MySQL Engines - MyISAM vs Innodb

MySQL supports several different types of Table Engines also known as "Table Types". A database can have its tables being a mix of different table engine types or all of the same type. Here is more information on each of the different types of table engines that MySQL offers:


The two most commonly used on most Cloud Sites MySQL servers use Innodb and MyISAM engines.


The purpose of this document is to briefly cover the two types and identify which ones are more recommended under what circumstances in the Cloud Sites environment. Please note that the purpose of this document is however not to go over a performance comparison of each of the two engine types as far as comparing via running specific sql test benchmarks, which if you are interested are well done on the two links below:


MyISAM is the default table engine type for MySQL 5.0 but the Cloud Sites environment defaults the storage engine to Innodb. In other words Cloud Sites is partial to Innodb if you do not explicity specify your engine type in your table DDL. We have also tuned the database servers to generally perform best with using the Innodb Engine type.




There is significant portion of customers which are still using MyISAM when they come to us, so one of the big questions is when it is feasible to move to Innodb and when staying on MyISAM is preferred ?


I generally prefer to see Innodb as the main storage engine because it makes life much simpler in the end for most users – you do not get to deal with recovering tables on the crash or partially executed statements. Table locks is no more problem, hot backups are easy, though there are some important things which we have to consider on case by case basics before recommending the move.


Is MyISAM used as default or as a choice ? This is the most important question to ask upfront. Sometimes MyISAM is there just because it is default, in other cases this is deliberate choice with system being optimized to deal with MyISAM limits, for example there is a dedicated slave available for all long reporting queries. In case MyISAM was chosen not just happened to be it is important to build the good argument to suggest Innodb.


Application Readiness Application should be ready to work with Innodb, for example be ready to deal with deadlocks which can happen with Innodb even if you do not use transactions, but which are not existent with MyISAM. QA has to be performed as part of the move.


Performance Innodb has a lot to offer in terms of performance – Performance benefits and drawbacks. On the benefits side we usually see clustering by primary key, caching data, higher concurrency, background flushes while on the drawbacks side we see significantly large table size (especially if data size is close to memory size), generally slower writes, slower blob handling, concurrency issues, problems dealing with very large number of tables, slow data load and ALTER TABLE and others. Another big one is COUNT(*) without where clause which is often the show stopper for them move until it is worked around.


Operations What is good for MyISAM kills Innodb, such as copying binary tables between the servers. It is important the team understands Innodb and knows how to handle it, or be able to learn it. It is also important to adjust processes as required to work with Innodb. For example binary copy of one of the databases from the Slave to the dev envinronment works great for MyISAM but does not work with Innodb. Backup tools like “mysqlhotcopy” does not work etc. Note Performance also affects Operations aspects a lot – for example using mysqldump as a backup may well work for MyISAM but will start taking way too much time to do restore for Innodb. On large scale installations mysqldump does not work anyway but it may still work for you when you’re running MyISAM but instantly break upon upgrading to Innodb.


Features The MyISAM features which forbid moving to Innodb are typically Full Text Search and RTREE indexes/GIS with Full Text being much more common. There are workarounds for both of them, including dedicated MyISAM slave or shadow table but it is important to consider them.


How about Mixing Storage Engines ? Sure you can mix storage engines but I suggest you doing is wisely. It complicates operations tasks (backups, balancing, performance analyzes) as well as it exercises not so common paths in the MySQL server – in particular Optimizer may have harder time because costs between storage engines may not be well balanced or replication of mixed table types which is quite complicated.


I prefer to pick one storage engine (typically Innodb) and when use other tables when it really gives substantial gains. I would not switch table to MyISAM because it gives 5% performance improvement but I can perfectly use MyISAM (or Archive) for logging.


Innodb Needs Tuning As a final note about MyISAM to Innodb migration I should mention about Innodb tuning. Innodb needs tuning. Really. MyISAM for many applications can work well with defaults. I’ve seen hundreds of GB databases ran with MyISAM with default settings and it worked reasonably. Innodb needs resources and it will not work well with defaults a lot. Tuning MyISAM from defaults rarely gives more than 2-3 times gain while it can be as much as 10-50 times for Innodb tables in particular for write intensive workloads. Check here for details.


Note: As Few people questioned me, I indeed forgot to clarify the scope here – I’m mainly speaking about OLTP/ Traditional web applications. for Analytics things are a lot different.

MySQL Engines - MyISAM vs Innodb
MySQL Engines - MyISAM vs Innodb
MySQL Engines - MyISAM vs Innodb