MySQL and The Open Source Revolution - Getting Started with MySQL Development - Expert MySQL, Second Edition (2012)

Expert MySQL, Second Edition (2012)

PART 1. Getting Started with MySQL Development

Getting Started with MySQL Development

This section introduces you to concepts in developing and modifying open source systems. Chapter 1 guides you through the benefits and responsibilities of an open source system integrator. It highlights the rapid growth of MySQL and its importance in the open-source- and database-system markets. Chapter 2 covers the basics of what a database system is and how it is constructed. Chapter 3 provides a complete introduction to the MySQL source presented in this chapter along with how to obtain and build the system. Chapter 4 introduces a key element in generating high-quality extensions to the MySQL system. You’ll learn about software testing as well as common practices for testing large systems.

CHAPTER 1. MySQL and The Open Source Revolution

Open source systems are rapidly changing the software landscape. Information technology professionals everywhere are taking note of the high quality, and in many cases world-class, development and support offered by open-source-software vendors. Corporations are paying attention, because for the first time they have an alternative to commercial proprietary software vendors. Small businesses are paying attention because open source software can significantly lower the cost of their information systems. Individuals are paying attention because they have more choices with more options than ever before. The majority of the underpinnings that make the Internet what it is today are based on open source software systems, such as Linux, Apache HTTP server, BIND, Sendmail, OpenSSL, MySQL, and many others.

The most common reason businesses use open source software is cost. Open source software, by its very nature, reduces the total cost of ownership (TCO) and provides a viable business model on which businesses can build or improve their markets. This is especially true of open-source database systems, as the cost of commercial proprietary systems can easily go into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For small businesses just starting, this outlay of funds could impact its growth. For example, if a startup has to spend a significant potion of its reserves, it may be unable to get its products to market and therefore may not be able to gain a foothold in a highly competitive market. Open source provides startups with the opportunity to defer their software purchases until they can afford the investment. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are building an infrastructure out of inferior components.

Open source software once was considered by many to be limited to the hobbyist or hacker bent on subverting the market of large commercial software companies. Although some developers may feel that they are playing the role of David to Microsoft’s Goliath, the open source community is not about that at all. It does not profess to be a replacement for commercial proprietary software, but rather, it proposes the open source philosophy as an alternative. As you will see in this chapter, not only is open source a viable alternative to commercial software, but it is also fueling a worldwide revolution in how software is developed, evolved, and marketed.

image Note In this book, the term “hacker” refers to Richard Stallman’s definition: “someone who loves to program and enjoys being clever about,”1 and not the common perception of a nefarious villain bent on stealing credit cards and damaging computer systems.

The following section is provided for those who may not be familiar with open source software or the philosophy of MySQL. If you are already familiar with open source software philosophy, you can skip to the section “Developing with MySQL.”

What Is Open Source Software?

Open source software grew from a conscious resistance to the corporate-property mindset. While working for the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the 1970s, Richard Stallman began a code-sharing movement. Fueled by the desire to make commonly used code available to all programmers, Stallman saw the need for a cooperating community of developers. This philosophy worked well for Stallman and his small community—until the industry collectively decided that software was property and not something that should be shared with potential competitors. This resulted in many of the MIT researchers being lured away to work for these corporations. Eventually, the cooperative community faded away.

Fortunately, Stallman resisted the trend and left MIT to start the GNU (GNU Not Unix) project and the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The goal of the GNU project was to produce a free Unix-like operating system. This system would be free (including access to the source code) and available to anyone. The concept of “free” was to not prohibit anyone from using and modifying the system.

Stallman’s goal was to re-establish the cooperating community of developers that worked so well at MIT. He had the foresight, however, to realize the system needed a copyright license that guaranteed certain freedoms. (Some have called Stallman’s take on copyright “copyleft,” because it guarantees freedom rather than restricts it.) Stallman created the GNU Public License (GPL). The GPL, a clever work of legal permissions that permits the code to be copied and modified without restriction, states that derivative works (the modified copies) must be distributed under the same license as the original version without any additional restrictions. Essentially, this uses the copyright laws against copyrights by removing the proprietary element altogether.

Unfortunately, Stallman’s GNU project never fully materialized, but several parts of it have become essential elements of many open source systems. The most successful of these include the GNU compilers for the C programming language (GCC) and the GNU text editor (Emacs). Although the GNU operating system failed to be completed, the pioneering efforts of Stallman and his followers permitted Linus Torvalds to fill the gap with his Linux operating system, then in its infancy, in 1991. Linux has become the free Unix-like operating system that Stallman envisioned (see “Why Is Linux So Popular?”). Today, Linux is the world’s most popular and successful open source operating system.


Linux is a Unix-like operating system built on the open source model. It is, therefore, free for anyone to use, distribute, and modify. Linux uses a conservative kernel design that has proven to be easy to evolve and improve. Since its release in 1991, Linux has gained a worldwide following of developers who seek to improve its performance and reliability. Some even claim that Linux is the most well-developed of all operating systems. Since its release, Linux has gained a significant market share of the world’s server and workstation installations. Linux is often cited as the most successful open source endeavor to date.

We can see the success of Linux in the many variants brought forth by smaller groups within the community. Many of these variants, such as Ubuntu, are owned by a corporation (Canonical) that controls the evolution of the product. While still Linux in practice, Ubuntu is a great example of how ownership can drive innovation and differentiation through value-added alterations of the core product.

There was one problem with the free software movement. “Free” was intended to guarantee freedom to use, modify, and distribute, not to be free as in no cost or free-to-a-good home (often explained as “free” as free speech, not free beer). To counter this misconception, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) formed and later adopted and promoted the phrase “open source” to describe the freedoms guaranteed by the GPL; visit the website at

The OSI’s efforts changed the free software movement. Software developers were given the opportunity to distinguish between free software that is truly no cost and open software that was part of the cooperative community. With the explosion of the Internet, the cooperative community has become a global community of developers that ensures the continuation of Stallman’s vision.

