Databases are essentially the backbone of any software. With several databases in the market and the increasing popularity of open-source databases, many developers and businesses share a common concern: How do you pick the right one?

In this article, we’ll be discussing the top two popular open-source databases — MariaDB and PostgreSQL.
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While PostgreSQL has been around for 20 years and is exceptional in terms of its stability, MariaDB has also proven itself as a great database system, forked from none other than MySQL, the most used database system. Both MariaDB and PostgreSQL support a ton of features like replication, good security, and much more for free.

If you’re torn between MariaDB and PostgreSQL, fret not. We’ll be exploring the various features of the databases, along with their use cases and — most importantly — their differences.

Let’s dig in!

What Is MariaDB?

The MariaDB logo, showing the text next to a stylized brown sea lion with a blue border.
MariaDB logo. (Image source: MariaDB)

MariaDB is an open-source, highly scalable database created by the founders of MySQL in 2009 after being acquired by Oracle. While it’s similar to MySQL, it has evolved significantly since its inception.

For starters, MariaDB offers improved performance in most cases and is fully GPL licensed. You can either use the open-source community version or request a quote for the enterprise version, which you may want to consider if you’re implementing your software on large-scale platforms or the cloud. However, all features are available in the open-source package and not exclusive to the enterprise version.

In addition to being a highly stable drop-in replacement for MySQL, MariaDB supports JSON and hybrid data formats allowing data to be easily stored, retrieved, and manipulated. The documentation for MariaDB buses and roadmaps is freely accessible as well.

What Is PostgreSQL?

The PostgreSQL logo, showing the text below a stylized blue elephant head outlined in black and white.
PostgreSQL. (Image source: Uberconf)

PostgreSQL is an advanced relational database system that has been around since 1997. It supports standards-compliant forms of transaction isolation, including serialization, read, committed, and repeatable read. These methods provide complete ACID compliance, thus making PostgreSQL a highly stable database that can do almost everything — including great extension support for NoSQL, React, and Redis, to name a few.

It’s backed by more than 20 years of development by the open-source community and undergoes frequent updates, which include the constant addition of new pieces of documentation. Not only can this documentation help troubleshoot or keep track of issues, but it’s also a great tool of reference to develop or improve upon PostgreSQL’s features for future documentation. Additionally, PostgreSQL is a very secure and reliable database, as all bug fixes go through several rounds of rigorous testing.

Main Features of MariaDB

MariaDB has several features that make it a great database, including its vast choice of storage engines, thread pooling, SQL compatibility, and parallel query execution.

Here are the highlights:

  • Storage engines: One of the features that make MariaDB stand out is the variety of storage engines to choose from. PBXT, XtraDB, Maria, and FederatedX are a few viable engine options and can be tailored to your requirements. It also houses InnoDB, a general-purpose storage engine known for balancing high reliability and high performance.
  • Thread pooling: A thread pool is a collection of worker threads that efficiently execute asynchronous callbacks on behalf of the application. When a request is made, MariaDB can simply obtain a previously created thread that’s already in the pool. This saves the time taken to create a thread and provides a solution to thread cycle overhead, allowing queries to run faster and return quicker results.
  • SQL compatibility: MariaDB offers support for the majority of SQL statements, variables, definitions, and functions through client programs (e.g. mysqldump, mysqladmin) and plugins (such as an audit plugin). Developers can also leverage JSON functions, window functions, and common table expressions (CTEs) in MariaDB.
  • Virtual columns: The support for virtual columns is one of the main features of MariaDB and can be used to perform calculations at the database level. When multiple apps access one column, users don’t have to write calculations in each app separately; the database does it on their behalf.
  • Parallel query execution: From version 10.0 on, you can execute several queries simultaneously without performance degradation, leading to faster task execution.

Main Features of PostgreSQL

In addition to being open-source, PostgreSQL boasts a variety of features. Partitioning, load balancing, and connection pooling all work with PostgreSQL to give it a considerable edge over its contemporaries.

