What is MySQL?

Is the MySQL database tool right for end users?

MySQL is an open source relational database management system that's primarily used for online applications. MySQL can create and manage databases filled with very useful data (such as employee information, inventory, and more), just like other databases, including the popular Microsoft Access. While Microsoft Access, MySQL, and other databases serve similar purposes (to house data), their use and usages are vastly different.

Let’s talk about MySQL.

MYSQL database.

As stated above, MySQL is a relational database. What that means is that the data housed within the structure is capable of recognizing relationships among stored items of information. Every database contains tables. Each table (which is also referred to as a relation) contains one or more data categories stored in columns (also referred to as attributes). Each row (also referred to as a record or tuple) contains a unique piece of data (otherwise referred to as a key) for the categories defined within the columns.

Say, for example, you have a database that includes a table for employee information such as:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Employee Number
  • Position

Now say there’s another table in that database that stores payroll information such as:

  • Position name
  • Position salary
  • Position hourly

These two tables will be able to relate to one another. If a column for employee 001 lists that person’s position as Writer, it can then relate to the payroll table to find out if that position is hourly or salary. That’s one way to think of a relational database.

This is where MySQL and Microsoft Access differ. Unlike Access, the MySQL database does not include a handy, user-friendly GUI to enable users to input data. Although there are plenty of third-party tools for this purpose (such as MySQL Workbench and phpMyAdmin), they tend to be more difficult than average users can handle. So why use MySQL, if users cannot easily input data into database tables? There’s the crux of the issue.

The MySQL database is primarily used as a means to house data for large, web-based applications. Websites like Wordpress, iStock, GitHub, Facebook, NASA, US Navy, Tesla, Scholastic, Spotify, YouTube, Netflix, Glasses Direct, Symantec (and so many more) make use of the MySQL database as a means to store data on their external or internal websites and services. What does that mean for the average user? It means that you indirectly use MySQL every single day.

There is a popular acronym in the tech industry: LAMP. That acronym means Linux Apache MySQL PHP and is one of the most popular web server “stacks” on the planet (a “stack” is a stack of software that interacts together). MySQL works seamlessly on the Linux platform and can be easily installed on nearly every distribution.

MySQL first came into being In 1995. Shortly after that, MySQL was developed to work for the Linux operating system. On January 8, 1998, a version of MySQL was released for Windows, which led the way for the WAMP stack (Windows Apache MySQL PHP). So, even if you’re not familiar with Linux, you can still make use of the power found in MySQL. If you’re a fan of macOS, there’s a version of MySQL for that platform as well.

Chances are, you’re not going to be using MySQL for everyday usage. Why? Because to run MySQL in such a fashion you would need:

  • A server to host the database
  • The database installed
  • An understanding of the MySQL command line
  • A third-party tool to efficiently input data
  • Another third-party to to efficiently view and make use of the data

MySQL simply wasn’t designed for end user-level usage. Unless you need to harness the power of a server-driven relational database, your best bet is to look toward a solution like Access, Filemaker Pro Advanced (an Apple-centric database program), or LibreOffice Base (an open source alternative to MS Access). With either of these tools, you can create databases (which are stored locally on your computer) that can be managed from a built-in, simple to use GUI tool.

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