Open source software, therefore, is software that is licensed to guarantee the rights of developers to use, copy, modify, and distribute their software while participating in a cooperative community whose natural goals are the growth and fostering of higher-quality software. Open source does not mean zero cost. It does mean anyone can participate in the development of the software and can, in turn, use the software without incurring a fee. On the other hand, many open source systems are hosted and distributed by organizations that sell support services for the software. This permits organizations that use the software to lower their information technology costs by eliminating startup costs and in many cases saving a great deal on maintenance.

All open source systems today draw their lineage from the foundations of the work that Stallman and others produced in an effort to create a software utopia in which Stallman believed organizations should generate revenue from selling services, not proprietary property rights. There are several examples of Stallman’s vision becoming reality. The GNU/Linux (henceforth referred to as Linux) movement has spawned numerous successful (and profitable) companies, such as Red Hat and Slackware, that sell customized distributions and support for Linux. Another example is MySQL, which has become the most successful open-source-database system.

Although the concept of a software utopia is arguably not a reality today, it is possible to download an entire suite of systems and tools to power a personal or business computer without spending any money on the software itself. No-cost versions of software ranging from operating systems and server systems such as database and web servers to productivity software are available for anyone to download and use.

Why Use Open Source Software?

Sooner or later, someone is going to ask why using open source software is a good idea. To successfully fend off the ensuing challenges from proponents of commercial proprietary software, you should have a solid answer. The most important reasons for adopting open source software are:

· Open source software costs little or nothing to use. This is especially important for nonprofits, universities, and community organizations, whose budgets are constantly shrinking and that must do more with less every year.

· You can modify it to meet your specific needs.

· The licensing mechanisms available are more flexible than commercial licenses.

· Open source software is more robust (tested) than commercial proprietary software.

· Open source software is more reliable and secure than commercial proprietary software.

Although you likely won’t be challenged or asked to demonstrate any of these reasons for adopting open source software, you might be challenged by contradiction—that is, proponents of commercial proprietary software (opponents of open source) will attempt to discredit these claims by making statements about why you shouldn’t use open source software for development. Let’s examine some of the more popular reasons not to use open source software from a commercial proprietary software viewpoint and refute them with the open source view.

Myth 1: Commercial Proprietary Software Fosters Greater Creativity

The argument goes: Most enterprise-level commercial proprietary software provides application programming interfaces (API) that permit developers to extend their functionality, thus making the software more flexible and ensuring greater creativity for developers.

Some of this is true. APIs do permit developers to extend the software, but they often do so in a way that strictly prohibits developers from adding functionality to the base software. These APIs often force the developer into a sandbox, further restricting her creativity.

For example, the Microsoft .Net language C# has been critically acclaimed as being a very good language. APIs, however, are not easily modified. Indeed, one receives the binary form of the library only when installing the host product, Visual Studio. You can augment the APIs with class derivatives, but strictly speaking, you cannot edit the source code for the APIs in and of themselves.

image Note Sandboxes are often created to limit the developer’s ability to affect the core system, largely for security. The more open the API is, the more likely it is for villainous developers to create malicious code to damage the system or its data.

Open source software may also support and provide APIs, but it provides developers with the ability to see the actual source code of the core system. Not only can they see the source code, they are free (and encouraged) to modify it! (For example, you may want to modify the core system when a critical feature isn’t available or you need the system to read or write a specific format.) Therefore, open source software fosters greater creativity than commercial proprietary software.

Myth 2: Commercial Proprietary Software Is More Secure Than Open Source Software

The argument goes: Organizations require their information systems in today’s Internet-connected society to be more secure than ever before. Commercial proprietary software is inherently more secure because the company that sells the software has a greater stake in ensuring their products can stand against the onslaught of today’s digital predators.

Although the goals of this statement are quite likely to appear on a boardroom wall as a mantra for any commercial software vendor, the realization of this goal, or in some cases marketing claim, is often misleading or unobtainable.

Studies have shown that the very nature of open source software development can help make the software more secure, because open source software, by definition, is developed by a group and a community interested in seeking the very best for the product. Indeed, the rigorous review and openness of the source code ensures there is nothing that can be hidden from view, whether a defect or an omission. Because the source code is available to all, it is in every open source developer’s best interest to harden his code—malicious or benign.

Myth 3: Commercial Proprietary Software Is Tested More Than Open Source Software

The argument goes: Software vendors sell software. The products they sell must maintain a standard of high quality or customers won’t buy them. Open source software is not under any such pressure and therefore is not tested as stringently as commercial proprietary software.

This argument is very compelling. In fact, it sings to the hearts of all information-technology acquisition agents. They are convinced that something you pay for is more reliable and freer of defects than software that can be acquired without a fee. Unfortunately, these individuals are overlooking one important concept of open source software: It is developed by a global community of developers, many of whom consider themselves defect detectives (testers) and pride themselves on finding and reporting defects. In some cases, open source software companies have offered rewards for developers who find repeatable bugs.

It is true that software vendors employ software testers (and no doubt they are the best in their field), but more often than not, commercial software projects are pushed toward a specific deadline and are focused on the good of the product from the point of view of the company’s goals – often driven by marketing opportunities. These deadlines are put in place to ensure a strategic release date or competitive advantage. Many times these deadlines force software vendors to compromise on portions of their software development process—which is usually the later part: testing. As you can imagine, reducing a tester’s access to the software (testing time) means they will find fewer defects.

Open source software companies, by enlisting the help and support of the global community of developers, ensure that their software is tested more often by more people who have only the good of the product itself in mind and are not usually driven by goals that may influence their ability to scrutinize the software. Indeed, some open source community members can be at times merciless in their evaluation of a new feature or release. Believe me when I tell you that if it isn’t up to their expectations, they will let you know.

Myth 4: Commercial Proprietary Systems Have More Complex Capabilities and More Complete Feature Sets Than Open Source Systems

The argument goes: Commercial proprietary database systems are sophisticated and complex server systems. Open source systems are neither large nor complex enough to handle mission-critical enterprise data.

