26 Years Since its Inception, Postgres is Just Getting Started 

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At 26 years old and counting, you’d be forgiven for thinking that PostgreSQL (a.k.a. Postgres) is old news. Certainly, fancier, more technologically advanced options have emerged since Postgres’s inception back in 1999, but there’s something about Postgres that has led to its longevity on the list of Top 5 database management systems (DBMSs) for nigh on a decade.

And now, in 2023, many of the very same characteristics that have kept this database around over the years are now fueling a latent resurgence to the top of the relational rankings. Indeed, despite it already being relatively long in the tooth (at least in tech years), PostgreSQL’s story is just getting started.

Postgres Climbs the Ranks

At the time of writing, PostgreSQL ranks as the fourth most widely used database management system in the world (ranking behind Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server, in that order).

However, although Postgres still lags quite substantially behind the likes of MySQL and Oracle in total adoption, over the past several years, its year-over-year growth has been greater than any other relational database on the market — open source and proprietary. In fact, Postgres has nearly doubled in popularity over the past decade, rocketing up the charts at precisely the same time that many other leading DBMSs have seen their popularity decline.

Courtesy of DB-engines.com (https://db-engines.com/en/ranking_trend)

Why Postgres is on the Rise

So what’s behind Postgres’s late-game surge towards the top of the power rankings? Ask most experts and you’ll get one of the following four reasons: 

  • “It’s easy to adopt”
  • “It’s feature-rich”
  • “It’s extensible”
  • “It’s extra, extra open source”

Let’s start with number one on the list — “It’s easy to adopt.” To understand both Postgres’s staying power, and its recent boost in popularity, you must first understand that no other open-source database management system makes the jump from big name, proprietary DBs (e.g. Oracle) to open source ones so easy and intuitive. While PostgreSQL isn’t necessarily “easy” for a complete database greenhorn, it’s garnered a great deal of its success thanks to being relatively intuitive for the largest swath of database professionals.

Because of this, many organizations find the jump to PostgreSQL the most natural, considering they already have the relational expertise they need in-house. Ultimately, Postgres benefits from being the most familiar to the types of DB professionals already employed at most enterprises, with years of  experience in things like Oracle and SQL Server.

In a world in which there are significantly fewer database administrators (DBAs) than we actually need, you can be certain that familiarity and ease of onboarding are and will continue to be extremely important qualities when choosing a DBMS. 

Features, Features, Features

Postgres has long been considered a “feature-rich” DBMS. And, thanks to its thriving community of contributors, that feature-rich status grows with each annual version update. And while not every annual Postgres version update is created equally, recent updates have packed quite a punch in terms of feature upgrades and new capabilities. 

Recent critical feature updates include replication slots, and logical replication using publish/subscribe; introduction to declarative table partitioning; query parallelism; adoption and improved usage of JSON types (e.g. JSONB), and so on. There are many, many others, and the list of new features and improvements contributing to its adoption is simply massive.

The most recent version update, PostgreSQL 15, introduced a fair number of high-value features, including MERGE, which has helped to make the jump from Oracle to Postgres even smoother, and makes it simple to conditionally insert, update, or delete data. 

Extensible Equals Applicable

In addition to its robust set of native features, Postgres is also infinitely “extensible” — meaning, it is relatively easy to develop extensions for. And, unsurprisingly, that has led to Postgres having a massive ecosystem of extensions available. 

As you might imagine, the number and diversity of extensions already available make Postgres orders of magnitude better equipped for a wide variety of applications. And by being so extensible, Postgres ensures its longevity – as the open source community will continue to build extensions for the DBMS and increase its utility as a result. 

The prime example of Postgres’ extensibility is perhaps PostGIS — which adds support for geographic objects to the object-relational database. It is likely the most prolific and successful Postgres extension to date, but it isn’t without competitors. Another hugely significant extension class is “postgres_fdw”, which opens the doors for Postgres to connect to other databases, making it possible to query other databases from inside Postgres. It’s also important to note the rich ecosystem of corporate-backed extensions available for Postgres, such as Timescale which enables the use of time-series data inside the Postgres DBMS. 

No DBMS Does Open Source Quite Like Postgres

Another critical ingredient in the above equation is Postgres’s unique open-source license — conveniently titled, “The PostgreSQL Licence”. While there are plenty of very popular open source DBMSs in the world; Postgres, with its namesake license, is arguably the most open of the bunch. And while there certainly are more permissive types of licenses in the world of open source (e.g. BSD licenses), they won’t be found among mainstream DBMSs. 

And that permissiveness is critical. Not only does it make the platform malleable for businesses looking to build upon it, it also has the added benefit of nurturing a rabid, dedicated community of open source developers and contributors — who will ensure Postgres’s longevity through their passion and continued commitment. In short, a vibrant OS community fuels Postgres’s development, and ensures its continued relevance for the foreseeable future. 

Why Postgres’s Brand of Open Source is Good for Business

Interestingly, that supremely open and permissive licensing model is also a big part of what makes PostgreSQL such an effective DBMS to build a business on — up to and including for third-party database software and service providers like Percona. To many, the idea of a free-to-use tool making sense as a product to build a business on will sound counterintuitive. However, Postgres’s licensing model allows for near limitless use, copying, and modification of the software at no cost — even for enterprise uses.

In recent years, I’ve had the pleasure of watching the rise of Postgres first-hand. Companies routinely are looking to leave their proprietary DB behind, but they often bring a laundry list of requirements, specifications, and wishes for their new DBMS of choice. 

And thanks to the four aforementioned qualities, we often find ourselves recommending PostgreSQL. And with Postgres only getting better with each year’s successive version update, I can’t imagine that trend changing anytime soon.

About the Author

Charly Batista is currently PostgreSQL Tech Lead at Percona, a leader in enterprise-grade open source database software, support, and services.

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