was praised by the Database Hacker's Handbook as "probably the most security-aware database available."

PostgreSQL is used primarily for commercial websites and applications because of its power, flexibility, scalability, and ease of use. Many well-known, large companies around the world with thousands of gigabytes of data and millions in revenue depend on PostgreSQL for the database management, including Etsy, Skype, CloudFlare, and oDesk. It’s used to manage all kinds of data in a variety of industries, ranging from aeronautical design, to medical records and billing, to managing ticket sales and promotional data for big sports organizations.

Implementing PostgreSQL in Your Website

If you're planning to develop applications or need to manage a large amount of data, PostgreSQL is free and available for public download. Adding it to your web server should be relatively straightforward, providing your hosting package meets the requirements. Most modern servers, whether Linux- or Windows-based, should be able to run PostgreSQL. Many hosts also offer native support for PostgreSQL as a part of their hosting packages.

Support for languages such as Perl and Python is optional, but packages are available to integrate them with the DBMS. Remember to check with your host before adding any application or service you think might not be supported by your hosting package or server.

PostgreSQL Frequently Asked Questions

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