Although some open source systems are good imitations of the commercial systems they mimic, the same cannot be said for a database system such as MySQL. Earlier versions of MySQL did not have all the features found in commercial proprietary database systems, but since version 5.0, and more so with the latest releases, MySQL includes major features and is considered the world’s most popular open-source database system.

Furthermore, MySQL has been shown to provide the reliability, performance, and scalability that large enterprises require for mission-critical data, and many well-known organizations use it. MySQL is one open source system that offers all the features and capabilities of the best competing commercial proprietary database systems.

Myth 5: Commercial Proprietary Software Vendors Are More Responsive Because They Have a Dedicated Staff

The argument goes: When a software system is purchased, the software comes with the assurances that the company that produced it will provide assistance or help to solve problems. Because no one “owns” open source systems, it is far more difficult get assistance.

Most open source software is built by the global community of developers. The growing trend, however, is to base a business model on the open source philosophy and build a company around it, selling support and services for the software that the company oversees. Most major open source products are supported in this manner. For instance, Oracle Corporation, hence Oracle, owns the source code for its MySQL product. (For a complete description of Oracle’s MySQL open source license, see

Developers of open source software respond much more quickly to issues and problems than commercial developers do. Indeed, many take great pride in being open about their products and pay close attention to what the world thinks about them. On the other hand, it can be nearly impossible to talk to a commercial software developer directly. For example, Microsoft has a comprehensive support mechanism in place and can meet the needs of just about any organization. If you want to talk to a developer of a Microsoft product, however, you must go through proper channels. This requires talking to every stage of the support hierarchy—and even then are you not guaranteed contact with the developer.

Open source developers, on the other hand, use the Internet as their primary form of communication. Since they are already on the Internet, they are much more likely to see your question in a forum or news group. Additionally, open source companies such as Oracle actively monitor their community and can respond quickly to their customers.

Therefore, purchasing commercial proprietary software does not guarantee you quicker response times than that of open source software. In many cases, open source software developers are more responsive (reachable) than commercial software developers.

What If They Want Proof?

These are just a few of the arguments that are likely to cause you grief as you attempt to adopt open source software in your organization. Several researchers have attempted to prove open source is better than commercial software. One, James W. Paulson, conducted an empirical study of open source and commercial proprietary software (he calls it “closed”) that examines the preceding arguments and proves that open source software development can demonstrate measurable improvements over commercial proprietary software development. See Paulson’s article, “An Empirical Study of Open-Source and Closed-Source Software Products,” in the April 2004 issue of IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering.

Is Open Source Really a Threat to Commercial Software?

Until recently, open source software was not considered a threat to the commercial proprietary software giants, but one of Oracle’s competitors is beginning to exhibit the classic signs of responding to a competitive threat. While, despite its recent openness endeavor2, Microsoft continues to speak out against open source software, denouncing MySQL as a world-class database server while passively ignoring the threat, Oracle is taking a considerably different tack.

Since acquiring MySQL with the Sun Microsystems acquisition, Oracle has continued to devote considerable resources in enhancing MySQL. Oracle has and continues to invest in development in the ongoing quest to make MySQL the world’s best database system for the web.

The pressure of competition isn’t limited to MySQL versus proprietary database systems. At least one open-source database system, Apache Derby, touts itself as an alternative to MySQL and recently tossed its hat into the ring as a replacement for the “M” in the LAMP stack (see “What Is the LAMP Stack?”). Proponents for Apache Derby cite licensing issues with MySQL and feature limitations. Neither has deterred the MySQL install base, nor have these “issues” limited MySQL’s increasing popularity.


LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python. The LAMP stack is a set of open source servers, services, and programming languages that permit rapid development and deployment of high-quality web applications. The key components are

· Linux: A Unix-like operating system. Linux is known for its high degree of reliability and speed as well as its vast diversity of supported hardware platforms.

· Apache: A web application server known for its high reliability and ease of configuration. Apache runs on most Unix operating systems.

· MySQL: The database system of choice for many web application developers. MySQL is known for its speed and small execution footprint.

· PHP/Perl/Python: These are scripting languages that can be embedded in HTML web pages for programmatic execution of events. These scripting languages represent the active programming element of the LAMP stack. They are used to interface with system resources and back-end database systems to provide active content to the user. While most LAMP developers prefer PHP over the other scripting languages, each can be used to successfully develop web applications.

There are many advantages to using the LAMP stack for development. The greatest is cost. All LAMP components are available as no-cost open-source licenses. Organizations can download, install, and develop web applications in a matter of hours with little or no initial cost for the software.

An interesting indicator of the benefits of offering an open-source database system is the recent offering of “free” versions from some of the proprietary database vendors. Microsoft, which has been a vocal opponent of open source software, now offers a no-cost version of its SQL Server database system called SQL Server Express. Although there is no cost for downloading the software and you are permitted to distribute the software with your application, you may not see the source code or modify it in any way. This version has a limited feature set and is not scalable to a full enterprise-level database server without purchasing additional software and services.

Clearly, the path that Oracle is blazing with its MySQL server products demonstrates a threat to the proprietary database market—a threat that the commercial proprietary software industry is taking seriously. Although Microsoft continues to try to detract the open-source-software market, it, too, is starting to see the wisdom of no-cost software.

Legal Issues and the GNU Manifesto

Commercial proprietary software licenses are designed to limit your freedoms and to restrict your use. Most commercial licenses state clearly that you, the purchaser of the software, do not own the software but may use it under very specific conditions. In almost all cases, this means you cannot copy, distribute, or modify the system in any way. These licenses also make it clear that the source code is owned exclusively by the licenser, and that you, the licensee, are not permitted to see or re-engineer it.

image Caution This section is a general discussion of the General Public License. Software providers often have their own forms of this license and may interpret the legalities in subtle but different ways. Always contact the software provider for clarification of any portion of the license that you wish to exercise. This is especially true if you wish to modify or include any portion of the software in your own products or services.