Here’s a list of a few salient features of PostgreSQL:

  • Support for JSON data: The ability to query and store JSON allows PostgreSQL to run NoSQL workloads as well. If you’re designing a database to store data from multiple sensors and you aren’t sure about the specific columns that you will need to support the sensors, you can construct a table such that one of the columns adheres to JSON format to store the continually changing or unstructured data.
  • Robust extensions: PostgreSQL houses an impressive feature set that includes point-in-time recovery, multi-version concurrency control (MVCC), tablespaces, granular access controls, write-ahead logging, and online/hot backups. PostgreSQL is also locale-aware for case sensitivity, sorting, and formatting. It’s highly scalable in both the quantity of data it can manage and the number of simultaneous users that can be accommodated.
  • Data updates: Multiple forms of the federation, combined with replication, provide both push and pull technologies for nearly any kind of data system. These can be combined in different configurations to bridge database storage solutions, without requiring the ELT/ETL processing package. Data isn’t moved out of the source system at all, which means that the data is always up to date.
  • Test-driven development: PostgreSQL follows test-driven development, where every bug is met with a test, and code is written to satisfy the test. These tests are integrated so that bugs don’t reappear in future versions of PostgreSQL. A new update of PostgreSQL is only released when all the regression test cases pass.

MariaDB Use Cases

With its increasing popularity, MariaDB has proven to be an exceptional and reliable database system. It’s used as a backend database system for Samsung, Nokia, and even Walgreens!

What’s more, several existing softwares can be leveraged to migrate from MySQL to MariaDB, such as phpMyAdmin and WordPress, the world’s most popular content management system (CMS). These softwares allow you to extend the already flexible database solution even further.

Here are some excellent applications of MariaDB:

  • Smart transactions: MariaDB Enterprise supports smart transactions (i.e. hybrid transactional/analytical processing or HTAP) by combining row storage optimized for fast transactions with columnar storage optimized for fast analytics. With smart transactions, developers can enrich web and mobile applications with real-time analytics, which allows you to create more insightful customer experiences driven by compelling data.
  • Analytics: MariaDB can be deployed as a data warehouse or analytics database using columnar storage and massively parallel processing (MPP) to perform interactive ad hoc queries on hundreds of billions of rows without creating indexes — and with standard SQL (including joins). What’s more, MariaDB Enterprise implements a cloud-native storage architecture and can optionally use Amazon S3 compatible object storage to lower costs and take advantage of unlimited capacity. Users can analyze a massive amount of data without having to create an index for every potential query.

PostgreSQL Use Cases

With PostgreSQL’s versatility, it’s no surprise that giants like Uber, Netflix, and Instagram use PostgreSQL in their backend. Here are a few significant use cases of the database:

  • Geospatial database: When used along with the PostGIS extension, PostgreSQL supports geographic objects and can be utilized as a geospatial data store for geographic information systems (GIS) and location-based services. This can be invaluable in the development of location-based apps.
  • Backend database for LAPP stack: An alternative to the LAMP stack, LAPP stands for Linux, Apache, PostgreSQL, and PHP (or Python and Perl). PostgreSQL is part of the LAPP stack and is used as a robust backend database to run dynamic apps and websites.
  • General-purpose OLTP database: Many large enterprises and startups use PostgreSQL as the main data store to support their internet-scale applications, products, and solutions.

MariaDB vs PostgreSQL: Head-to-Head Comparison

Now it’s time to pit these two database solutions against each other. Let’s explore how MariaDB stacks up against PostgreSQL and vice versa.

Architecture/Document Model

Both MariaDB and PostgreSQL have relational database management systems (DBMs) as their primary database model.

Their secondary database model is the document store; however, only MariaDB can also incorporate graph DBMs.

Both MariaDB and PostgreSQL employ a client/server architecture model, where the server is responsible for managing the database files, accepts connections to the database from client applications, and performs database actions on behalf of the clients. The client or the frontend application typically performs the database operations.

Extensibility

Both MariaDB and PostgreSQL contain extensible architecture meant for customization. Users requiring certain additional functionality for their needs can implement it using shared libraries, which allow developers to customize the code to their liking.

