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Earlier when we discussed the LAMP stack, I mentioned MySQL as an important part of the open-source software stack used to power most open-source content management systems. At the time, I mentioned how MySQL helps us create and manage relational databases. Let's take a closer look at databases and their role in content management systems and then discuss why MySQL is such a popular means of managing those databases. A database is little more than a collection of data and can usually be represented as a table.
Relational databases, like those created by MySQL, store data in multiple tables that have the ability to relate to each other in some way, usually by sharing data keys or properties. In the case of content management systems, using relational databases allows them to easily store and organize content in an efficient way while linking that content together. This makes it simple to find all the articles written by a particular author or all articles written about a specific subject. This type of functionality can be used to power searches, display comments, or to construct pages that need a particular type of content.
This of course is where MySQL comes in. MySQL is an open-source SQL database management system that was released publicly in 1998 by the company MySQL AB. Although MySQL AB was acquired by Sun in 2008, MySQL remains available as a free and open-source solution under the GNU General Public License, although enterprise-level licenses are available. Since it's release, MySQL has emerged as the most widely used SQL database on the web. As the name suggests, MySQL uses SQL or structured query language to create, manage, and retrieve information from databases.
Although SQL is a fairly simple language to learn, for the most part you won't need to know it to use MySQL with your CMS. Most content management systems handle the creation and upkeep of their databases automatically, requiring very little input from you. However, there are times that you may need to tweak your database manually or create a new one, especially if you plan on doing your installs. For that you'll either need to learn the basics of SQL or use one of the popular graphical interfaces for MySQL, such as phpMyAdmin, as MySQL does not come with a user interface.
To learn more about MySQL, check out Oracle's MySQL site at dev.mysql.com.
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