MS SQL vs. MySQL: Which Relational Database is Right for You?

MS SQL vs. MySQL: Which Relational Database is Right for You?

Structured query language (SQL) is the language of relational databases. It stores, secures, and retrieves all the data for your applications. Several database platforms use SQL, but with slight variations—each tends to have a slightly different syntax. Microsoft SQL and MySQL are two of the most common operating systems on the web. Once you implement one, it can be difficult to switch to the other. That’s because the database platform you choose will end up being the core of your dynamic content moving forward.

It’s an important decision to make and will likely hinge on a few things. If you’re having a tough time deciding which one is right for your project, here’s a look at some similarities and differences between SQL and MySQL.

MS SQL vs. MySQL overview

Whether you want to store, retrieve or edit your data—the way dynamic websites and applications perform nearly every request a user makes—SQL is the programming language of choice for relational databases. On the surface, both Microsoft and MySQL look similar:

  • They both give you the functionality to host several databases on one server.
  • They use tables to store database files.
  • They have primary and foreign key constraints.
  • They use indexes to sort data and increase performance, and they both support desktop and web applications.

SQL Server is slightly older than MySQL. Microsoft SQL Server was introduced in 1989, and MySQL was introduced in 1995 as an open-source project. Since both of them have been in production for years, they both have a firm foothold in the market. MySQL runs on either Windows or Linux, typically as a part of a LAMP environment. SQL Server runs on Windows and is usually a part of a Windows environment.

Both platforms handle small and large software projects, so you should anticipate similar performance from both, provided the database designer and programmer are familiar with the right way to optimize queries and code.

Microsoft SQL server vs. MySQL: Similarities

Both Microsoft and MySQL are relational database management systems (RDBMS), so they have several similarities. Most developers specialize in either one or the other because the underlying architecture is very different. The following similarities make it easy for a database developer to work on both platforms efficiently, even if they specialize in only one.


Both platforms allow you to scale as your business grows. You can use both for small projects; however, should these projects take off to an enterprise level, they can still support millions of transactions a day.

Because they use relational tables to store their data, the preferred method to scale is to go vertical, which means that you’ll want to invest in more memory. For example, say you’re running on 8 GB of memory at the moment but see a need for more. You likely have the option to jump to 16 GB. You’d follow a similar process if you’re dealing with a much larger database.

High performance

A database is your application’s backbone. It stores all of your data, so you need a database that can return data in less than a second. Both platforms can handle this type of high-performance speed. Each platform also allows you to monitor performance based on similar metrics, like execution or run time to measure how long it takes for your database to complete a specific request.


Both platforms use the standard relational database table model to store data in rows and columns. For instance, if you’re working with customer contact information, you’ll likely find a set of the following rows in your database:

  • Last name
  • First name
  • Address

You can also filter your data in each platform via specific rows.


SQL keys ensure that there are no rows with duplicate information. Both platforms use primary and foreign keys to establish relationships between tables. For instance, referring back to our example of using a database with customer contact information, a key to help you identify a unique attribute could involve someone’s email address as this is an attribute unlikely repeated elsewhere.


Syntax between the two database platforms is similar, although there are some minor differences across different CRUD (create, read, update, delete) statements. Syntax comes into play specifically when it comes to commands. For example, suppose you want to restore an older version of your database, you can use the “rollback” command to a specific “savepoint” (with the named savepoint being the distinguishing syntax).

Web-based popularity

Aside from Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server and MySQL are the most common databases used for web applications. When you sign up for hosting, you typically get a choice between MySQL databases or SQL Server. This popularity also lends itself to having many tutorials available on the web for both database management systems (DBMSs).


You can find connection drivers for almost any popular language on the web, so you can easily connect to both platforms without writing complex code. MSSQL and MySQL support some of the same programming languages, including Java, Python, and Ruby.

Microsoft SQL server vs. MySQL: Differences

While the two platforms are similar in the interface and basic relational database standards, they are vastly different programs and operate differently. Most of the differences are in how they operate in the background, and the average user does not see these differences. However, it’s still important to know these differences because they’ll play a huge role in your developer’s choice of platform. As long as the database performs well, you can use it with your project.