MariaDB supports many different SQL modes, partitioning, database backup and restoration procedures, server monitoring, and logging. You can even create your functions, data types, operators, window functions, or pretty much anything else. Don’t see a feature you like? You can create and customize it from the source code itself, thanks to its open-source license.

Though PostgreSQL provides native support for JSON and XML, it can easily be extended. So, if you want to build a web service and use PostgreSQL as the backend database system or leverage Python map support for your business use case, you can go for it without having to worry about any hiccups.

What makes PostgreSQL so extensible is its catalog-driven operations. PostgreSQL retains all information about the columns and tables, along with details regarding the data types, functions, and access methods present.

Indexes

There are four main kinds of indexes in MariaDB, namely: primary keys (unique and not null); unique indexes (unique and can be null); plain indexes (not necessarily unique); and full-text indexes (for full-text searching).

PostgreSQL provides a wider range of unique index types to match any query workload efficiently, such as B-tree, hash, GiST, SP-Gist, GIN, and BRIN. PostgreSQL further supports function-driven indexes, partial indexes, and covering indexes that aren’t mutually exclusive, which means you can also use them all at the same time.

Additionally, both MariaDB and PostgreSQL offer support for full-text indexing and searching.

Language and Syntax

MariaDB and PostgreSQL both support various SQL statements, rules, functions, and procedures, along with a variety of database connectors, including C, C++, Perl, PHP, and Python, to name a few.

PostgreSQL can also implement common table expressions (CTE), language control structures (if, for, case, etc.), and structured error handling.

Partitioning

MariaDB offers support for partitioning through sharding with the Galera Cluster/Spider storage engine, along with horizontal partitioning of the table. This helps bolster MariaDB’s query performance. With MariaDB, you can also store frequently accessed recent data in a separate partition from your rarely referenced historical data, leading to increased access speeds.

PostgreSQL, on the other hand, doesn’t support any of these. Although we’re hopeful for what’s to come in the future, there’s not yet an option for table partitioning in PostgreSQL.

Speed

The database is the core of your website, and with servers accessing it frequently, the speed of your database mirrors the speed of your WordPress website. A fast website coupled with fast loading times can help boost your visitor count and website performance, which bolsters your business further.

Various plugins can help you get rid of redundant things, optimize, repair, and declutter your website, but it is suggested that you start improving your database with a great host. For example, Kinsta provides backups and weekly automatic database optimization. Hence, with a hosting provider like Kinsta, you won’t need the majority of database plugins, to begin with.

On top of this, with managed hosting with Kinsta, you no longer need to review the optimization or check the backups.

PostgreSQL possesses the capability of offering faster writes and reads, which makes it the recommended choice where turnaround time and speed of data access play a major role in the business operation. PostgreSQL is also the go-to choice when the volume of data to be handled by the database is substantial.

On the other hand, MariaDB houses an advanced thread pool capable of running faster and supporting up to 200,000+ connections complete with 12 new storage engines that allow it to go head-to-head with PostgreSQL in terms of query processing speed.

Monitoring and Administration Tools

Since databases are critical software components, there’s a vast multitude of tools to choose from for monitoring, administration, management, and troubleshooting purposes.

Basic Administration Tools

The following command line applications are great for basic administration tasks:

  • psql (PostgreSQL)
  • mysql (MariaDB, MySQL)

Since these tools come built in with their respective servers, both psql and mysql are always available, right from installation. Both psql and mysql have a command history that allows you to re-run previously executed commands and queries, as well as a set of built-in commands that can facilitate interacting with the database. For instance, psql uses the \d command to list all your databases, and mysql uses the status command to extract information like the server uptime and version.

MariaDB and PostgreSQL also offer the following official graphing tools:

  • pgAdmin4 (PostgreSQL)
  • MySQL Workbench (MariaDB, MySQL)

Performance Dashboard Tools

Apart from the aforementioned command line and graphing applications, both MariaDB and PostgreSQL also offer other, more highly specialized tools. One such tool is the PgHero, created by PostgreSQL as a comprehensive performance dashboard.

