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MySQL remains one of the most popular open-source relational database management systems (RDBMS) on the planet. It has a strong community and ecosystem, as many companies, contributors, and adopters have built products and services to support it. Additionally, many tools and MySQL alternatives use the database’s codebase or maintain complete wire protocol compatibility. In this post, we’ll dive deep into two popular MySQL alternatives: MariaDB and TiDB. We’ll discuss the benefits and limitations of both databases. We’ll also reveal how TiDB can serve as a more powerful, practical alternative for extreme horizontal scalability and high-performance analytics.

MariaDB: A More Innovative, Community-Friendly MySQL Alternative

MariaDB is a fork of MySQL created after the acquisition by Sun Microsystems. One of the key goals of MariaDB is to ensure the continued availability of an open-source, community-driven MySQL-compatible database. It focuses on maintaining compatibility with existing MySQL applications and tools, allowing seamless migration from MySQL to MariaDB. This compatibility ensures developers and organizations can leverage their existing investments in MySQL while benefiting from the enhancements and improvements offered by MariaDB.

MariaDB places a strong emphasis on innovation and the continuous development of new features. The community actively contributes to the project by introducing enhancements, bug fixes, and performance optimizations. This collaborative approach allows MariaDB to evolve rapidly and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the field.

Community-Driven Development

Innovations come from MariaDB’s strong community-driven development model, which means development is open to community contributions and feedback. This has led to a faster development cycle and a more responsive product that meets the needs of its users. Oracle MySQL, on the other hand, is developed and managed by Oracle Corporation, which has a more centralized development process.

Comprehensive Enterprise Offerings

For enterprises, MariaDB offers MaxScale and ColumnStore. These offerings provide horizontal scalability and columnar storage for analytics, respectively. Oracle MySQL also has similar solutions, but they are not as comprehensive as MariaDB.

SkySQL is the managed service of MariaDB that removes the burden of database maintenance and lets developers focus on business innovation.

Overall, these unique products make MariaDB a strong choice for developers who are looking for a relational database that can provide advanced features and reliability. This is especially true when they need a MySQL wire-compatible database. 

MariaDB’s Limitations in the Landscape of MySQL Alternatives

As a MySQL alternative, MariaDB still has its drawbacks. For some application scenarios, developers may experience the following limitations.


MariaDB is a monolithic database. That means its limited resources on a single machine can impact performance and reliability. As a result, developers may hit a performance wall when their business goes viral. 

With MaxScale, MariaDB can scale better than a single-node deployment. But it still lacks some of the advanced scalability features of other databases, such as automatic sharding and data partitioning. Sharding will bring a lot of complexity to your application, which will slow down your development and shipping of new features. On the other hand, sharding will also bring complexity and higher database operations costs, such as backup/restore, schema changes, and load balancing.


MariaDB doesn’t have a built-in feature for high availability. But it provides several high-availability solutions, including replication, clustering, and Galera Cluster. Replication involves creating multiple copies of the database and keeping them in sync with each other, so that if one copy fails, another can take over. Clustering involves grouping multiple servers together to act as a single entity, so that if one server fails, another can take over. Galera Cluster is a multi-master replication solution that allows all nodes to act as a primary node, so if one node fails, another can take over as the primary node.

However, these solutions are not without their drawbacks. One major issue with replication is the potential for data loss. If a node fails before changes have been replicated to all other nodes, those changes will be lost. Additionally, replication can be complex to set up and manage, and it requires additional resources to maintain multiple copies of the database.

Clustering also has its challenges, particularly with scalability. As more nodes are added to a cluster, the overhead required to maintain consensus among the nodes increases, which can impact performance. Additionally, clustering requires careful configuration and management to ensure that all nodes are operating correctly and in sync with each other.

Limited Analytical Processing

With the parallel execution engine and ColumnStore, MariaDB is better than MySQL in handling more sophisticated queries. But its parallel execution is still bounded by CPU and memory resources on a single machine. ColumnStore also has its own drawbacks.

One is the lack of flexibility in schema design. ColumnStore is a columnar storage engine that stores data in columns rather than rows. While this can provide faster query performance for analytical queries, it also means that the schema must be predefined and cannot easily be changed. This can be problematic for businesses that need to quickly adapt to changing data requirements.

