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Access vs MySQL: Which Should You Choose?

Ryan Forrester
Jun 12th, 2024

When it comes to choosing a database management system, MySQL and Microsoft Access often come to mind. Especially for legacy applications developed in Access, MySQL provides an upgrade path. MySQL is a more modern database, as it shares Access’ relational database structure, but can be used as a web application backend.

As an open-source, enterprise-grade database system designed for complex web applications and large-scale data storage, MySQL can support cloud-native web apps.

On the other hand, Access is a user-friendly, desktop-based tool that is ideal for small businesses and individuals looking to organize and manage their data without the need for heavy-duty programming skills.

So, which one should you choose for your project?

Key Differences Between MySQL and Microsoft Access

Summary of Major Differences in Terms of Functionality, Performance, and Use Cases

FeatureMySQLMicrosoft Access
Data StorageTable-based, multiple storage enginesFile-based, single storage format
ScalabilityHigh, supports sharding and replicationLimited, suitable for small-medium databases
PerformanceHigh, optimized for large-scale useModerate, best for small datasets
User InterfaceCommand-line and graphical toolsGraphical interface
IntegrationWide integration with various platformsMicrosoft Office
SecurityRobust, enterprise-level securityBasic, adequate for small applications

MySQL vs Microsoft Access: A Detailed Comparison

Data Models and Storage

MySQL uses SQL to define, manipulate, and manage data.

Microsoft Access, also an RDBMS, combines the Jet Database Engine with a graphical user interface and software development tools. It stores data in tables within a single file (.accdb or .mdb format), simplifying backup and portability.

When it comes to building modern web applications, MySQL is not surprisingly the preferred choice among developers. It integrates with popular web technologies like PHP, Python, and Java, enabling the creation of dynamic, data-driven applications.

Many developers consider Access to be outdated and limited in terms of web development capabilities, as it is primarily designed for Windows-based desktop applications.

Which is Better If I Have Lots of Data?

MySQL is designed to scale. It can handle large datasets and high traffic by distributing data across multiple servers (sharding) and supporting replication. However, setting up and managing a scaled MySQL environment requires careful planning and expertise.

Online database builders, such as Five, simplify this process and come with a managed MySQL database that can be set up visually.

Microsoft Access is best suited for small to medium-sized databases. It has a maximum database size limit of 2 GB and supports up to 255 concurrent users. As the database grows, performance can degrade, and it becomes challenging to manage large datasets effectively. For larger applications, migrating to SQL Server or another more robust database system is recommended.

Alternatively, you can use Five to build your database application. Five is a modern online database builder that offers enhanced application development features. Instead of building local desktop applications, Five can be used to build cloud-native, multi-user applications.

Five’s free trial is a great starting point, and lets you:

  1. Manage and create a MySQL database visually.
  2. Build out front-end features such as forms or data grids in just a few clicks.
  3. Query your data for data analytics, reports, charts, or dashboards. Five’s interface and built-in visualization tools, for example, make it easy to create dashboards and find data-driven insights.
  4. Validate users’ inputs through SQL’s data validation features, Regular Expressions, or functions.
  5. Create multiple user roles with unique permissions.

Five’s additional code development features for JavaScript and TypeScript let more experienced developers go beyond simple RDBMS and CRUD systems.

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Does MySQL or Access Perform Better?

MySQL is well known for its high performance, especially with heavy workloads and complex queries. Benchmarks show MySQL handling thousands of transactions per second, making it suitable for high-traffic applications.

Microsoft Access performs well for small-scale applications with limited data and users. It is optimized for desktop use, allowing for efficient processing of simple queries and reports. However, as data size and user concurrency increase, performance can decline significantly.

One of the main reasons for Access’s slower performance compared to “real” database management systems is how it handles queries.

Access’s database engine fetches all the data it needs first and then processes the query. In contrast, a “real” DBMS does the opposite, processing the query first and then fetching only the required data.

This difference in approach can lead to Access transferring a large amount of data over the network to your computer for every query, which can significantly impact performance, especially when dealing with larger datasets or complex queries. To check out some Access alternatives check out this article on The Best Free Microsoft Access Alternative.

Which Has The Best User Interface?

Several graphical tools are available for MySQL, such as MySQL Workbench, phpMyAdmin, and various application builders such as Five or Retool, to facilitate database design and query execution.

Microsoft Access offers a user-friendly graphical interface, making it accessible to non-developers. It includes drag-and-drop features, wizards, and templates for creating tables, forms, queries, and reports. The integration with other Microsoft Office applications enhances its ease of use.

So if you’re a beginner which option should you choose? Access is more beginner-friendly due to its graphical interface, but it is outdated and no longer worth investing time in if you are new to application development.

To build more modern web applications, database application builders are the right tools to consider. Tools such as Five takes away most of the complexities of working directly with MySQL, allowing users to create data-driven applications faster and without technical frameworks. As a cloud-native development environment, Five can be used to create modern web applications that can be accessed online from anywhere and at any time.

FAQ’s: MySQL vs Access

Is MySQL Free To Use?

One of the best things about MySQL is that it’s free to use. The open-source version comes with a wide range of features and capabilities, making it a great choice for developers and businesses looking to keep costs down. However, if you need advanced features, support, or services for enterprise-level requirements, Oracle also offers paid versions of MySQL that can cater to those needs.

Can Microsoft Access Handle Large Datasets?

Microsoft Access is designed to handle small to medium-sized databases. It can manage databases up to 2 GB in size, but performance may start to decline as you approach that limit. If you’re working on a small project or with a limited number of users, Access can get the job done. However, if you’re dealing with large datasets or need to support many concurrent users, it’s better to consider a more robust solution like MySQL or SQL Server.

Which is Better For Web Applications?

When it comes to building web applications, MySQL is the clear winner. It’s a database management system that can handle high traffic, large datasets, and provide strong security features. MySQL also integrates well with popular web technologies and frameworks. On the other hand, Microsoft Access is more suitable for desktop applications and smaller-scale databases, and may not be the best fit for the demands of web-based environments. To build your MySQL web-based application try out Five.

Can MySQL and Microsoft Access Be Used Together?

Yes, MySQL and Microsoft Access can work together. A common approach is to use Microsoft Access as a front-end application for your MySQL database, however it isn’t exactly advisable with application builders like Five making this process a lot easier. Despite this, Access can serve as the interface for data entry, queries, and reporting, while MySQL handles the heavy lifting in the background. To make this work, you’ll need to use ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) drivers to establish a connection between Access and MySQL. This allows Access to communicate with MySQL, enabling users to interact with the data stored in MySQL through the familiar Access interface. This combination is particularly useful for organizations looking to transition from Access to MySQL without losing the benefits of Access’s user-friendly features.

Recap: Access vs MySQL

Both MySQL and Microsoft Access have their strengths and are suitable for different scenarios.

MySQL is ideal for web applications, enterprise systems, and large-scale databases. In contrast, Microsoft Access offers a user-friendly interface and is designed for small sized business applications and departmental solutions.

However, there’s a third option that combines the power of MySQL with the ease of use of an Access interface: Five.

Five is a modern, cloud-native platform that allows you to build on top of a MySQL database, providing an intuitive interface for building web applications and internal tools. It takes away most of the complexities of working directly with MySQL, allowing users to create data-driven applications faster and without the need for code-heavy frameworks.

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