Firebird Frenzy Erupts

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-01-30

Firebird Frenzy Erupts

After comparing what are commonly thought of as the two most common and most popular open-source databases—MySQL and PostgreSQL—I was floored by the amount of mail I received regarding my ill-advised omission of the hotly popular Firebird open-source database.

It just goes to show: If a product is freely downloaded, yet unmarketed, it can be extremely popular and still escape journalists attention. The point is underscored by a recent poll in, in which Firebird placed a very close second to MySQL in Member Choice Awards for Best Database of the Year 2003.

Click here to read the MySQL vs. PostgreSQL comparison.

If your enterprise is looking into which open-source database to try out, do your due diligence and add Firebird to the list of candidates. According to production users across the globe, Firebird has outstanding reliability, performance and concurrency, as well as robust support for stored procedures and triggers. Below are more details, along with one readers list of what he loves about Firebird.

Firebird primer. Firebird is a relational database with ANSI SQL-92 features that runs on Linux, Windows and a mix of Unix platforms. Its an outgrowth of what was once Borlands InterBase database. The story of how a for-profit product with a loyal following became open-source is interesting, and you can check it out at

One users list of Firebirds stellar attributes. Marco Menardi, a Delphi programmer, runs a small company that administers condominium buildings in Northern Italy. Hes developing an accounting program that hes selling around town and plans to release as free software, in the hope that the program will spread and hell make money from support.

Next page: Firebirds features.

Firebirds features

Menardi started the development using Paradox tables but soon abandoned it because of design limitations. He needed a true SQL database server along the lines of InterBase. When InterBase became open-source in July 2000, Menardi adopted it. Heres what he said he appreciates about Firebird:

a) Transactions. Of course, thats a must-have for many database projects, particularly when youre talking about accounting programs.

b) Triggers and stored procedures. These are the key points of true client/server architecture. Thanks to the possibility of building powerful stored procedures, much of the work can be done on the server side. Since data isnt being moved from server to client and then back after elaboration, performance is greatly enhanced. "After you see it in action, [its like] magic!" Menardi says.

c) Small footprint. Menardis Firebird server installation takes about 1.5Mb on disk, with the client library measuring a mere 360K. That spares him from eating up disk space on his customers machines. As it is, hes putting on their drives a 4.5Mb executable, reports, an empty 2MB database and a 3Mb Firebird server and/or client installation program.

d) No administration. "Once started, it runs forever," Menardi said. "At present, Ive had [not one] single data loss due to Firebird fault, nor have I had troubles with the engine in Windows 2000 or GNU/Linux."

Many other readers also testified to Firebirds rock-solid reliability. This is important particularly for developers, who are grateful to be spared the administration headaches that arise when unhappy customers wrestle with glitchy software.

e) Available under many operating systems.

f) Its free to use or distribute with your application software. You can contribute cash or become a member of the FirebirdSQL Foundation to play your part in keeping development moving forward, if you so desire.

The option of using Firebird for free for closed-source projects goes against the GPL spirit, as Im sure many readers will point out, but it makes plenty of developers happy.

g) ANSI 92 SQL-compliant.

h) A large and active community of developers. Readers testified to the fact that there are always plenty of competent souls able to provide assistance when needed. In addition, you can buy support from IBPhoenix.

The above should provide ample reason to check out Firebird and to make sure it doesnt get left off of future open-source database comparisons. If you need more, check out the upcoming version, Version 1.5, which has reportedly been stable for some time and has just been held up while developers work on producing an installation package that will work across Linux and several flavors of both Unix and Windows.

Thanks to all of you who wrote in about Firebird, not to mention Sleepycats Berkeley DB, PHP5 and a host of others. Let me know what else is happening in your work and in your database at Database Center Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.

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