Native compatibility

You can use either database with both Windows and Linux projects, but MySQL works natively with PHP, and MSSQL is mainly used with .NET. It makes integration simpler if you stick with MySQL for PHP and MSSQL for Windows projects.

Note that because Microsoft developed MS SQL, it also is limited in MAC OS X compatibility, whereas MySQL works with the operating system.

MyISAM and InnoDB

These engines are configurations for MySQL and allow the developer to perform very different designs and programming. Note that you normally have to specify the MyISAM storage engine with MySQL because InnoDB is the default engine. With MS SQL, you create a database and don’t specify different engines.


Because MySQL is an open-source RDBMS, it is free to use. MS SQL Server, on the other hand, requires a license to operate, so it’s a more expensive option. MySQL offers commercial licenses via Oracle that can provide the user with more functionality and MySQL server support.


With MS SQL, you can set up your entity framework classes in .NET and get started with LINQ queries. With MySQL and .NET, you need to download third-party provider tools.

IDE tools

Both platforms have IDE tools, but you need the right tool with the right server. MS SQL uses Management Studio, and MySQL has Workbench. These tools let you connect to the server and manage settings and configurations for security, architecture, and table design.

Note that Management Studio can only be used on Windows OS, meaning it does not support MAC OS X.

Binary collectors

Data is stored in patterns of 0s and 1s, and systems using 0s and 1s are collectively known as binary information systems. Both MS SQL and MySQL are designed as binary collections. MySQL database files can be accessed and manipulated in real run time.

To manipulate data in an MS SQL database, you need to run SSMS and run an instance. Although this is a bit more work, the benefit is that it makes the DBMS more secure than its MySQL counterpart.


It’s important to back up your databases so that you can recover your data. For MS SQL backups, you can backup your database as you use it—which means minimal delays. For MySQL, you need to run multiple SQL statements to back up your data.

Option to stop query execution

When it comes to running an SQL query, you can stop a query early on MS SQL databases; on MySQL, the query can’t be stopped once it starts running.

Alternatives to MS SQL vs MYSQL

Below you can find a list of some of the most popular alternatives to MS SQL and MYSQL.

Oracle Database

Oracle Database is another RDBMS available for you to use. Some of the benefits include its ability to work across multiple operating systems (including Windows and Linux) and the multiple editions available (e.g., enterprise edition, standard edition, and expression edition depending on your team’s needs).


IBM DB2 is a database option that allows direct access to the data via the software’s interface. It can also function on more than just a Windows-based platform, and it offers performance-enhancing features (e.g., the Self-Tuning Memory Management (STMM) allows the database to automatically change the memory allocation when there’s a change in the workload).


PostgreSQL is an open-source database option supported by multiple SQL and NoSQL models. It’s scalable and offers significant savings since it doesn’t require a commercial license.

Amazon Relational Database Service

Amazon RDS is another database option for your team to explore. Some of the benefits include automated backups and it can easily work with other databases (specifically Amazon Aurora, MySQL, PostgreSQL, MariaDB, Oracle Database, and SQL Server engines).

Which language should you choose for your project?

The database you use usually depends on the hosting environment you choose. Linux hosting providers usually offer MySQL. Since MySQL is open-source and free, you can have as many databases as you need. You can have ten of them to support ten different projects if need be.

Because SQL Server costs money for licenses, Windows hosts will give you one MSSQL database, and you must pay for additional ones. Overall, this makes SQL Server more costly than MySQL. However, SQL Server works natively with .NET applications, so it’s the choice for software that runs on a Windows server or desktop. The development tools are free, but the production environment is not free.

The best way to determine the right platform is to post your project in the marketplace and discuss your requirements with a few developers. You will get different opinions and preferences based on the developer’s area of expertise, but most Windows developers work with MySQL, and Linux developers work with MySQL. You should decide which environment you want to target, and then you can get a clearer idea of which platform is right for you.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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MS SQL vs. MySQL: Which Relational Database is Right for You?
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