what is a sql database
July 8, 2020

What Is SQL Database?


SQL databases have been used for decades — and they're still in use today. In this blog, we give a basic overview of what a SQL database is and compare a few of the most commonly used ones: MariaDB, MySQL, and PostgreSQL (sometimes referred to as Postgres). 

Back to top

What Is a SQL Database?

SQL stands for Structured Query Language. It's used for relational databases. A SQL database is a collection of tables that stores a specific set of structured data.

The SQL database has long been the tried and true workhorse of the backend enterprise and at the heart of everything we do in this electronic age. SQL was created in the early 1970s at IBM as method of accessing IBM’s System R database system.

History of SQL Databases

The usefulness of being able to access several records from a single command that does not require specifying how to reach a given record was immediately recognized by the computing world. It was rapidly adopted as the basic query language for other relation database management systems, or RDBMS such as IBM’s DB2 and in 1979 Relational Software Inc.’s (now known as Oracle Software) Oracle V2 database server for Vax systems. Eventually in 1986 SQL was adopted by ANSI and ISO standards organizations paving the way for Microsoft SQL Server and the various open source databases we have on the market today.

The RDBMS that we used today rely on SQL as the engine that allows us to perform all the operations required to create, retrieve, update, and delete data as needed. From an open source perspective these RDBMSs include MySQL, MariaDB, and PostgreSQL as the most commonly used open source RDBMS in production today. Many Fortune 100 companies across several different business sectors including financial, retail, healthcare, and others have turned to these open source alternatives to drastically lower their total cost of ownership when compared to pay-for-play offerings, such as Oracle Database server and Microsoft SQL Server.

Which Database Is Right For You?

Get the ultimate decision-maker's guide to choosing open source databases, including SQL varieties.


Back to top

Examples of SQL Databases

MariaDB and MySQL

MariaDB and MySQL are binary compatible open source SQL Database servers that originally started as just MySQL. However due to concerns about the future of MySQL after being acquired by Oracle Software, MariaDB was forked from the project as its own entity but maintains its compatible with MySQL client APIs and protocols in addition to data and table definition files. 

This means that in most cases third party tools will work across both version and can generally be consider a drop-in replacement for either version. With the acquisition of MySQL, Oracle has been a fairly benign steward of the open source project and most of the concerns the community had in the first days of the acquisition have not come to pass, however some open source purists may still prefer MariaDB over MySQL.


PostgreSQL is an object-relational database management system (ORDBMS), instead of a purely RDBMS system like MySQL and MariaDB. This means that PostgreSQL data models can be based on relational database models but can also be object-oriented as well. In practice, that means we see PostgreSQL utilized in more complex and varied data models, while we see MariaDB and MySQL used for more lightweight data models.

Having evolved from the Ingres project at UC Berkley in 1982, PostgreSQL was created with the aim of adding the least number of features required to support all the major data types. This “biggest bang for the buck” mentality has continued to drive the development of PostgreSQL to this day. For the open source purist this is generally the database of choice as it is a true open source project over seen by the PostgreSQL Global Development Group, a not for profit organization that cannot be easily sold due to its formation. 

Back to top

What's the Future of SQL Databases?

In recent years, new technologies have emerged to meet the needs of database servers that can handle extremely large sets of data with extremely high throughout velocities without sacrificing stability or availability. NoSQL (Not Only SQL, or Non-SQL) databases have become increasing popular to meet these demands. NoSQL databases house their data differently that relational databases, utilizing JSON based or key-value databases to name a couple of the common storage types. PostgreSQL with JSON and its OORDMS based methodology is testament to the staying power of these NoSQL databases.

That said however, it will be a long time before the sun sets on the traditional SQL database. The degree that SQL databases are entrenched into our daily lives means these highly functional and robust RDBMS will be a mainstay of the enterprise for decades to come.

Get Guidance on Switching to an Open Source Database

OpenLogic technical experts are here to help you choose an open source database that's right for you, plan a successful migration, and provide tecnical support for all things database and open source. 


Additional Resources

Back to top