Choosing Between SQL and NoSQL

Introduction to SQL and NoSQL Databases

Databases are essential for storing and managing data in modern applications. There are two major categories: SQL and NoSQL. The choice between these two depends on various factors, including the type of data, the nature of the queries, and the scalability needs.

SQL Databases

SQL databases are relational database management systems (RDBMS) that use structured query languages (SQL) to define and manipulate data. They are divided into two main types:

  1. Row-Based
  2. Column-Based

Row-Based Databases

Row-based databases store data for an entity in a row and its attributes in columns. Examples include MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite.


  • Data Normalisation: Avoids data duplication.
  • Transactions: Ensure that a set of operations either complete successfully or fail completely.
  • Stability and Consistency: Suitable for applications with well-defined data structures and frequent transactions.


  • Complex Queries: Joins necessary for normalisation can complicate queries and affect performance.
  • Not Optimised for Analysis: Analytical queries can be slow as they require reading many rows.

Column-Based Databases

Column-based databases store data for each column together. Examples include Google BigTable and Cassandra.


  • Fast Analytical Queries: Ideal for workloads that only need a few attributes.
  • Read Optimisation: Store and read data from specific columns, improving performance for analytical queries.


  • Slow Write Operations: Updating data in separate columns can be less efficient.
  • Complex Transactions: Less suitable for applications requiring frequent transactions and immediate consistency.

Example of SQL Table Structure

Row-Based SQL (Example of Product and Seller Tables)

Product Table
| ID | Title     | Price | SellerID |
| 1  | Product A | 10.00 | 1        |
| 2  | Product B | 20.00 | 2        |

Seller Table
| ID | Name      |
| 1  | Seller 1  |
| 2  | Seller 2  |

Column-Based SQL (Example of Product Table)

Product Columns
ID | Title
1  | Product A
2  | Product B

ID | Price
1  | 10.00
2  | 20.00

ID | SellerID
1  | 1
2  | 2

NoSQL Databases

NoSQL databases are database management systems that do not rely on the table and relational structure of SQL. The most common types are:

  1. Document Databases
  2. Streaming Databases

Document Databases

Document databases store data in document formats, typically JSON. Examples include MongoDB and CouchDB.


  • Flexible Data Modelling: Data can be stored in documents without a predefined structure.
  • Horizontal Scalability: Can be easily distributed across multiple servers.
  • Fast Reads: Ideal for applications requiring many fast reads and few writes.


  • Data Denormalisation: Can lead to data duplication.
  • Eventual Consistency: Do not always guarantee immediate data consistency, which can be an issue for certain applications.

Streaming Databases

Used to handle real-time data streams. Examples include Kafka and Amazon SQS.


  • Handling Large Volumes of Real-Time Data: Suitable for applications needing real-time data processing.
  • Decoupling Producers and Consumers: Simplifies architecture by allowing producers to remain unaware of consumers.


  • Implementation Complexity: Requires more complex infrastructure and careful message management.

Example of NoSQL Document Structure

  "product_id": 1,
  "title": "Product A",
  "price": 10.00,
  "seller": {
    "id": 1,
    "name": "Seller 1"

Deciding Between SQL and NoSQL

When to Use SQL:

  • You need transactional consistency.
  • You have well-structured data and complex relationships.
  • You prefer a rigid, normalised data model.

When to Use NoSQL:

  • You need horizontal scalability.
  • You have semi-structured or unstructured data.
  • You require high read rates and low latency.


  • SQL is Ideal For: Applications requiring transactional consistency, well-defined data structures, and normalisation.
  • NoSQL is Ideal For: Applications needing flexible data modelling, high horizontal scalability, and fast reads with few writes.

In conclusion, the choice between SQL and NoSQL depends on your specific data, performance, and scalability needs. SQL is ideal for transactional and structured applications, while NoSQL is more suitable for flexible and scalable applications.

Avatar for Adrián Bailador

Written by Adrián Bailador

🚀 Full-Stack Dev 👨🏻‍💻 .NET Engineer 👾 Geek & Friki 💡 Talks about #dotnet, #csharp, #azure, #visualstudio and a little bit of #nextjs.


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