Open source systems are generally licensed using a GNU-based license agreement (GNU stands for GNU, not Unix) called General Public License (GPL). See for more details. Most GPL licenses permit free use of the original source code with a restriction that all modifications be made public or returned to the originator as legal ownership. Furthermore, most open source systems use the GPL agreement, which states that it is intended to guarantee your rights to copy, distribute, and modify the software. Note that the GPL does not limit your rights in regard to how you use the software; in fact, it specifically grants you the right to use the software however you want. The GPL also guarantees your right to have access to the source code. All of these rights are specified in the GNU Manifesto and the GPL agreement(

Most interesting, the GPL specifically permits you to charge a distribution fee (or media fee) for distribution of the original source and provides you the right to use the system in whole or modified in order to create a derivative product, which is also protected under the same GPL. The only catch is that you are required to make your modified source code available to anyone who wants it.

These limitations do not prohibit you from generating revenue from your hard work. On the contrary, as long as you turn over your source code by publishing it via the original owner, you can charge your customers for your derivative work. Some may argue that this means you can never gain a true competitive advantage, because your source code is available to everyone, but the opposite is true in practice. Vendors such as Canonical, Red Hat, and Oracle have profited from business models based on the GPL.

The only limitations of the GPL that may cause you pause are the limitation on warranties and the requirement to place a banner in your software stating the derivation (original and license) of the work.

A limitation on expressed warranties isn’t that surprising if you consider that most commercial licenses include similar clauses. The part that makes the GPL unique is the concept of nonliable loss. The GPL specifically frees the originator and you, the modifier (or distributor), from loss or damage as a result of the installation or use of the software. Stallman did not want the legal industry to cash in should there ever be a question of liability of open source software. The logic is simple. You obtained the software for free and you did not get any assurances about its performance or protection from damages as a result of its use. In this case, there is no quid pro quo and thus no warranty of any kind.

Opponents of the open source movement will cite this as a reason to avoid open source software, stating that it is “use at your own risk” and therefore introduces too much risk. While that’s true enough, the argument is weakened or invalidated when you purchase support from open source vendors. Support options from open source vendors often include certain liability rights and further protections. This is perhaps the most compelling reason to purchase support for open source software. In this case, there is quid pro quo and in many cases a reliable warranty.

The requirement to place a banner in a visible place in your software is not that onerous. The GPL simply requires a clear statement of the software’s derivation and origination as well as marking the software as protected under the GPL. This informs anyone who uses this software of their rights (freedoms) to use, copy, distribute, and modify the software.

Perhaps the most important declaration contained in the GNU manifesto is the statements under “How GNU Will Be Available.” In this section, the manifesto states that although everyone may modify and redistribute GNU, no one may restrict its further redistribution. This means no one can take an open source system based on the GNU manifesto and turn it into a proprietary system or make proprietary modifications.


A discussion of open-source-software licensing would be incomplete if the subject of property were not included. Property is simply something that is owned. While often think of property as something tangible, in the case of software, the concept becomes problematic. What exactly do we mean when we say software is property? Does the concept of property apply to the source code, the binaries (executables), the documentation, or all of them?

The concept of property is often a sticky subject when it comes to open source software. Who is the owner if the software is produced by the global community of developers? In most cases, open source software begins as a project someone or some organization has developed. The project becomes open source when the software is mature enough to be useful to someone else. Whether this is at an early stage, when the software is unrefined, or later, when the software reaches a certain level of reliability, is not important. What is important is that the person or organization that started the project is considered the owner. In the case of MySQL, the company, Oracle, originated the project and therefore it owns the MySQL system.

According to the GPL that MySQL adheres to, Oracle owns all the source code and any modifications made under the GPL. The GPL gives you the right to modify MySQL, but it does not give you the right to claim the source code as your property.


A detailed history of the evolution of MySQL as an organization is beyond the scope of this book. The MySQL brand, product, and its development organization is solely owned by Oracle Corporation. Oracle acquired MySQL as part of the Sun Microsystems merger executed in January 2010.

Despite some controversy over antitrust in Europe, the merger was successful, and Oracle pledged continued development and evolution of MySQL. To date, Oracle has lived up to those promises and continues to foster MySQL as the world’s leading open-source database system. Oracle continues to position MySQL in the same light as it was in the past: the database for the web (the M in LAMP).

Since the acquisition, Oracle has released several versions of MySQL that include advancements in better performance, integration of InnoDB as the default database, Windows platform improvements, and numerous improvements and innovations to replication thereby enabling high availability capabilities. Oracle is indeed the owner of MySQL and has proved to be its greatest custodian to date.

The Ethical Side

Ethical dilemmas abound when you first start working with open source software. For example, open source software is free to download, but you have to turn over any improvements you make to the original owner. How can you make money from something you have to give away?

To understand this, you must consider the goal that Stallman had in mind when he developed the GNU license model: to make a community of cooperation and solidarity among developers throughout the world. He wanted source code to be publicly available and the software generated to be free for anyone to use. Your rights to earn (to be paid) for your work are not restricted. You can sell your derivative work. You just can’t claim ownership of the source code. You are ethically (and legally!) bound to give back to the global community of developers.

Another ethical dilemma arises when you modify open source software for your own use. For example, you download the latest version of MySQL and add a feature that permits you to use your own abbreviated shortcuts for the SQL commands because you’re tired of typing out long SQL statements (I am sure someone somewhere has already done this). In this case, you are modifying the system in a way that benefits only yourself. So why should you turn over your modifications? Although this dilemma is probably not an issue for most of us, it could be an issue for you if you continue using the software with your personal modifications and eventually create a derivative work. Basically, any productive and meaningful modification you make must be considered property of the originator regardless of its use or limits of its use.

If you modify the source code as an academic exercise (as I will show you how to do later in this book, however, you should discard the modifications after completing your exercises or experiments. Some open source software makes provisions for these types of uses. Most consider exploring and experimenting with the source code a “use” of the software and not a modification and so allow use of the source code in academic pursuits.

Let the Revolution Continue!

