Fork in the road showing PostgreSQL vs. MySQL

Although the differences between PostgreSQL vs. MySQL lessen with each passing year, both database systems continue to offer distinct advantages for different use cases. In this guide, we’ll take a detailed look at the characteristics of PostgreSQL vs. MySQL – and why you might choose one DBMS over the other.

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Quick Comparison of PostgreSQL vs. MySQL

Use this quick comparison of PostgreSQL vs. MySQL to get a sense of their differences:

  • MySQL: MySQL has fewer features than PostgreSQL, but this allows MySQL to focus on system stability and processing speed – particularly for read-only queries. MySQL has a reputation for being the best solution for websites and conducting online transactions. The system is also compatible with a wide variety of pluggable data storage engines.
  • PostgreSQL: PostgreSQL offers more features and extensibility than MySQL. PostgreSQL was designed to offer MVCC (concurrent transactions) and ACID compliance from the ground up. It is compatible with the widest range of NoSQL formats and has a reputation for being the best solution for managing complex analytical processes on large data sets. It’s particularly good at processing concurrent read-write operations. 

It’s also important to note the similarities between PostgreSQL vs. MySQL which are growing with each subsequent release. For example, MySQL now offers certain features that were once unique to PostgreSQL such as:

  • JSON Compatibility
  • Common Table Expression (CTE) 
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) and Spatial Reference System (SRS) 
  • Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC) 
  • Window Functions 

Similarly, PostgreSQL offers specific features that were formerly unique to MySQL such as:

  • Logical Replication 
  • Declarative Partitioning 
  • Semi-Synchronous Replication 

Now, let’s look at both database systems in more detail.

Overview of PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is a highly-extensible database management system that offers more features than MySQL and other DBMSs. As an object-relational database management system (ORDBMS), PostgreSQL has native NoSQL support for JSON, XML, key-value pairs with HSTORE, and it allows indexing of JSON data for faster access. This makes PostgreSQL a popular choice when dealing with data that doesn’t fit into a relational format.

Compared to MySQL, PostgreSQL is better at processing complex, high-volume operations, and managing unusual database scenarios. Due to its catalog-driven operation, PostgreSQL allows you to define your own data types, functional languages, and index types – so you’re not limited to storing information in tables and columns. PostgreSQL also includes advanced MVCC capabilities that allow for greater efficiency when processing concurrent read-write operations.

Here’s a complete overview of the features and characteristics of PostgreSQL:

  • Free and open-source: PostgreSQL features a liberal open-source license that lets you freely use, modify, and distribute PostgreSQL how you wish. 
  • ORDBMS, not RDBMS: PostgreSQL is an object-relational database management system PostgreSQL, which means that it can manage both object-oriented and relational data. Therefore, your data does not have to match with traditional relational structures.
  • Extensible and customizable with many different languages: Users can extend PostgreSQL to suit their needs by developing custom plugins. Users have a lot of freedom to code custom functions for PostgreSQL using a variety of languages like, SQL, C, C++, Go, pgSQL, Python, Perl, and Tcl. Additionally, there are open-source projects that offer support languages like Java, Lua, R, and more.
  • Frequent updates: PostgreSQL released Version 13 Beta on June 25, 2020.
  • MVCC Features: PostgreSQL was the first database management system to offer multi-version concurrency control (MVCC) capabilities. 
  • Mature, responsive community: PostgreSQL boasts a large community of volunteers and developers (PostgreSQL Global Development Group) who maintain and update PostgreSQL. The same community provides support to fellow PostgreSQL users. Paid, third-party support is also available. 
  • Two-Times Database of the Year Award Winner: PostgreSQL won the DB-Engines Database of the Year Award two years in a row in the 2017 and 2018.

One of the most common ways users interact with a PostgreSQL database is through the free PostgreSQL administration tool, pgAdmin. Here’s how it looks:

Here’s how one user summarizes PostgreSQL on G2Crowd:

“PostgreSQL is one of the most stable and functionally rich open-source RDBMS. It performs really well while implementing complex queries. It is also convenient to shift your database architecture into PostgreSQL. Because of its ubiquity, you can find solutions to any issue you might face in the online community. PostgreSQL is offering an amazing amount of functionality for any database, let alone an open-source project. And in almost every case, the current functionality is just the first part of a long-term roadmap that the developers will continue to follow…”

“The business problem that I am solving with PostgreSQL was to query data for further processing. I was working on generating intelligent reports with data from an Alfresco Architecture whose data resided in a PostgreSQL database. The benefits I observed were, it was free to use and the queries functioned perfectly.”

Overview of MySQL 

MySQL is a relational database management system (RDBMS) with a reputation for speed, reliability, and general-purpose functionality. It is also the most popular database in the world and the most common database used for dynamic websites and web applications.

According to ScaleGrid, 39% of developers are currently using MySQL for their projects, making it the most popular DBMS in the world. This popularity is largely due to several factors: (1) MySQL is easy to use and learn compared to other DBMS systems; (2) some of the largest content management platforms on the internet — like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal — use MySQL for data management; (3) many cloud-service providers offer free or inexpensive MySQL hosting as well; and (4) it represents the “M” in LAMP stack (Linux, Apache HTTP Server, MySQL, PHP), so it’s readily available to web app developers. 

