Wikipedia dumps MySQL, hooks up with MariaDB

Driven by preference for open source software 'without bifurcated code bases,' Wikipedia embraces MariaDB, a MySQL fork free of Oracle baggage

MariaDB, the community-developed edition of the open source MySQL database now under Oracle's thumb, will become the database software that drives Wikipedia. The switch is yet another sign that Oracle open source projects seem to inspire as many breakaway projects as they do adherents.

For some time now, Wikipedia has been using a variant of MySQL 5.1, with patches contributed by engineers at Facebook. But Wikipedia has been eyeing MariaDB for two main reasons: The host of technical improvements being rolled into MariaDB, and the preference Wikipedia has for "[software] projects without bifurcated code bases between differently licensed free and enterprise editions."

Most of the migration to MariaDB has already been performed, and according to Asher Feldman, site architect for the Wikimedia Foundation, the switchover was "seamless" as MariaDB is intended to work as a drop-in replacement for MySQL. The change also provided a distinct performance improvement: "Many query types were 4-15 percent faster with MariaDB 5.5.30 under production load."

Oracle's widely questioned ownership of and treatment of MySQL has been seen as the big impetus for customers to switch away from MySQL.

MySQL AB, the company that owned MySQL's intellectual property, was founded by Monty Widenius, creator of MySQL, in 1995. In 2008, the company -- and the IP to MySQL itself -- was sold to Sun for $1 billion, but in 2009, Sun itself was acquired by Oracle. Widenius and many others were worried that this would mean Oracle would in time attempt to kill off MySQL, as -- in theory -- MySQL was competition for Oracle's own commercial database business.

Oracle countered that it would continue to support MySQL until at least 2015 as a condition of the acquisition. Others pointed out that open source projects like PostgreSQL constituted more direct competition for Oracle's products than MySQL did. Still, Widenius garnered some 50,000 signatures on a petition to have the European Commission block the sale of Sun to Oracle, although the sale was approved anyway in January 2010.

To keep MySQL alive outside of Oracle, Widenius forked MySQL 5.1 into an entirely new open source project dubbed MariaDB. While MySQL had been provided under a dual license (open source and commercial, depending on the use case), MariaDB was and is entirely open source under the GPL 2 license. (Third parties, such as SkySQL and Percona, provide professional sales and support.)

While MariaDB's version numbering was originally more or less in sync with MySQL -- the stable version of MariaDB is 5.5.30 -- the next iteration of MariaDB will start its numbering at 10.0 to further differentiate itself from MySQL.

Oracle has long been criticized for its treatment of open source projects, and its handling of MySQL has been seen in the same dim light. The company jacked up the price for entry-level MySQL support subscriptions from $599 a server to $2,000 a server. At another point, Oracle apparently stopped adding test cases for bug fixes, a way for a developer to independently determine if a given bug is fixed.

Criticisms aside, Oracle is still preparing MySQL 5.6 for release, presumably sometime later this year, with a host of new performance and data-engine improvements.

Wikipedia is far from being the first big-name concern to adopt MariaDB to drive its infrastructure. Other users include the Mozilla Foundation, SlashGear, and Web of Trust. The Slackware, Fedora, and OpenSuse Linux distributions also now use MariaDB rather than MySQL as the default database component.

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