What is MySQL?
MySQL is a database system used on the web. Basically, a MySQL database allows you to create a relational database structure on a web-server somewhere in order to store data or automate procedures. If you think of it in comparison to Microsoft Access, MySQL is what holds all of your tables, PHP acts as your queries (among other things), and your forms are basically web pages with fields in them. With all of this combined, you can create truly spectacular projects on the web.
MySQL is also open source in that itís free and falls under the GNU General Public License (GPL). Chances are, if you are getting your own web-page or already have one Ė your host supports MySQL and PHP. They are generally associated with (though not limited to) Unix/Linux based servers. If by chance you are considering getting your own page and want MySQL and PHP support, check out Dreamhost Ė Iíve been using them for years and they absolutely canít be beat.
Interacting with a MySQL database is a little weird as you donít have the tried and true WYSIWYG interface that something as easy as Microsoft Access affords. When creating tables, youíll either have to create them by using SQL Statements, or by using another open-source tool available online called PHPMyAdmin. PHPMyAdmin gives you an easy-to-use interface that allows you to create tables and run queries by filling in a little bit of information and then having the tables created for you. This is good if youíre either lazy, or donít feel like bothering with big and complicated SQL Statements.
In comparing MySQL to Access youíre going to have a truckload of differences. While MySQL isnít exactly tough to tackle (once the tables are created Ė youíre pretty much done with it), itís capabilities extend far beyond that of Microsoft Access when dealing with speed and reliability. Itís simply a better system Ė and it should be. Microsoft Access (as much as I love it) is only a desktop database system. And while a limit of 10-20 concurrent Microsoft Access users is fine for most small organizations Ė when youíve got a webpage getting 10,000 hits a day youíll need something that can handle all of those queries efficiently.
MySQL tables also have the luxury of using ďrealĒ data types Ė not those little fluffy ones you see in Microsoft Access. Need a text field that can hold over four billion characters? Not a problem, just use the LongText data type. Want the field to hold that many characters and be case-sensitive? Easy, just use the LongBlob data type. Need to store numbers from 0 to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 (for those of you who are curious, that would be over 18 Quintillion), then use the BigInt data type. Indeed, 18 quintillion is a big integer.
As you can see, the limitations of Access fall well within the capabilities of MySQL. This is one of the many reasons that huge webpages use MySQL to handle their millions of daily hits. Well, that, and itís free!
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