If you’re learning software development you might have heard of the terms SQL and MySQL. And you might be wondering, what’s the difference? Also, what does SQL Server mean and is it the same thing?

In short, SQL is a language for accessing the data, and MySQL and SQL Server are database systems that implement that language and store data.

Let’s take a look at all those terms and see the differences between SQL vs MySQL vs SQL Server in this article.


What is SQL?

SQL stands for Structured Query Language. It’s a language you can use to access data in your database, such as:

  • Reading data
  • Adding new data
  • Updating existing data
  • Deleting data
  • Modifying the structure of your database

Just like other programming languages, SQL was invented a while ago and has evolved since then. There are standards that are published by ANSI (American National Standards Institute).

If you’ve ever seen some code that starts with the word SELECT, then it’s most likely SQL.

For example, this code is SQL:

SELECT first_name, last_name FROM customer;

SQL can either be pronounced “ess-cue-ell” or “sequel”. There are many articles and opinions on which way is correct, but you’ll likely hear both ways.


What is MySQL?

MySQL is one example of a database management system. It’s a system that implements the SQL language and allows you and your applications to store and access data.

Applications need to store data in order for them to use most features. Having some SQL code in the application is not enough. There needs to be a place to store the data. And the place to store the data is in a database, which is provided by a database management system.

There are many database management systems available, and one of the most common ones is MySQL.

MySQL was invented in 1995 and was later acquired by another software company called Oracle. It’s open-source, meaning the code is freely available and the database is free to use.

MySQL implements the SQL language, so you can use SQL code (which are called “queries”) on it to do what you need.

Database management systems need to implement the ANSI standard of SQL, which is like a baseline of SQL that’s needed. The database management system can then add on extra functionality, which is what MySQL and others have done. So, MySQL includes the ANSI-standard SQL as well as some extra features.

MySQL is popular with WordPress developers, as WordPress runs on MySQL. It’s also a common system to learn on and to develop many other websites with.


What is SQL Server?

SQL Server is another example of a database management system. It’s a Microsoft product and is a popular database used in many companies.

SQL Server, also called Microsoft SQL Server or MS SQL, also implements the ANSI SQL standard. This means it includes all of the base SQL commands that are needed to work with a database.

They also include their own features on top of the SQL standard. This means that some features available in MySQL are not available in SQL Server, and vice versa.

Microsoft SQL Server requires a license to use, unlike MySQL. There is a free version, called SQL Server Express, which you can download to get started learning SQL Server (and I also use this in my free Introduction to SQL Server course). However, if you want to use it for anything commercial or in a company, you need to pay for a license.

Their main competitor in business-level databases is Oracle, who also offer a database called Oracle Database.


Comparison of SQL vs MySQL vs SQL Server

We’ve looked at an explanation of what each of these terms means. The table below summarises them to make it easier to understand.

Criteria SQL MySQL SQL Server
Definition A language used to interact with databases A database management system, used for storing data A database management system, used for storing data
Type Language Software Software
Common Software N/A MySQL Workbench SQL Server Management Studio
Ownership Maintained by ANSI Owned by Oracle Owned by Microsoft
License N/A Open-source Paid
Frequency of Updates Every few years Several times per year Every few years



SQL stands for Structured Query Language and is a language used for accessing databases. MySQL and SQL Server are both database management systems which implement SQL and are used to store and manage data.