The idea of freedom drove Richard Stallman to begin his quest to reform software development. Although freedom was the catalyst for the open source movement, it has become a revolution, because organizations now can avoid obsolescence at the hands of their competitors by investing in lower-cost software systems while maintaining the revenue to compete in their markets.

Organizations that have adopted open source software as part of their product lines are perhaps the most revolutionary of all. Most have adopted a business model based on the GPL that permits them to gain all of the experience and robustness that come with open source systems while still generating revenue for their own ideas and additions.

Open source software is both scorned and lauded by the software industry. Some despise open source because they see it as an attack on the commercial proprietary software industry. They also claim open source is a fad and will not last. They see organizations that produce, contribute to, or use open source software as being on borrowed time and believe that sooner rather than later, the world will come to its senses and forget about open source software. Some don’t despise open source as much as they see no possibility for profit and therefore dismiss the idea as fruitless.

Others see open source software as the savior that rescues us all from the tyrants of commercial proprietary software, and they believe that that sooner rather than later, the giant software companies will be forced to change their property models to open source or some variant thereof. The truth is probably in the middle. I see the open source industry as a vibrant and growing industry of similar-minded individuals whose goals are to create safe, reliable, and robust software. They make money by providing services based on and supporting open source software. Sometimes this is via licensing or support sales and sometimes this is via customization and consultation.

Whatever the method, it is clear that good open source software can become a business on its own. Similarly, whatever your perspective, you must conclude that the open source movement has caused a revolution among software developers everywhere.

Now that you have had a sound introduction to the open source revolution, you can decide whether you agree with its philosophy. If you do (and I sincerely hope I have convinced you to), then welcome to the global community of developers. Viva le revolution!

Developing with MySQL

You’ve taken a look at what open source software is and the legal ramifications of using and developing with open source software. Now you’ll learn how to develop products using MySQL. As you’ll see, MySQL presents a unique opportunity for developers to exploit a major-server software technology without the burden of conforming or limiting their development to a fixed set of rules or limited API suite.

MySQL is a relational database-management system designed for use in client/server architectures. MySQL can also be used as an embedded database library. Of course, if you have used MySQL before, you are familiar with its capabilities and no doubt have decided to choose MySQL for some or all of your database needs.

At the lowest level of the system, the server is built using a multithreaded model written in a combination of C and C++. Much of this core functionality was built in the early 1980s and later modified with a Structured Query Language (SQL) layer in 1995. MySQL was built using the GNU C compiler (GCC), which provides a great deal of flexibility for target environments. This means MySQL can be compiled for use on just about any Linux operating systems. Oracle has also had considerable success in building variants for the Microsoft Windows and Macintosh operating systems. The client tools for MySQL are largely written in C for greater portability and speed. Client libraries and access mechanism are available for .NET, Java, ODBC, and several others.


Once, while I was an undergraduate. I audited a C++ course primarily as a motivation to learn the language. I find learning a new programming language is futile if there is no incentive to master it—such as a passing grade. During the first day of class, a student (not me) asked the instructor what the ++ represented. His reply was, “the extra stuff.” Based on that whimsical and not altogether historically correct answer, and the fact that the MySQL source code has portions that are truly C and portions that are truly C++, it is more like C+/− than C or C++.C++ was originally named “C with classes” by its creator but later changed to C++ in 1983, using a bad pun for the increment operator. In other words, C++ is C with evolutionary additions3.

MySQL is built using parallel development paths to ensure product lines continue to evolve while new versions of the software are planned and developed. Software development follows a staged development process in which multiple releases are produced in each stage. The stages of a MySQL development process are:

1. Development—New product or feature sets are planned and implemented as a new path of the development tree.

2. Alpha—Feature refinement and defect correction (bug fixes) are implemented.

3. Beta—The features are “frozen” (no new features can be added) and additional intensive testing and defect correction is implemented.

4. Release Candidate—A stable beta state with no major defects, the code is frozen (only defects may be fixed) and final rounds of testing are conducted.

5. Generally Available (GA)—If no major defects are found, the code is declared stable and ready for production release.

You’ll often see various versions of the MySQL software offered in any of these stages. Typically, only the beta, release candidate, and GA releases are offered for download, but depending on the significance of a feature or the status of a feature request made by a support subscription, alpha releases may be made available.

When a particular feature represents a major change in existing functionality or improves a particular feature significantly, a lab release may be offered on A labs release is considered a preview of the feature and as such, it is meant for evaluation purposes. Typically, minimal or no documentation is available for labs releases. Indeed, Oracle states on the labs site, “not fit for production [use].” You can download lab releases from

When a set of features represents a major advancement in functionality or performance, there may be a development milestone release (DMR) offered. A DMR may have several features that may be at various stages of development. It is possible a DMR may have most features in a beta state, but a few may be at alpha or even near-release-candidate state. A DMR therefore is a key method of tracking and preparing for adopting major advances in MySQL development. You can find DMRs at

You can read more about general MySQL development, labs releases, and DMRs at

The parallel development strategy permits Oracle to maintain its current releases while working on new features. It is common to read about the new features in 5.6 while development and defect repair is continuing in 5.5. This may seem confusing, because we are used to commercial proprietary software vendors keeping their development strategies to themselves. MySQL version numbers are used to track the releases; they contain a two-part number for the product series and a single number for the release. For example, version 5.6.12 is the twelfth release of the 5.6 product line.

image Tip Always include the complete version number when corresponding with Oracle. Simply stating the “alpha release” or “latest version” is not clear enough to properly address your needs.

This multiple-release philosophy has some interesting side effects. It is not uncommon to encounter organizations that are using older versions of MySQL. In fact, I have encountered several agencies that I work with who are still using the version 4.x product lines. This philosophy has virtually eliminated the upgrade shell game that commercial proprietary software undergoes. That is, every time the vendor releases a new version it ceases development, and in many cases support, of the old version. With major architectural changes, customers are forced to alter their environments and development efforts accordingly. This adds a great deal of cost to maintaining product lines based on commercial proprietary software. The multiple-release philosophy frees organizations from this burden by permitting them to keep their own products in circulation much longer and with the assurance of continued support. Even when new architecture changes occur, as in the case of MySQL version 5.6, organizations have a much greater lead time and can therefore expend their resources in the most efficient manner allowed to them without rushing or altering their long-term plans.

