The difference between relational and non-relational databases

Databases are an essential part of any business or project in many ways. We must know how to set up, manage and use the database, it all raises a lot of questions, one of them is choosing what type of database to use, ie relational or non-relational? To know the answer, we must first understand the difference between relational and non-relational databases.

Read also: Understand databases and their functions and examples

What is a relational database?

A relational database was defined by EF Codd in 1970, and is a numerical database based on the relational data model. Data is stored in tables that contain rows (representing entries) and columns (which store and sort certain types of information).

In short, relational databases are used to store data that is structured in tables. Multiple tables can also have the same column. Think of a relational database like a spreadsheet.

They are also known as SQL databases because they use SQL (Structured Query Language) or a similar version. SQL is used to query, update, edit, or delete data, or to pull results from a query into a database.

Advantages and disadvantages of relational databases


  • It can handle many complex queries, database transactions, and routine data analysis.
  • ACID (Atomity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability): A set of properties that ensure reliable database transactions.


  • Images, numbers, designs, and multimedia products that are too complex or large cannot be stored
  • It can get very expensive with maintenance and new servers

Example of a relational database

  • MySQL
  • PostgreSQL
  • SQLite 3
  • MSSQL Server
  • MariaDB

What is a non-relational database?

Non-relational databases existed in the late 1960s, but the term was not used until 1998 by Carlo Strozzi who led the development of NoSQL.

A non-relational database is similar to a Word document. Instead of using an organized table-based layout for their data, non-relational databases store data in groups depending on the type of data. They are also known as NoSQL databases, or “not just SQL”, because they can use other query languages ​​depending on their layout.

While tables in a relational database need to be stored in a column/row layout, non-relational databases store data in a different way, in a non-standard format.

Advantages and disadvantages of a non-relational database


  • Huge amounts of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data
  • Object-oriented programming is easy to use and flexible
  • Large-scale architectural efficiency, not expensive monolithic architecture


  • Less support because NoSQL databases are usually open source
  • In terms of administration, NoSQL databases require technical skills to install and maintain them.
  • NoSQL databases are still under development and many features are still being implemented.

Example of a non-relational database

  • MongoDB
  • Cassandra
  • Redis

The difference between relational and non-relational databases

The main difference between the two is that the relational database uses SQL i.e. Structured Query Language as a standard programming language to manage relational databases as well as to perform various operations on the data in them.

Meanwhile, non-relational databases do not usually use tabular relationships to store and retrieve data which is common in relational databases. Instead, it is storage based on key-value pairs, databases, or graphs. Non-relational databases primarily focus on collecting documents. This is because this type of database is ideal for storing large data sets that are usually stored in JSON documents.

Relational database vs non-relational database

After you know the difference between relational and non-relational databases. Now is the time to decide which one to choose?

Deciding to use a relational or non-relational database depends on what you want to use it for, but there are also companies that use a mixture of relational and non-relational databases for their business needs.

Simply put, relational databases are very good at keeping your data transactions secure and performing complex queries for information. Regulated businesses that aren’t experiencing explosive growth are more likely to stick with traditional databases.

Whereas, non-relational databases are great at storing large amounts of data with little structure. Fast growing companies like startups are using more non-relational databases for scalability and flexibility. Non-relational databases, paired with the cloud, can save a lot of money for businesses.

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