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September 16, 2021

MySQL vs SQLite: Features, Use Cases, and Performance Comparison

Databases
Open Source

For organizations looking for an open source RDBMS, MySQL is often at the top of the list. But for those who need something more lightweight, or have less complex data needs, SQLite can serve as a potential alternative. In this blog, we compare MySQL vs. SQLite, including a close look at differences in data types, performance, scalability, security, licensing, and potential use cases.

MySQL vs. SQLite Comparison

In our ongoing series of open source database comparison, we often overlook the little guy in the arena. Not every app out there falls into the category of big data, meaning not every app needs to be running highly-scalable databases like Cassandra or others. Some are working with far less data, and, as a result, a smaller and more light weight option can often offer a better fit. After all, why run a gigantic resource hungry database if all you need is a small, embedded database for your application?

 RelatedStructuredReadWriteConsistencyAvailabilityPartition Tolerance
SQLiteModerateModerateHighHighLow
MySQLModerateModerateHighHighMedium

Application size aside, there are a number of key differences between MySQL vs. SQLite – differences we explore in subsequent sections.

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Data Types

The types of data stored in databases can vary significantly. Some organizations use lots of different ones, some use only a handful of standardized ones. SQLite can store blobs, integers, text, real and null types. While this may not seem like much, it does meet the criteria necessary for the needs of some organizations and users. MySQL supports several of these data types as well as many more, providing for more options when it comes to data storage when compared to SQLite. But with that comes greater over head and resource costs.

Performance

SQLite is designed to be a self contained database that doesn’t require a server to run. The library for SQLite is a mere 250kb in size, compared to the 600mb size of MySQL. All info for SQLite is stored in a single file, making management and migration of the database easy as can be. MySQL will first have to be condensed into a single file, which, depending on the size of your database, can be a time consuming task. However, with this smaller footprint comes tighter restrictions on what it’s able to do. SQLite does not have multi-user management built into it, just the single file to be managed.

Scalability

Because of the size limitations of SQLite, it's not particularly suited to scaling.  If scaling is in your future at all, SQLite probably won't be your first choice.

MySQL is designed to grow, while SQLite does what it does, and it does it well, but within it’s own limitations. One of the down sides to SQLite is that as it grows so does its memory footprint, and optimizing performance becomes more difficult as SQLite grows in size.

Security

Because of the way SQLite is designed, its security is limited to the permissions set on the file at the operating system level. You must set your permissions so that only specific users can access the configuration file. MySQL on the other hand has a wide range of security features, and, because it allows for multi-user management, access to the database is easier to control for more people. SQLite does have a section of their documentation dedicated to security, and it’s highly advised you review it before implementing SQLite in your environment.

Licensing

According to their website, SQLite is part of the public domain. All code authors and representatives have signed affidavits dedicating their work to the public domain. Anyone is free to copy, modify, publish, use, compile, sell and distribute the original SQLite code. Because it’s in the public domain, it doesn’t require a license. But SQLite does offer a Warranty of Title to those who want/need legal proof they can use SQLite in their application environment. The company Hwaci can be contacted for any concerns regarding SQLite.

MySQL on the other hand is licensed under the General Public License (GPL). Anyone modifying the code for anything other than personal/internal use must also make their derived product under the same open source GP terms. By using MySQL you can either adhere to these terms or you can purchase a commercial license from Oracle that are valid between 1-3 years. These licenses are highly restrictive though and are on a per server basis.

How to Choose Between MySQL and SQLite

If your app just needs a simple, embedded database that will be managed by one user who has permission to do as they please with the database, then you like can get away with a simple SQLite implementation.

However, if you foresee your needs growing beyond the limitations of what SQLite offers, you should consider expanding into the feature set that is offered in products like MySQL. They can offer greater management over users, more room to scale vertically and horizontally, and provide better security overall.

Final Thoughts

There are a number of differences between MySQL and SQLite that should make it easy for teams to decide between the two. As we've outlined above, users can rely on SQLite when it comes to being easy to set up and use, portable and making use of simple SQL syntax.

MySQL, while also easy to use, provides a more robust set of features, better security, better performance at scale and overall better multi-user management. SQLite lacks these features and optimizations.

If you want to learn more about available open source databases, be sure to check out our Decision Maker's Guide to Open Source Databases

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