While you may download any version of MySQL, first consider your use of the software. If you plan to use it as an enterprise server in your own production environment, you may want to limit your download to the stable releases of the product line. On the other hand, if you are building a new system using the LAMP stack or another development environment, any of the other release stages would work for a development effort. Most users will download the stable release of the latest version that they intend to use in their environment.


For the purposes of the exercises and experiments in this book, any version (stage) of MySQL 5.6 will work well. MySQL 5.6 is a significant milestone in MySQL’s evolution not only for its advanced features and performance improvements, but also for major changes in the architecture and significant changes to the source code. While some portions of this book may be fine for use in version 5.1 or 5.5 (for example, adding new functions), most examples are specific to version 5.6.

Oracle recommends using the latest stable release for any new development. What it means is if you plan to add features to MySQL and you are participating in the global community of developers, you should add new features to the server when it is most stable. This permits the greatest opportunity (exposure) for your code to be successful.

Also consider that, while the stage of the version may indicate its state with respect to new features, you should not automatically associate instability with the early stages or stability with the later ones. Depending on your use of the software, the stability may be different. For example, if you are using MySQL in a development effort to build a new ecommerce site in the LAMP stack, and you are not using any of the new features introduced during the alpha stage, the stability for your use is virtually the same as that of any other stage. The best rule of thumb is to select the version with the features that you need at the latest stage of development available.


If you have spent time researching MySQL, you most likely have encountered at least one database system that claims to be a derivative of MySQL. While several vendors offer a variant (sometimes called a fork or port) of MySQL—some being backed by small startup companies and one by the original developers of MySQL—none of these will match the level of expertise and development prowess of Oracle’s fostering of MySQL.

You may encounter variants that you may be able to use with this book. Given the major advances of MySQL in recent releases, however, you would do well to use the official MySQL source for your exploration of the source code. Some variants may eventually include the newest features, but at this time, it is unlikely they will be up to date with Oracle’s releases. Vendors offering variants include MariaDB, SkySQL, and Percona.

Why Modify MySQL?

Modifying MySQL is not a trivial task. If you are an experienced C/C++ programmer and understand the construction of relational database systems, you can probably jump right in. The rest of us need to consider why we want to modify a database server system and carefully plan our modifications.

There are many reasons why you would want to modify MySQL. Perhaps you require a database server or client feature that isn’t available. Or maybe you have a custom-application suite that requires a specific type of database behavior, and rather than having to adapt to a commercial proprietary system, it is easier and cheaper for you to modify MySQL to meet your needs. It is most likely the case that your organization cannot afford to duplicate the sophistication and refinement of the MySQL database system, but you need something to base your solution on. What better way to make your application world-class than by basing it on a world-class database system?

image Note If a feature is really useful and someone considers it beneficial, the beauty of open source is that the feature will work its way into the product. Someone, somewhere will contribute and build the feature.

Like all effective software developers, you must first plan what you are going to do. Start with the planning devices and materials that you are most comfortable with, and make a list of all of the things you feel you need the database server (or client) to do. Spend some time evaluating MySQL to see if any of the features you want already exist, and make notes concerning their behavior. After you’ve completed this research, you will have a better idea of where the gaps are. This “gap analysis” will provide you with a concentrated list of features and modifications needed. Once you have determined the features you need to add, you can begin to examine the MySQL source code and experiment with adding new features.

image Warning Always investigate the current MySQL features thoroughly when planning your modifications. You will want to examine and experiment with all SQL commands that are similar to your needs. Although you may not be able to use the current features, examining the existing capabilities will enable you to form a baseline of known behavior and performance that you can use to compare your new feature. You can be sure that members of the global community of developers will scrutinize new features and remove those they feel are best achieved using a current feature.

This book will introduce you to the MySQL source code and teach you how to add new features, as well as the best practices for what to change (and what not to change).

Later chapters will also detail your options for getting the source code and how to merge your changes into the appropriate code path (branch). You will also learn the details of Oracle’s coding guidelines that specify how your code should look and what code constructs you should avoid.

What Can You Modify in MySQL? Are There Limits?

The beauty of open source software is that you have access to its source code for the software (as guaranteed by its respective open source license). This means you have access to all of the inner workings of the entire software. Have you ever wondered how a particular open-source-software product works? You can find out simply by downloading the source code and working your way through it.

With MySQL, it isn’t so simple. The source code in MySQL is very complex, and in some cases, it is difficult to read and understand. One could say the code has very low comprehensibility. Often regarded by the original developers as having a “genius factor,” the source code can be a challenge for even the best C/C++ programmer.

While the challenges of complexities of the C/C++ code may be a concern, it in no way limits your ability to modify the software. Most developers modify the source code to add new SQL commands or alter existing SQL commands to get a better fit to their database needs. The opportunities are much broader than simply changing MySQL’s SQL behavior, however. You can change the optimizer, the internal query representation, or even the query-cache mechanism.

One challenge you are likely to encounter will not be from any of your developers; it may come from your senior technical stakeholders. For example, I once made significant modifications to the MySQL source code to solve a challenging problem. Senior technical stakeholders in the organization challenged the validity of my project not because of the solution or its design, but because I was modifying foundations of the server code itself. One stakeholder was adamant that my changes “flew in the face of thirty years of database theory and tried and true implementation.” I certainly hope you never encounter this type of behavior, but if you do and you’ve done your research as to what features are available and how they do not meet (or partially meet) your needs, your answer should consist of indisputable facts. If you do get this question or one like it, remind your senior technical stakeholder that the virtues of open source software is that it can be modified and that it frequently is modified. You may also want to consider explaining what your new feature does and how it will improve the system as a whole for everyone. If you can do that, you can weather the storm.

