Notes on Learning MySQL (as an Oracle DBA)

3 min read
Jun 14, 2010

I spent some time last month getting up to speed on MySQL. One of the nice perks of working at Pythian is the ability to study during the workday. They could have easily said “You are an Oracle DBA, you don’t need to know MySQL. We have enough REAL MySQL experts”, but they didn’t, and I appreciate.

So how does an Oracle DBA go about learning MySQL?
Obviously you start by reading the docs. Specifically, I looked for the MySQL equivalent of the famous Oracle “Concepts Guide”.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. I couldn’t find any similar overview of the architecture and the ideas behind the database. The first chapter of “High Performance MySQL” had a high level architecture review, which was useful but being just one chapter in a book, it lacked many of the details I wanted to learn. Peter Zaitsev’s “InnoDB Architecture” presentation had the kind of information I needed – but covered just InnoDB.

Thats really too bad because I definitely feel the lack – which I can easily tell you what Oracle does when you connect to a database, run a select, an update, commit or rollback – I can’t say the same about MySQL. So far I managed without this knowledge, but I have a constant worry that this will come back and bite me later.

Lacking a concepts guide, I read the documentation I had access to: Sheeri has nice presentations available for Pythian employees (and probably customers too. I’m not sure if she ever released them to the whole world). The official documentation is not bad either – it covers syntax without obvious errors and serves as a decent “how do I do X?” guide.

But reading docs is only half the battle. The easier half too. So I installed MySQL 5.1 on my Ubuntu from ready packages. Then I installed MySQL 5.5 from the tarball – which was not nearly as much fun, but by the time this worked I know much more about where everything is located and the various ways one can mis-configure MySQL.

Once the installation was successfull, I played a bit with users, schemas and databases. MySQL is weird – Schemas are called databases, users have many-to-many relation with databases. If a user logs in from a differnet IP, it is almost like a different user. If you delete all the data files and restart MySQL – it will create new empty data files instead. You can easily start a new MySQL server on the same physical box by modifying one file and creating few directories.

MySQL docs make a very big deal about storage engines. There are only 2 things that are important to rememeber though: MyISAM is non-transactional and is used for mysql schema (the data dictionary), it doesn’t have foreign keys or row level locks. InnoDB is transactional, has row level locks and is used everywhere else.

There are a confusing bunch of tools for backing up MySQL. MySQLDump is the MySQL equivalent of Export. Except that it creates a file full of the SQL commands required to recreate the database. These files can grow huge very fast, but it is very easy to restore from them, restore any parts of the schema or even modifying the data or schema before restoring.
XTRABackup is a tool for consistent backups of InnoDB schema (remember that in MyISAM there are no transactions so consistent backups is rather meaningless). It is easy to use – one command to backup, two commands to restore. You can do PITR of sorts with it, and you can restore specific data files. It doesn’t try to manage the backup policies for you the way RMAN does – so cleaning old backups is your responsibility.

Replication is considered a basic skill, not an advanced skill like in the Oracle world. Indeed once you know how to restore from a backup, setting up replication is trivial. It took me about 2 hours to configure my first replication in MySQL. I think in Oracle Streams it took me few days, and that was on top of years of other Oracle experience.

Having access to experienced colleagues who are happy to spend time teaching a newbie is priceless. I already mentioned Sheeri’s docs. Chris Schneider volunteered around 2 hours of his time to introduce me to various important configuration parameters, innoDB secrets and replication tips and tricks. Raj Thukral helped me by providing step by step installation and replication guidance and helping debug my work. I’m so happy to work with such awesome folks.

To my shock and horror, at that point I felt like I was done. I learned almost everything important there was to know about MySQL. It took a month. As an Oracle DBA, after two years I still felt like a complete newbie, and even today there are many areas I wish I had better expertise. I’m sure it is partially because I don’t know how much I don’t know, but MySQL really is a rather simple DB – there is less to tweak, less to configure, fewer components, less tools to learn.

Jonathan Lewis once said that he was lucky to learn Oracle with version 6, because back then it was still relatively simple to learn, but the concepts didn’t change much since so what he learned back then is still relevant today. Maybe in 10 years I’ll be saying the same about MySQL.

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