SQL vs. MySQL: What’s the Difference? (2024)

Are SQL and MySQL the same thing? In this beginner-friendly guide, we'll explain the ddifferences of SQL and MySQL – and how they fit into the larger picture of relational database management systems.

When you’re getting started with databases, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the terminology. SQL, MySQL, other acronyms… It can be a lot. And sometimes – like SQL and MySQL – the terminology can seem more similar than different. So, you may ask:

Are SQL and MySQL the Same Thing?

No, they are two different things.

SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a programming language used to communicate with databases. SQL was invented in the 1970s and has since become the most important language for working with data and databases – specifically, relational databases. These are structured databases that store data in tables with rows and columns. SQL lets you retrieve data from a database, filter the data, and perform computations on it.

MySQL is a specific database management system (DBMS); it’s also the variant of SQL used by this system. There are many other DBMSs that use their own variant of SQL (i.e their own SQL dialect). In short, MySQL uses a variant of SQL as its primary language for interacting with the data inside a database.

If you’re new to SQL, check out our SQL Basics course. This course includes a plethora of real-world exercises that will get you practicing in no time. The only things you need are a web browser, an Internet connection, and yourself. There’s no complicated setup, so you can focus all your efforts on learning.

With that said, let's get started on learning more about the differences between SQL and MySQL!

SQL – The Language of Databases

SQL is the universal language used to communicate with databases. However, over the years many different data technologies have started using SQL as well.

In SQL, you retrieve data from a database with commands called queries. Let’s illustrate this with an actual SQL query.

A Simple SQL Query

Imagine you work in a bookshop and a customer asks for a list of all the books in the ‘humor’ genre. This simple SQL query will return the list:

SELECT *FROM booksWHERE genre = 'humor';

Let’s break down the syntax:

  • SELECT *: Specifies you want to retrieve information from all the columns in the table.
  • FROM books: Indicates this information is in the books
  • WHERE genre = 'humor': Filters the data in the genre column; only records where the genre is ‘humor’ will be shown in the results.

As you can see, SQL syntax is pretty straightforward. It was inspired by the English language and can almost be read as an English sentence: “Select all the information in the books table where the genre is humor”.

If you want more examples, check out our SQL Cheat Sheet. You’ll also get tips on how to approach the syntax and formulate your own queries.

SQL Dialects

Just like human languages, SQL has different dialects. Humans adapt the same language to different places; e.g. we have US English, Canadian English, British English, and so on. LIkewise, SQL has been modified to suit various database management systems. Each SQL dialect is tailored to offer different features and functionality, depending on the requirements and performance goals of the specific DBMS.

MySQL is a popular example of a SQL dialect. Other examples include Microsoft SQL Server and PostgreSQL. Think of SQL as the base language like English, with common grammar rules and vocabulary. Dialects like British English and US English are similar to MySQL and PostgreSQL. Although the dialects have a common foundation, they differ in some aspects.

It’s important to note that learning one SQL dialect won’t hinder your ability to learn another. Since they all stem from the same fundamental principles, you can easily move from one dialect to another. If you're unsure about which dialect to learn, check out our article Which SQL Dialect Should You Learn?

MySQL – A Specific Database Management System

MySQL is a specific DBMS that uses its own dialect of SQL. MySQL is also the actual software that runs SQL commands to manage and retrieve information from the database.

MySQL was developed in the 1990s and it has become one of the most popular DBMS for web applications. It is well known for its ease of use and simplicity – making it ideal for those new to SQL. Because it is open-source, it is a cost-effective option for those who are just getting started with SQL. This is backed up by an easy setup process that allows users to get started quickly.

Another advantage of choosing MySQL is that it has a huge user community. This community provides a wealth of documentation, tutorials, and support resources. For example, you can check out any of our articles about MySQL for more instruction, projects, and challenges!

As previously mentioned, different dialects of SQL are designed to suit the needs of the different DBMS with which they operate. For example, MySQL's InnoDB storage engine enables scalability and performance optimisation, while PostgreSQL supports complex data types. You can check out more information about the other DBMSs in this The Most Popular Databases in 2024.

MySQL vs. SQL: The Real Difference

To summarize, consider SQL to be equivalent to English. SQL allows you to communicate with databases in the same way that you would use written English to communicate with people. MySQL can be compared to a type of computer that understands a certain dialect of English. It's a program that interprets and executes SQL commands to help you manage and organize your data more efficiently.

As I mentioned above, MySQL is a great place to start if you are a beginner looking to learn SQL. Here at LearnSQL.com, we have the SQL Basics in MySQL course. This course contains 126 practice exercises that will get you started in no time. We also have compiled tips to help you along your journey with the Best Way to Learn SQL. Happy learning!

SQL vs. MySQL: What’s the Difference? (2024)

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