The PGHero dashboard, showing the menu and description below a blue title strip that says PgHero.
PGHero dashboard. (Image source: PgHero)

In MariaDB, you can leverage MySQL Tuner for the same purpose as PgHero. MySQL Tuner is a Perl script that can analyze your database statistics and setup to generate configuration recommendations.

Log-Parsing Tools

You can use log-parsing tools like MariaDB’s pt-query-digest to help you pinpoint slow queries. Pt-query-digest can analyze your logs and run test queries to identify the slowest queries so that you can optimize them accordingly.

PostgreSQL offers pgBadger for similar log-parsing purposes. It’s a fast and easy tool to analyze your SQL traffic and generate HTML5 reports complete with dynamic graphs.

Performance

MariaDB is deemed suitable for smaller databases and is capable of storing data in memory, a feature not offered by PostgreSQL. PostgreSQL, on the other hand, leverages an internal cache along with the server’s page cache for extracting frequently accessed data, which allows it to outperform MariaDB’s query cache.

PostgreSQL also offers various advanced features, such as partial indexes and materialized views, to optimize database performance. With materialized views, you can pre-calculate expensive aggregation and join operations and store the results in a table within a database, allowing you to improve the performance of complex queries that get fired frequently and access a large amount of data to obtain their results.

Partial indexes are generated on query results and not on every row of a table. In most cases, queries dabble with only a subset of the rows in a table, based on high activity/recency. If a partial index is generated for query results that come from those frequently accessed rows, it can lead to much faster query execution.

These features come in handy when you have a large dataset with various huge tables that need to be joined frequently to generate aggregates. Notably, however, these features are absent from MariaDB.

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Price

For MariaDB, the licensing cost is approximately $4,000/year. The actual price is based on the number of posts you make and the software you choose. MariaDB also offers a self-hosted, open-source option that works well for beginners looking to acquaint themselves with the vast world of MariaDB.

PostgreSQL is known as an on-premise, open-source platform that’s widely leveraged by developers worldwide for its ease of operations, versatility, and scalability. However, if you feel you may need frequent support, you can try out PostgreSQL’s commercial version, also known as EnterpriseDB.

Data Typing

MariaDB is more flexible than PostgreSQL in terms of data typing. It can autocorrect the data to match the destination data type, accept the data, and trigger an alert. Therefore, MariaDB is the go-to pick for applications that need to react intuitively to discrepancies in data input.

PostgreSQL, on the other hand, is more stringently typed, which means that if incoming data is slightly unconventional with the destination data type, PostgreSQL will throw an error and won’t allow insertion. PostgreSQL leans towards strict data integrity.

Replication and Clustering

With delayed replication, you can define an amount of time (in seconds) by which the replication secondary will lag behind the primary. This is to ensure the secondary reflects the state of the primary from some time in the recent past.

MariaDB supports asynchronous multi-source replication and primary-secondary replication. As such, semi-synchronous replication, multi-primary clustering, delayed replication, and parallel replication can be executed through the MariaDB Galera Cluster.

PostgreSQL, on the other hand, offers a primary-secondary replication along with cascading replication, streaming replication, and synchronous replication. By leveraging the latest BDR package, you can even execute bidirectional replication in PostgreSQL.

Quorum commit for synchronous replication offers greater flexibility in synchronous replication by letting you specify how soon each commit will proceed once any given number of standbys reply, irrespective of their ordering. This allows you to continuously deploy and update the database.

With logical replication, you can send amendments on a per-table or per-database level to different PostgreSQL databases, which allows you to fine-tune how the data gets replicated to database clusters.

Security

MariaDB releases frequent security patches, which reflects the importance of security for the MariaDB community.

Similarly, the PostgreSQL Global Development Group (PGDG) publishes an extensive list of active common exposures and vulnerabilities that’s addressed periodically by a large and vibrant community.

Size

MariaDB is considerably smaller in size compared to PostgreSQL, and this holds across various OS versions. MariaDB is also significantly lighter, making it the preferred choice if you’re short on memory allocation.

Support and Community

MariaDB offers support through engineers — generally software developers and database administrators — who are also technical experts in MySQL and MariaDB. For users with enterprise-level subscriptions, MariaDB corporation includes extensive 24/7/365 support.

