Free or open source databases with commercial-quality features

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We tested six popular free or open source relational database management systems (RDBMS): Microsoft SQL Server Express, PostgreSQL, Oracle’s MySQL, MariaDB, Apache Derby, and Firebird SQL. We tested each product on ease of installation, documentation, features, management tools and performance using a log file containing more than one million records. Here are the individual results.

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We tested six popular free or open source relational database management systems (RDBMS): Microsoft SQL Server Express, PostgreSQL, Oracle’s MySQL, MariaDB, Apache Derby, and Firebird SQL. We tested each product on ease of installation, documentation, features, management tools and performance using a log file containing more than one million records. Here are the individual results.

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Microsoft SQL Server Express 2012

A free version of Microsoft’s popular SQL Server, SQL Server Express is targeted at smaller-scale applications, but it’s a feature-rich product that delivers many of the core functionality of the commercial version. It might not have high availability and clustering, but it does have an excellent management interface and performance was top notch. Inserting one-million-plus records took just over a minute, while the commercial version took 45 seconds. Retrieving 100,000 records took 10 seconds, compared to three seconds for the commercial version.

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MySQL

MySQL is one of the most popular open source databases. It was owned by Sun, and is now owned by Oracle, which bought Sun in 2010. Oracle has stated that it is committed to supporting and updating the community edition of MySQL, and the company has made several improvements to the way MySQL runs on Windows. In our testing, MySQL stood out based on its ease of use, security features and performance.

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MariaDB

When Oracle took over MySQL, there was concern about whether Oracle would continue to keep MySQL open source, so a group of developers created MariaDB, which is based on MySQL and published under the GNU public licence. MariaDB isn’t just a mirror image of MySQL, however. Developers are continually striving to build close-sourced features of the MySQL commercial edition into MariaDB, and to improve some of MySQL’s features. And, in our tests, MariaDB performed slightly faster than MySQL.

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PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is essentially a relational database, but with an object-oriented database model. Performance was nearly as fast as MariaDB and MySQL, but the biggest plus is PostgreSQL’s management interface called pgAdmin. We found that pgAdmin has a robust set of features that’s easy and intuitive to navigate.

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Apache Derby

Apache Derby finished in the back of the pack in our review. This is an open source relational database from the Apache project. Written in Java, it will run in any Java virtual machine and has a very small footprint, which makes it an excellent choice for embedding in Java applications, such as those running on PDAs or cellphones. In terms of performance, it did not deliver the speeds of MariaDB or MySQL, but the differences were not that great.

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Firebird SQL

Firebird SQL comes with a cross-platform management tool called FlameRobin, which we found to be not as feature rich as others in this test. We also ran into minor problems with documentation and permission issues. Performance also degraded as we moved from smaller data sets to larger ones. Overall, we were impressed some of the new features that have been added to an already excellent database, Interbase, but our sense is that Firebird is best suited to smaller installations.

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