Old Reliable: A History of MySQL

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Working together to complete a puzzle

Imagine the Internet without Facebook, Twitter, or Wikipedia — impossible, right? All three of these platforms (as well as countless other platforms, including YouTube, LinkedIn, PayPal, and WordPress) were developed with MySQL, an open source relational database management system (RDBMS). Fundamental to the architecture of the modern Internet but rarely acknowledged outside of development circles, MySQL continues to revolutionize websites, platforms, and apps. Because it’s important for everyone in tech to understand its importance, we’ve put together a brief history of the MySQL tool.


Back in 1979, in the early days of the Internet, few recognized UNIREG — a Unix-based tool for managing databases, developed by Michael Widenius — as a precursor to what would become one of the most powerful and influential development tools in the world. Widenius went on to found TcX with business partner Allan Larsson, and, by 1994, the company was using UNIREG to support the development of several web-based applications. However, at the time, the low-level storage engine simply couldn’t adequately support dynamically-generated web pages.

Although TcX considered the capabilities of Structured Query Language (SQL) and mini-SQL (mSQL), neither offered better performance than was already available through UNIREG. But in 1995, the search for alternatives led to the development of MySQL 3.11.1 as well as the founding of MySQL AB by Widenius, Larsson, and David Axmark.

From Open Source Innovation to Profitability

In 2000, MySQL became open source software under the GNU General Public License (GPL). MySQL AB owned the copyright and trademark for the database server, coordinating development and support for MySQL. Cooperation with Innobase Oy, a Finnish company that had developed the InnoDB transactional storage engine, led to the development of MySQL 3.22, which ported to numerous operating systems in 2001. APIs allowed programmers to write clients in nearly all existing programming languages.

Increasing MySQL development attracted financial support from venture capitalists. And, in 2002, MySQL AB built a headquarters in the United States (to complement the original Swedish headquarters). Revenue continued to increase, and the number of active users skyrocketed from three million to four million between 2002 and 2003. MySQL 4.0 added transactions, a query cache, full-text searches, and row-level locking, and, by 2004, the beta release of MySQL 4.1 included sub-queries and spatial indexing support.

Partnerships and Purchase: MySQL Today

The explosion of MySQL caught the attention of other major tech companies, and in 2003, MySQL AB partnered with SAP to co-develop MySQL 5. This version added stored procedures and distributed transaction processing, and also introduced an OEM dual-licensing model: rather than depending on revenue obtained from OEM partner one-time licensing fees, MySQL now relied on a revenue stream derived from end users.

As MySQL AB reached its tenth anniversary, the alpha release of MySQL 5.1 added table data partitioning, row-based replication, and a standardized plug-in API for new storage engines. Additionally, the company launched a subscription service called the MySQL Network, which still offers updates, alerts, notifications, and support for MySQL. MySQL AB also entered the enterprise market with a new version featuring federated search engines, distributed transactions, views, stored procedures, and triggers. Annual earnings at the ten-year mark had increased to $34 million.

By 2008, MySQL had grown to 8 million installations and was generating approximately $100 million in revenue. MySQL AB was one of the most anticipated technology IPOs of 2008, with lower costs that attracted investors over competing tools like Oracle 11. With 320 employees working from twenty-five countries, MySQL had come a long way from its modest roots!

In 2008, Sun Microsystems purchased MySQL AB for $1 billion. Sun was later acquired by Oracle in 2009. Today, MySQL AB remains a subsidiary of Oracle. Version 5.7.18 of MySQL Server added enhanced security functions, while Oracle’s MySQL Cloud Service combines the capabilities of the Oracle Cloud with MySQL Enterprise to provide automated, enterprise-ready cloud services.

Exadel and MySQL

In 2009, Exadel used MySQL to develop a back-end application for Sears that empowered employees to better manage online content and merchandise. The comprehensive set of tools contained within SPIN (Sears Product Information Network) allows users to customize product publishing, taxonomy, brand, and user access settings. Consisting of a client-side layer, a server-side layer, and a database layer, SPIN replaced ineffective systems and processes and reduced the amount of time spent on data management.

Another unique application of MySQL is Exadel’s partnership with Dun and Bradstreet (D&B). The business services company needed to develop a scalable, integrated platform that allowed customers to manage suppliers, supplier certification, financial monitoring, government control list monitoring, and customer-specific live reports. For its solution, Exadel integrated Apache Solr with MySQL and Oracle databases deployed as clusters to provide maximum scalability. Dun and Bradstreet has become an even more critical business information provider through the increased functionality of their system.