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Forking MySQL/ for how long can forks keep up?
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  • Fact: MySQL 5.6 was released as GA in February 2013
  • Fact: MySQL 5.6 has been available with its complete set of features since September 2012
  • Fact: On September 21st, Oracle has released MySQL 5.7.2, which is the de facto major release after MySQL 5.6 (5.7.1 was just a token “we’re-still-in-business” release).
  • Fact: As of today, there is no GA-ready fork of MySQL 5.6.

Percona Server is still in RC state, while MariaDB, with its runaway version 10, is still in alpha state. Of these releases, Percona Server seems the one in the better shape. Their problem was to adapt Percona Server to the enhanced codebase for 5.6, and the merging problems were bigger than the ones encountered in 5.1 and 5.5. Percona Server is a business oriented fork. It includes specific features for performance and manageability, things that users are asking for, and things that make Percona professional services easier to carry out.

Much different is the case of MariaDB. Their feature set is wider and hard to categorize globally. It includes some features that enhance performance (block commit, subquery optimization) but also plenty of features that are included only because nobody else wanted to touch them. In my experience, adding features to a project does not make it more stable, as the MySQL team knows well, with its disastrous experience with version 6.0, which was aborted after two years of alpha. MariaDB is in a state where they are adding lots of stuff to their code base, while merging selected pieces from MySQL 5.6. It could be a recipe for success or disaster. User experience will tell.

Up to MySQL 5.5, MariaDB has kept itself completely compatible with MySQL, with the goal of being a drop-in replacement. With the capriciously numbered version 10, that promise of compatibility has been broken. Most of the features introduced in MySQL 5.6 have not been included in MariaDB 10. Some of them have been rewritten with a completely different approach. As a result, MariaDb 10 lacks some of MySQL 5.6 features (parallel replication, for example) while showing some that are not in the upstream project (multi-source replication). The design of GTID has been started from scratch, and surely will make interoperability really hard (if not downright impossible) between the two projects.

Looking at the status of the projects, it seems that the MySQL team at Oracle has produced so many changes, that keeping up with it, even in terms of simple patch merging, is a heavy task. Where does it leave us, the community users? We have the choice between using the latest and greatest from Oracle, or waiting for the next latest and greatest from one of the forks. Percona Server seems to be on the final path of a less-than-easy catch-up, but MariaDB is farther away. And even if it releases a GA soon, it will find itself in a situation where merging changes from Oracle is going to be tougher and tougher. It may mean that performance enhancements from mainstream MySQL will take months (or years) to reach MariaDB. Users willing to benefit from the latest improvements will choose between Oracle MySQL and (with some delay) Percona Server. MariaDB will need to either do some sort of cherry-picking from Oracle releases or implement its own improvements. Can they compete with the 200 strong engineering team at Oracle? It’s going to be a tough proposition.

Given the above facts, how is it that we hear of big players like Red Hat and Google announcing that they will adopt MariaDB instead of Oracle’s MySQL? Since I could not find a sensible technical reason, I am forced to conclude that the choice has been political. Both Red Hat and Google have been entangled in commercial competition, and sometimes in court. Yet, choosing software for non-technical reason looks foolish to me.

Summing up: Oracle is releasing a steady stream of improvement for MySQL. This shows a high level of commitment that does not play well with what the doomsayers have been announcing for the past 4 years. So far, facts are contradicting that FUD. Forks are lagging behind. Some more than others.

Disclaimer: The above thoughts are my own, and don’t reflect the opinions of my employer or other companies.

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