What is MySQL?

Is the MySQL database tool right for end users?

MySQL is an open-source relational database management system primarily used for online applications. MySQL can create and manage databases filled with useful data, such as employee information, inventory, and more, just like the popular Microsoft Access database.

While Microsoft Access, MySQL, and other databases serve the similar purpose of housing data, their uses are vastly different.

What is MySQL?

MySQL is a relational database. This means that the data housed within the structure is capable of recognizing relationships among stored items of information.

MYSQL database.

Every database contains tables. Each table (also referred to as a "relation") contains one or more data categories stored in columns. Each row contains primary and foreign keys for the categories defined within the columns.

For example, suppose you have a database that includes a table with employee information such as:

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

And another table in that database stores payroll information such as:

  • Position Name
  • Position Salary
  • Position Hourly

These two tables will be able to relate to one another. How? 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 the MySQL relational database.

Microsoft Access vs. MySQL

The Microsoft Access database includes a handy, user-friendly GUI to enable users to input data, but the MySQL database does not have a user-friendly GUI. Although there are plenty of third-party tools designed to enter data into database tables, such as MySQL Workbench and phpMyAdmin, they can be difficult to understand for beginners.

So why use MySQL if users cannot easily input data into database tables?

The MySQL database is primarily used as a means to house data for large, web-based applications. Websites like WordPress, Facebook, Netflix, and others use the MySQL database to store data on their external or internal websites and services. What does that mean for the average user? It means that you probably indirectly use MySQL every day.

MySQL and Linux

MySQL first came to be 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.

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. MySQL works seamlessly on the Linux platform and can be easily installed on nearly any Linux distribution you choose.

Requirements to Run MySQL

Chances are, you're not going to directly run MySQL for everyday use. Why? Because to run MySQL, you 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 tool to efficiently view and make use of the data.

Relational Databases for End Users

MySQL wasn't designed for end-user use. Unless you need to harness the power of a server-driven relational database, your best bet is to look toward a solution like Microsoft 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, store them on your computer, and manage them from built-in GUI tools.

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