Many of the world’s millions of web sites run on a database called MySQL. Mac users rejoice. MySQL is powerful and free and runs on your Mac.
All it takes to create and use this database gem is your Mac, MySQL database, and a few choice tools to make the process enjoyable. Of course, free does not mean easy. Relational databases in the 21st century are complex beasts. Tame the database beast with these tools.
The Schizophrenic Mac
On the outside, our Macs are friendly devices, devoid of the headaches and heartaches which inflict Windows PC users. Underneath, out of sight for most of us, lurks a digital behemoth, a powerful Unix computer capable of many complex tasks.
If you’ve ever used Address Book or iCal or iTunes or a spreadsheet, you’ve used a database.
The powerful databases for Mac users can be numbered on your hands, and you’d have a few fingers left over, one of which could be used to tell the world how painful it is to use a database.
Arguably, the most popular Mac database is Apple’s own FileMaker Pro, and offspring, Bento. From $50 to $3,000, you get a powerful database that’s mostly point and click. Can you do better for less? Not easier, but less.
MySQL, The People’s Database
Tops for most web database usage is MySQL, an open source (as in free) relational database system owned by the non-profit Swedish company MySQL AB, which is owned by Sun Microsystems, which is owned by database giant Oracle.
MySQL, by virtue of the price tag and capability, has become the de facto standard database powering many millions of the internet’s web sites. It’s truly become the people’s database.
Can you put that power on your Mac and create the mother-of-all databases? Yes. And no. Yes, MySQL runs on a Mac, yes, and, no, creating and running a MySQL database is not for the faint of heart.
You need tools. And knowledge. And a Mac.
My Mac MySQL Tools Of Choice
Navicat – My favorite tool is Navicat, a multi-platform utility which lets you create and manage databases from MySQL to Oracle to PostgreSQL. Navicat is a little quirky and somewhat confusing for new users, but makes database administration less of a complex chore, despite the price tag and frequent updates. Thankfully, there’s Navicat Lite which is free.
MySQL Workbench – Building a database from scratch requires some knowledge and MySQL Workbench is a good place to start.
Workbench is a database design tool which is mostly visual so you can design, manage, and document database schemata, whether using a Mac, a Windows PC, or a Linux PC. Workbench is free.
Sequel Pro – Once known as CocoaMySQL, Sequel Pro is an open source app (priced right) written in Cocoa so it’s fast, clean, uncluttered, and easy on the eyes for new MySQL users. Sequel Pro looks like a Mac app, lets you work on MySQL on your Mac or on a remote server.
You get full database table management, including indexes, support for MySQL Views, a query editor and automatic syntax highlighting. Sequel Pro does a better job with export and import of MySQL files than Navicat’s proprietary method.
Querious – For the curious, there’s Querious, a commercial utility to manage MySQL databases. Querious handles direct connections to remote MySQL databases via SSL and SSH tunneling. Viewing and editing database content is very Mac-like, with easy to understand filters.
Querious lets you design a database (I prefer Workbench), but is more at home on a previously constructed database with content. Finding data is easy using custom queries, and all the expected tools are available—import, export, managing user privileges, storing and collecting queries, and much more. If Apple designed a MySQL database tool, Querious would be it.
phpMyAdmin – If you use the PHP scripting language on your Mac, then many of the same functions of dedicated MySQL apps are available in the free phpMyAdmin, which runs in a browser window. Nearly everything you can do in the others can be done in phpMyAdmin, whether on a remote server database, or your personal MySQL creation on your Mac.
Webmin – If you really want to get all geeky on your Mac, pick up Webmin, another suite of server management tools which includes some MySQL capability. Like phpMyAdmin, Webmin requires PHP to be running on your Mac.
What’s the easiest way to get all the delicious and powerful and free tools on your Mac?
MAMP and XAMPP – By now you’re happy with all the free tools, but a little overwhelmed with the choices and components to make it all work. MAMP to the rescue. MAMP is a simple, drag and drop Mac utility which carries all the basic tools you need to create, manage, run a MySQL database—right on your Mac. And it’s free.
Included in the extensive list of apps you need is PHP, the Apache web server, various and sundry accelerators and optimizers, even phpMyAdmin. There’s even a SQL Lite Manager if you think MySQL is too complex.
Also on my list is XAMPP for the Mac. Like MAMP, it’s free, and comes as a full package of tools, ready to use (but with versions for Windows, Linux, and Solaris). I’ve had better luck with MAMP than XAMPP, but either can get you started without much effort.
What Can You Do With All This Stuff?
That, my friends, is the $64,000 question. Yes, MySQL is a powerful relational database app. Yes, it is used by millions worldwide. Yes, it runs on your Mac. Yes, it’s free.
What’s MySQL do for the Mac user?
The answer is stunningly simple and accurately complex. MySQL does just about anything you want in a database. Except it won’t create itself. You have to create the database you want. From scratch.
While MySQL database tools and utilities abound for Mac users (as well as many other database apps—check this list from Pure Mac), the reality is that there are not many usable MySQL database apps for the average Mac user, at least in the same vein as Mac apps. There are some, and many are very powerful.
For example, Sugar CRM is a MySQL based customer relationship management app. It’s powerful. Has a free community version, and it’ll run fine on your Mac. Others on my list usually require PHP and MySQL, but run easily on MAMP—these include WebCalendar, Gallery, and CopperMine.