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MariaDB strengthens its position in the open source RDBMS market
The DBMS landscape in 2009
When Monty Widenius forked MariaDB from MySQL in 2009, the open source database landscape looked quite different to what it is today. MySQL, co-founded by the same Monty Widenius, was the clear ruler of that space, and most people that needed a powerful and free DBMS saw little reason to look any further.
But then, Oracle announced to acquire Sun, and with that the rights of MySQL. Monty was not the only one wondering whether Oracle was a trustworthy owner of MySQL, considering that the successful open source model was becoming an ever-bigger threat to the commercial offerings of Oracle. Certainly, having the option of MariaDB as a drop-in replacement for MySQL under a more community-oriented ownership was a big relief for the many people who shared these concerns. No surprise that MariaDB very quickly became an important player in the DBMS scene. Several of the big Linux distributions switched from MySQL to MariaDB as their default DBMS. Early technical improvement by the MariaDB team helped to gain publicity when well-respected projects such as Wikipedia started to use MariaDB, citing performance gains as one of the main reasons.
That leads us to a very interesting situation today in the open source RDBMS market. That picture, of course, would be incomplete without mentioning PostgreSQL, the third big player here. PostgreSQL always had the most fanatic followers any project could wish for, but they more and more extended their reach far beyond that group. After all, PostgreSQL is our DBMS of the Year 2017, gaining more popularity in that year than any other system.
But also Oracle did a better job as steward of MySQL than many had feared. One can only speculate what would have happened to MySQL without the pressure imposed by MariaDB and PostgreSQL, but fact is that there is very active development today. For example, MySQL always lagged behind others when it comes to implementing the SQL standard, but the upcoming version will provide improvements such as Windows Functions and Common Table Expressions. These are features that MariaDB and PostgreSQL already offer, and Oracle certainly invests effort to catch up, or at the very least to prevent falling further back. MySQL also follows the trend to more and more include features that are typically provided by NoSQL systems, e.g. support for JSON data type.
MariaDB initially had a focus on enhancing existing MySQL features, for example its Aria storage engine is meant to be an improved MyISAM implementation. They quickly looked beyond MySQL for new feature development, offering functionality that was not available in MySQL at that time. More recently, MariaDB is very active in broadening its scope either by developing new components or by acquiring DBMS technologies and merging them into their system. Examples of that are the MariaDB ColumnStore, originally InfiniDB, the TokuDB high-performance storage engine, the Open Query GRAPH computation engine for supporting tree structures and graphs, the Sphinx storage engine to enable advanced text searching and the Spider storage engine enhancing support for distributed databases.
Today, MariaDB can no longer be said to be a drop-in replacement for MySQL. It may still work for applications that don't use any of the new database features because they are still to a certain extend compatible on API and file level. However, even in those cases, the long list of differences in system variables would require extensive testing, and in many cases readjustments of the system configuration to make an application work as before.
MariaDB in the future
In the long run, this growing incompatibility is not a bad thing. After all, developers will benefit much more from the fierce competition between the systems than from the ability to switch between two different implementations of the same feature set.
The DB-Engines Ranking shows that MariaDB has established itself as one of the big three open source RDBMS systems together with MySQL and PostgreSQL. One could also include SQLite in that group, because that system is also hugely popular, but as an embedded database library, they are really playing in a different league. It would be no surprise at all if we see the popularity of MariaDB keep growing much further.
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