Another challenge you are likely to face with modifying MySQL is the question, “Why MySQL?” Experts will be quick to point out that there are several open-source-database systems to choose from. The most popular are MySQL, Firebird, PostgreSQL, and Berkeley DB. Reasons to choose MySQL for your development projects over some of the other database systems include:

· MySQL is a relational database-management system that supports a full set of SQL commands. Some open-source database systems, such as PostgreSQL, are object-relational database systems that use an API or library for access rather than accepting SQL commands. Some open source systems are built using architectures that may not be suited for your environment. For example, Apache Derby is based in Java and may not offer the best performance for your embedded application.

· MySQL is built using C/C++, which can be built for nearly all Linux platforms as well as Microsoft Windows and Macintosh OS. Some open source systems may not be available for your choice of development language. This can be an issue if you must port the system to the version of Linux that you are running.

· MySQL is designed as client/server architecture. Some open source systems are not scalable beyond a client-based embedded system. For example, Berkeley DB is a set of client libraries and is not a stand-alone database system.

· MySQL is a mature database server with a proven track record of stability owned by the world leader in database systems. Some open-source database systems may not have the install base of MySQL or may not offer the features you need in an enterprise database server.

Clearly, the challenges are going to be unique to the development needs and the environment in which the modifications take place. Whatever your needs are, you can be sure that you have complete access to all of the source code and that your modifications are limited only by your imagination.

MySQL’s Dual License

MySQL is licensed as open source software under the GPL. The server and client software as well as the tools and libraries are all covered by the GPL. Oracle has made the GPL a major focal point in its business model. It is firmly committed to the GNU open source community.

image Tip The complete GPLv2 license text for MySQL can be found at Read this carefully if you intend to modify MySQL or if you have never seen a GPL license before. Contact Oracle if you have questions about how to interpret the license for your use.

Oracle has gained many benefits by exposing its source code to the global community of developers. The source code is routinely evaluated by public scrutiny, third-party organizations regularly audit the source code, the development process fosters a forum of open communication and feedback, and the source code is compiled and tested in many different environments. No other database vendor can make these claims while maintaining world-class stability, reliability, and features.

MySQL is also licensed as a commercial product. A commercial license permits Oracle to own the source code (as described earlier) as well the copyright on the name, logo, and documentation (such as books). This is unique, because most open source companies do not ascribe to owning anything—rather, their intellectual property is their experience and expertise. Oracle has retained rights to the intellectual property of the software while leveraging the support of the global community of developers to expand and evolve it. Oracle has its own MySQL development team with more than 100 engineers worldwide. Although developers from around the world participate in the development of MySQL, Oracle employs many of them.


Oracle’s FOSS exception permits the use of the GPL-licensed client libraries in applications without requiring the derivative work to be subject to the GPL. If you are developing an application that uses MySQL client libraries, check out the MySQL FOSS exception for complete details.

Oracle offers several major MySQL editions, or versions, of the server. Most are commercial offerings that may not have a corresponding GPL release. For example, while you may download a GPL release of MySQL Cluster, you cannot download a commercial release of MySQL Cluster Carrier Grade Edition. Table 1-1 summarizes the various server editions currently available (when this chapter was written) from Oracle and their base licensing cost.

Table 1-1. MySQL Server Products and Pricing


**Costs shown are representative as of the publication of this work. Contact Oracle for accurate and up-to-date pricing.

image Tip Learn more about Oracle’s pricing and purchasing options at


So, Can You Modify MySQL or Not?

You may be wondering, after a discussion of the limitations of using open source software under the GNU public license, if you can actually modify it after all. The answer is: it depends.

You can modify MySQL under the GPL, provided, of course, that if you intend to distribute your changes you surrender those changes to the owner of the project and thereby fulfill your obligation to participate in the global community of developers. If you are experimenting or using the modifications for personal or educational purposes, you are not obligated to turn over your changes.

The heart of the matter comes down to the benefits of the modifications. If you add capabilities of interest to someone other than yourself, you should share them. Regardless of the situation, always consult Oracle before making any modification that you intend to share.

Guidelines for Modifying MySQL

Take care when approaching a task such as modifying a system such as MySQL. A relational database system is a complex set of services layered in such a way as to provide fast, reliable access to data. You would not want to open the source code and start plugging in your own code to see what happens (but you’re welcome to try). Instead, plan your changes and take careful aim at the portions of the source code that pertain to your needs.

Having modified large systems such as MySQL, I want to impart a few simple guidelines that will make your experience with modifying MySQL a positive one.

First, decide which license you are going to use. If you are using MySQL under an open source license already and can implement the modifications yourself, continue to use the GPL. In this case, you must perpetuate the open source mantra and give back to the community in exchange for what was freely offered. Under the terms of the GPL, the developer is bound to make these changes available. If you are using MySQL under the commercial license or need support for the modifications, purchase the appropriate MySQL Edition to match your server (number of CPU cores) and consult with Oracle on your modifications. If you are not going to distribute the modifications, however, and you can support them for future versions of MySQL, you do not need to change to the commercial license or change your commercial license to the GPL.

Another suggestion is to create a developer’s journal and keep notes of each change you make or each interesting discovery you find. Not only will you be able to record your work step by step, but you can also use the journal to document what you are doing. You will be amazed at what you can discover about your research by going back and reading your past journal entries. I have found many golden nuggets of information scrawled within my engineering notebooks.

While experimenting with the source code, also make notes in the source code itself. Annotate the source code with a comment line or comment block before and after your changes. This makes it easy to locate all of your changes using your favorite text parser or search program. The following demonstrates one method for commenting your changes:

/* Purpose of modification: experimentation. */
/* Modified by: Chuck */
/* Date modified: 30 May 2012 */
if (something_interesting_happens_here)

Last, do not be afraid to explore the free knowledge base and forums on the MySQL website or seek the assistance of the global community of developers. These are your greatest assets. Be sure you have done your homework before you post to one of the forums. The fastest way to become discouraged is to post a message on a forum only to have someone reply with a curt (but polite) reference to the documentation. Make your posts succinct and to the point. You don’t need to elaborate on the many reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing—just post your question and provide all pertinent information about the issue you’re having. Make sure you post to the correct forum. Most are moderated, and if you are ever in doubt, consult the moderator to ensure you are posting your topic in the correct forum.

image Tip A great site to read about what is going on in the MySQL community is, an aggregate of many blog postings from all over the world about MySQL.