Finally, ColumnStore is not designed for real-time analytics or transactions. It is intended for batch processing of large data sets. This means it may not be the best solution for businesses that need to perform real-time analytics or require transactional consistency.

Built On Monolithic and Legacy Architecture

Compared with MySQL, MariaDB has a lot of innovations, but it still retains a MySQL codebase. That means the architecture is still single-node at its core and unable to meet the needs of modern applications such as microservices. It’s easy to add small features, but it can be very hard or even impossible to make significant changes. Some features, such as transparent sharding and built-in high availability (HA), are required by modern applications that need global scale and strong consistency. These features are not easy to build into MariaDB’s single-node architecture.

TiDB: A Practical MySQL Alternative When You Reach MariaDB’s Limitations

TiDB is an advanced, open source, distributed SQL database with MySQL compatibility. It offers built-in horizontal scalability and high-performance analytics. As a result, it’s a strong MySQL alternative to MariaDB for developers migrating to a more modern and scalable solution. In this section, we’ll explore some of the key features of TiDB that make it an attractive choice for developers and how it compares to MariaDB.

MySQL Compatibility

One of the key advantages of TiDB is its full MySQL compatibility. This means that developers can use many of the same tools and applications they already know with TiDB, making it easy to integrate into existing systems. Additionally, TiDB provides support for a wide range of programming languages, including Java, Python, and Go, making it a versatile choice for developers.

Built-In Horizontal Scalability

TiDB’s built-in horizontal scalability is one of its strongest features. With TiDB, developers can easily add more capacity as their applications grow, without the need to manually shard their databases. This makes it a great choice for applications that require high scalability and flexibility. MariaDB does offer a similar solution to its MaxScale product, but TiDB’s distributed native architecture makes it more scalable and flexible.

High-Performance Analytics with Strong Consistency and Less Technical Complexity 

Another key feature of TiDB is its high-performance analytics engine, TiFlash. TiFlash is a distributed columnar storage engine that provides fast, ad-hoc queries over large datasets. TiDB works seamlessly with TiFlash, allowing developers to easily move data between compute and storage layers. This makes TiDB a great choice for applications that require fast analytics capabilities. 

TiFlash is easy to set up and has native integration with TiDB’s OLTP capability. It supports automatic data replication and rebalancing, ensuring fault tolerance and data availability. TiFlash can provide strong consistency to the application between the row store and column store. It also supports advanced features like Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) that is critical for analytical processing. Compared with MariaDB ColumnStore, TiDB is more scalable, easy-to-use, and powerful.

Active Open-Source Community

TiDB has a strong and active open-source community that provides tremendous innovations for the platform. This community helps to ensure the database remains up-to-date and fully compatible with the latest technologies and standards. Additionally, the community provides a wealth of resources and support for developers looking to use TiDB in their applications.

Comprehensive Migration Tooling

TiDB offers a comprehensive set of migration tools that make it easy for developers to switch from MariaDB or other MySQL alternatives to TiDB. These tools include Data Migration and Lightning

These tools allow developers to migrate data and schemas seamlessly, with minimal downtime or disruption to their applications. TiDB’s migration tools are well-documented and easy to use, making the switch to TiDB a smooth and straightforward process.

TiDB Cloud

For developers looking for a managed cloud solution, TiDB offers TiDB Cloud, a fully managed and scalable cloud service that provides all the benefits of TiDB without the need for on-premise infrastructure. TiDB Cloud offers similar features and benefits to SkySQL, the managed cloud service offered by MariaDB. With TiDB Cloud, developers can focus on building their applications, while leaving the management and maintenance of their databases to the experts.

What You Need to Know About TiDB

MariaDB is a wonderful database that many developers love. It works quite well for a number of scenarios. However, for those scenarios it can’t handle, TiDB is a viable option. 

TiDB contains most of MariaDB’s features, such as a MySQL-compatible database kernel, comparable Xpand and ColumnStore solutions, and a managed cloud database service. All this adds up to making life much easier for developers.

For modern applications that require extreme scale and reliable infrastructure, TiDB is a practical MySQL alternative that also offers future-proof enhancements. Don’t believe me? Check out our white paper, TiDB vs. MySQL: A Guide to Open Source Database Selection, for additional insights.

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