Support is also available via the MariaDB knowledge base, where you can sift through tutorials, documentation, tutorials, and other helpful resources.

MariaDB is reliant upon and dedicated to an active community, which includes developer, contributor, and non-developer groups. You’ll find different ways to interact with community members through social media, mailing lists, events, and conferences, and you’re encouraged to help debug, document, and develop MariaDB yourself.

PostgreSQL too possesses an active and extensive community that offers support to users through user groups, documentation, mailing lists, and supplementary resources, including an IRC channel for users to easily pose questions to knowledgable and active PostgreSQL community members. There are also several international sites for PostgreSQL so you can find community engagement opportunities and resources in your country and/or language.

On the PostgreSQL community page, there are various ways to engage, including mailing lists, learning opportunities, and job postings. The developers’ page provides you with the means to learn more or become an active developer on the PostgreSQL project. Supplementary community resources, where you can find other ways of communicating and participating, include Planet PostgreSQL and the PostgreSQL Wiki.

Challenges

Although MariaDB has certainly made a name for itself as one of the safest, easiest-to-use database solutions on the market, as with any solution, you may still end up running into difficulties.

Here are a few challenges of leveraging MariaDB as a database for your business operation:

  • Lack of tools for debugging functions: MariaDB does not provide dedicated tools for debugging functions and procedures. The stability of these MariaDB procedures, including that for scaling database online transactions, is far from perfect.
  • Lack of a dedicated replication server: Having a dedicated replication server would help simplify the process of replication for users. You’ll need to devise a custom solution for mirroring your database in a live environment so records written on production can be replicated across the server. MariaDB could also be greatly improved were they to simplify primary-primary replication for its users, but this hasn’t happened yet.

As MariaDB’s contender, PostgreSQL has etched a name for itself as a complete open-source database solution and continues to do so in a stiff competitive environment. Despite the various advantages offered by PostgreSQL, though, it falls short on a few counts.

Here are a few challenges you might face when working with PostgreSQL:

  • Time: Making sure that the PostgreSQL migration or development project is executed seamlessly can take longer than anticipated. Unexpected issues usually need additional research that can delay progress. Therefore, it’s imperative to build time for on-the-go research into the project schedule from the beginning.
  • Cost: A common misconception is that as an open-source PostgreSQL solution is 100% free. However, while installing, downloading, and using the solution is free, there are almost always costs related to support, migration, and maintenance — and these costs can’t be ignored.
  • Deployment size: Switching to PostgreSQL might be easy for small businesses with small databases, but large enterprises and mid-size companies could face migration challenges and can even end up requiring the assistance of a migration service or a support vendor.
  • In-house expertise: Maintaining any database requires specialized knowledge, and PostgreSQL is no exception. Companies need to compare the costs associated with hiring an in-house expert versus having an in-house team learn PostgreSQL from the bottom up.

MariaDB vs PostgreSQL: Which Should You Choose?

MariaDB offers data type flexibility when it comes to updates and insertions by converting data to the correct type. This can be beneficial in terms of speed and resource allocation, but more care is needed to make sure that the data adheres to the schema.

MariaDB’s support for primary-primary replication can also come in handy for applications that need low latency and high availability. If that sounds like what you need in your next project, then MariaDB would be the wiser choice.

PostgreSQL is a time-tested and powerful relational database system that has remained an important open-source option for small businesses, enterprises, and individuals. It’s particularly well suited to companies and applications that rely on low-cost maintenance and deployment but also require stability, reliability, and responsiveness even in high-volume environments.
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Summary

In this article, we’ve talked about MariaDB vs PostgreSQL in detail. These included pivotal factors like speed, performance, syntax, extensibility, security, support and community, indexing, and architecture to help you make an educated decision regarding the database tool that best fits your unique business requirements.

As you can see, both MariaDB and PostgreSQL have their advantages and drawbacks. Ultimately, the choice between MariaDB vs PostgreSQL will require careful consideration of the needs of your system and a full understanding of how a given database can fulfill those needs.

Between MariaDB vs PostgreSQL, which do you plan on using for your next project, and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Share them in the comments section below.


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