Here’s a complete overview of the features and characteristics of MySQL:

  • Free and open-source: MySQL is open-source software that anyone is free to use under the GNU General Public License.
  • Oracle owned and maintained: Oracle has owned and maintained MySQL since acquiring Sun Microsystems in 2010. 
  • Regularly updated: MySQL developers update MySQL with needed security upgrades and new features on a regular basis. MySQL 8.0.21 is the most recent version at the time of this writing, released on July 13, 2020.
  • Mature, responsive community: MySQL boasts a large community of highly responsive volunteers who help users troubleshoot and resolve problems. 
  • Reputation for reliability and stability: Database admins describe MySQL as a stable and reliable system, as this user notes, “…MySQL has been battle-tested for a long time. Any issues are known issues and we pretty much don’t have any problems when they’re in production. So it’s very stable.
  • ACID-compliant: MySQL is ACID-compliant for those using the InnoDB and NDB Cluster storage engines. 
  • Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC) through InnoDB: Once the domain of PostgreSQL only, MySQL now offers MVCC when using the InnoDB storage engine. MVCC is “a database design theory that enables relational databases to support concurrency, or more simply, multiple user access to common data in your database.”
  • Limited support for NoSQL: Since the release of Version 8, MySQL began offering NoSQL support for the JSON datatype only. 
  • Database of the Year Award Winner: MySQL won the 2019 DB-Engines Database of the Year Award.

Most users interact with their MySQL databases with the free, visual interface called WorkBench. Here’s how it looks:

Here’s how one user summarizes MySQL on G2Crowd:

“It is a totally free database manager that can be used by anyone who wants it, has a huge community where we can easily clarify any questions that arise, the line of learning is very versatile, and also it’s intuitive to the development of the databases we are designing. It is ideal for medium complex processes since the data processing within these databases is incredibly fast with respect to others. It also has a very useful viewer when it comes to locating the errors that have arisen in the data stored in the database of data …”

“With MySQL, I have developed and managed the databases of the different industrial processes that the company has had to carry, basically because of how simple it is and because of the security it guarantees us, in addition to having such a large community that quickly helps us solve any problems we have. Since using it, I have not had any problem with it, nor hang-ups inside the database, nor poorly executed processes between stored data.” 

Ask These Questions to Decide Between PostgreSQL and MySQL

Asking the following questions will help you decide between PostgreSQL vs. MySQL :

  1. Are you managing a lot of NoSQL (Non-Relational) data?

As a hybrid “object-relational database management system,” PostgreSQL supports object-oriented programming and relational programming at the same time. PostgreSQL lets you define objects and table inheritance, which helps efficiently manage complex data structures. 

PostgreSQL also offers the widest range of native NoSQL support for data types like JSON, XML, Hstore. It lets you define custom data types and functions as well. MySQL supports JSON only. If you plan to use other NoSQL formats, PostgreSQL is a better choice.

  1. Read-write operations or read-only queries?

PostgreSQL is ideal for complex read-write operations, especially when data needs validation. Meanwhile, the simplicity of MySQL allows it to process massive numbers of read-only queries faster and more reliably than PostgreSQL. By removing certain SQL features, MySQL stays light to prioritize the speed of concurrent, read-only functions. 

  1. Are you managing large volumes of data or a small cloud-based system?

There’s no limit to the size of your PostgreSQL databases. This DBMS can efficiently manage large data volume stores and complex queries on large databases. For example, this database administrator says that his company is managing “200k to 500k events per second across around 100 database servers, 500 PostgreSQL instances, and around 500 databases,” and the individual databases are several terabytes to 20 terabytes in size. 

MySQL works better with smaller-size databases. According to 365DataScience, “MySQL works more efficiently for small, cloud-based applications and systems, while PostgreSQL is more effective for companies working with big data and complex queries.”

  1. PostgreSQL vs. MySQL: Do you need data storage engine flexibility?

MySQL is an excellent choice when you want the flexibility to use different data storage engines. The flexibility of “pluggable” data engines lets you incorporate data from the widest variety of tables. MySQL is currently compatible with InnoDB, MyISAM, Memory, CSV, Archive, Blackhole, NDB/NDBCLUSTER, Merge, Federated, and Example. PostgreSQL is only compatible with its native ACID/MVCC engine.

  1. Is MVCC a core requirement?

PostgreSQL was the first DBMS to offer native concurrent processing through multi-version concurrency control (MVCC), which makes it the de facto choice when multiple readers/writers are interacting with a large-scale database concurrently.

MySQL also offers MVCC when paired with its default storage engine InnoDB. Therefore, choosing between these MVCC-capable database systems largely depends on the context. According to Ken Ejima on Hackermoon, “MySQL works best for online transactions, and PostgreSQL works best for append-only, analytical processes such as data warehousing.”

  1. Is ACID compliance a priority?

ACID compliance was built into PostgreSQL from the beginning, making it an excellent choice for those who need to prevent data corruption at the transaction level. MySQL is ACID-compliant as well, but only with its default storage engine, InnoDB, and the storage engine, NDB Cluster. InnoDB includes commit, rollback, and crash-recovery features for data protection. 

  1. Are you looking for a database system that everyone knows how to use?

Since MySQL is the most popular database system in the word, it’s easier to find database administrators with MySQL experience. Plus, learning MySQL from scratch is easier than PostgreSQL – especially because of MySQL’s extensive documentation and tutorials. 

Final Thoughts on PostgreSQL vs. MySQL

At the end of the day, PostgreSQL is usually the best choice when you want a feature-rich, extensible database that efficiently manages complex read-write operations on large datasets. On the other hand, MySQL is better for cloud and web-based applications, smaller datasets, and high-speed read-only queries. 

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example MySQL database provided to you as part of the trial!

Create a REST API Now

DreamFactory: Rapidly Connect to any MySQL or PostgreSQL Database

Connecting to a MySQL or PostgreSQL database is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Not only will you need to code a custom API, but you’ll also have to secure and manage the connection. This is where DreamFactory can help. The DreamFactory API manager instantly generates custom REST APIs for any MySQL and PostgreSQL database, applies role-based access control, and generates an API key for the connection.

Want to see how easily and quickly DreamFactory can connect to a database? Read Chapter 3 of our guide or start your free hosted trial of DreamFactory now!