A Real-World Example: TiVo

Have you ever wondered what makes your TiVo tick? Would you be surprised to know that it runs on a version of embedded Linux?

Jim Barton and Mike Ramsay designed the original TiVo product in 1997. It was pitched as a home network–based multimedia server serving streaming content to thin clients. Naturally, a device like this must be easy to learn and even easier to use, but most important, it must operate error free and handle power interruptions (and user error) gracefully.

Barton was experimenting with several forms of Linux, and while working at Silicon Graphics (SGI), he sponsored a port of Linux to the SGI Indy platform. Due mainly to the stable file system, network, memory handling, and developer tool support, Barton believed that it would be possible to port a version of Linux to the TiVo platform and that Linux could handle the real-time performance goals of the TiVo product.

Barton and Ramsay faced a challenge from their peers, however. At that time, many viewed open source with suspicion and scorn. Commercial software experts asserted that open source software would never be reliable in a real-time environment. Furthermore, they believed that basing a commercial proprietary product on the GPL would not permit modification and that if they proceeded, the project would become a nightmare of copyright suits and endless legal haranguing. Fortunately, Barton and Ramsay were not deterred and studied the GPL carefully. They concluded that not only was the GPL viable, it would permit them to protect their intellectual property.

Although the original TiVo product was intended to be a server, Barton and Ramsay decided that the bandwidth wasn’t available to support such lofty goals. Instead, they redesigned their product to a client device, called the TiVo Client Device (TCD), which would act like a sophisticated video recorder. They wanted to provide a for-fee service to serve up the television guide and interface with the TCD. This would allow home users to select the shows they wanted in advance and program the TCD to record them. In effect, they created what is now known as a digital video recorder (DVR).

The TCD hardware included a small, embedded computer with a hard drive and memory. Hardware interfaces were created to read and write video (video in and video out) using a MPEG 2 encoder and decoder. Additional input/output (I/O) devices included audio and telecommunications (for accessing the TiVo service). The TCD also had to permit multiprocessing capabilities in order to permit the recording of one signal (channel) while playing back another (channel). These features required a good memory- and disk-management subsystem. Barton and Ramsay realized these goals would be a challenge for any control system. Furthermore, the video interface must never be interrupted or compromised in any way.

What Barton and Ramsay needed most was a system with a well-developed disk subsystem, supported multitasking, and the ability to optimize hardware (CPU, memory) usage. Linux, therefore, was the logical choice of operating system for the TCD. Production goals and budget constraints limited the choice of CPU. The IBM PowerPC 403GCX processor was chosen for the TCD. Unfortunately, there were no ports of Linux that ran on the chosen processor. This meant that Barton and Ramsay would have to port Linux to the processor platform.

While the port was successful, Barton and Ramsay discovered they needed some specialized customizations of the Linux kernel to meet the needs and limits of the hardware. For example, they bypassed the file-system buffer cache in order to permit faster movement, or processing, of the video signals to and from user space. They also added extensive performance enhancements, logging, and recovery features to ensure that the TCD could recover quickly from power loss or user error.

The application that runs the TCD was built on Linux-based personal computers and ported to the modified Linux operating system with little drama—a testament to the stability and interoperability of the Linux operating system. When Barton and Ramsay completed their porting and application work, they conducted extensive testing and delivered the world’s first DVR in March 1999.

The TCD is one of the most widely used consumer products running a customized embedded Linux operating system. Clearly, the TCD story is a shining example of what you can accomplish by modifying open source software. The story doesn’t end here, though. Barton and Ramsay published their Linux kernel port complete with the source code. Their enhancements have found their way into the latest versions of the Linux kernel.


If you have an idea and a business model to base it on, going the open source route can result in a huge time saving in getting your product to market. In fact, your project may become one that can save a great deal of development revenue and permit you to get the product to market faster than your competition. This is especially true if you need to modify open source software—you have already done your homework and can show the cost benefits of using the open source software.

Unfortunately, many managers have been conditioned by the commercial proprietary software world to reject the notion of basing a product on open source software to generate a revenue case. So how do you change their minds? Use the TiVo story as ammunition. Present to your boss the knowledge you gained from the TiVo story and the rest of this chapter to dispel the myths concerning GPL and reliability of open source software. Be careful, though. If you are like most open source mavens, your enthusiasm can often be interpreted as a threat to the senior technical staff.

Make a list of the technical stakeholders who adhere to the commercial proprietary viewpoint. Engage these individuals in conversation about open source software and answer their questions. Most of all, be patient. These folks aren’t as thick as you may think, and eventually they will come to share your enthusiasm.

Once you have the senior technical staff educated and in the open source mindset, re-engage your management with a revised proposal. Be sure to take along a member of the senior technical staff as a shield (and a voice of reason). Winning, in this case, is turning the tide of commercial proprietary domination.


In this chapter, you explored the origins of open source software and the rise of MySQL to a world-class database-management system. You learned what open source systems are and how they compare to commercial proprietary systems. You saw the underbelly of open source licensing and discovered the responsibilities of being a member of the global community of developers.

You also received an introduction to developing with MySQL and learned characteristics of the source code and guidelines for making modifications. You read about Oracle’s dual-license practices and the implications of modifying MySQL to your needs. Finally, you saw an example of a successful integration of an open source system in a commercial product.

In the chapters following, you will learn more about the anatomy of a relational database system and how to get started customizing MySQL to your needs. Later, in Parts 2 and 3 of this book, you will be introduced to the inner workings of MySQL and the exploration of the most intimate portions of the code.