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5 Best Free Database Management Software (DBMS) for 2022

February 17th, 2022 20 min read

In a world dominated by Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon, it’s easy to overlook the bounty of free database management tools. But the bounty is real! When you need safe, reliable data management, chances are there’s an open-source or free solution that will fit your needs. 

Understanding the functionality and limitations of the best free database management tools will help you make the right decision. We selected five contenders with unique advantages:

If you’re absolutely unfamiliar with databases, this video is a great introduction to get you started.

Three Types of Databases

We chose databases from three broad categories: relational, document, and graph databases. Here’s a simple explanation of each type:

Relational databases store data in tables, similar to an Excel spreadsheet. These databases need a schema—a set of very strict rules—to define each table. The schema keeps data firmly organized and separate. Developers use SQL (Structured Query Language) to create and use these databases. Non-relational databases are collectively called NoSQL databases.

Document databases store data in chunks, called “objects” or “documents.” Each object is a bundle of related data, like a user’s profile or a product. An object can also contain links to other objects. Unlike SQL databases, document databases don’t need strict predefined rules. They’re more flexible, but they’re easier to misuse.

Graph databases store information as nodes and relationships. A node is a single piece of data, and a relationship points from one node to another node. Graph databases can contain billions of nodes and trillions of relationships, like neurons in a brain. They’re great for complex data analysis, but a bit overkill for simple information storage.

For the curious who want to learn more, check out this explainer for a more thorough breakdown of these and other database types.

Wait, What About Oracle and MySQL?

We deliberately left out some well-known database applications like Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Database, MariaDB, and MySQL. They’re heavily used, and their pros and cons are widely debated. Instead, we focused on some more niche options. Plus, if we tried to cover every free database, this article would never end.

Top 5 Free Database Software

Data ModelBest If…LimitationsPricing 
PostgreSQLSQL, with flexible data type supportYou want an unlimited free solution with decades of community support.Entirely free with no restrictions, but requires tech  know-how.Free, with no paid options.
Neo4jGraph (NoSQL)You need to do heavy-lifting data analysis on data with complex relationships.Overkill for simple data needs.
Free onsite edition has limited scalability.
Free cloud tier deletes inactive databases after 90 days.
Community: free
Enterprise: free trial, pricing via quote
Cloud: $65/month, limited free tier
RavenDBDocument (NoSQL)
You want a friendly interface that can flex to several data needs.
Free version has limited scalability.  Community: free
Professional: $828/year/core
Enterprise: $1,458/year/core
Cloud: Free to start, usage-based pricing
MongoDBDocument (NoSQL)You need to build for enterprise-level scalability with high performance.Free with no restrictions, but requires tech know-how. Customers can pay extra for dedicated onboarding, support, and extra features.Community: free
Enterprise Advanced: price unavailable
Atlas: Free to start, $57/month plus usage fees for full features
CockroachDBSQLYou have straightforward data needs but cannot accept downtime.The free edition is generous, but slightly limited. Full scalability and security features require a paid license.Core: free
Self-Hosted: price unavailable
Cloud: Starts at $0.50/hour plus usage-based pricing

PostgreSQL – The Elephant Never Forgets

You can’t discuss free databases without talking about PostgreSQL, also known as Postgres. Postgres is a relational database that’s been around since 1996. It’s gotten more powerful and flexible with age, so it can be used for many different needs. Postgres is strict about data integrity and reliability. If someone accidentally tries to upload their Die Hard fanfiction instead of the weekly sales numbers, Postgres won’t let them.

The best thing about Postgres? It’s free, with absolutely no limitations. You can download and use Postgres for any app, in any way, for any amount of time.

PostgreSQL Pricing and Limitations

PostgreSQL is open-source, which means that it’s maintained by a non-profit community. It’s completely free, and anyone can modify it to their liking, if they know-how.

But PostgreSQL doesn’t care if you know how to use it or not. It relies heavily on command-line interface (CLI) commands. This means a lot of very specific typed commands, and no friendly user interface. Documentation for PostgreSQL is complicated and you’ll need technical competence and patience to learn the ropes. Extra add-ons are open-source as well, so you’re dependent on the community for support and maintenance.

Who’s PostgreSQL Best For?

If you’ve got technical expertise available, PostgreSQL is a reliable choice. It’s suitable for many different use cases and can scale effectively with a dedicated team. It’s also a good choice for solo developers or small teams that have the time and money to learn how to use it.

If you don’t have technical experience or available experts, Postgres isn’t the best choice, especially for enterprise usage. There’s no customer support, you’ll have to pay for hardware, and it’s easy to make costly mistakes.

Neo4j – The Deep Thinker

Neo4j is a graph database tailor-made for complex data analysis. It’s great for analyzing massive amounts of data, fast. Neo4j includes pre-built data science algorithms, and tools for advanced users to write their own. It follows strict rules for data integrity, making it suitable for applications where data reliability is critical.

Neo4j Pricing and Limitations

For self-hosted users, Neo4j offers a completely free Community edition and a paid Enterprise edition. The Community edition has all the core features and generous limits on the amount of data you can store. However, the free license doesn’t let you scale past a certain limit. You also won’t have access to customer support.

Neo4j also offers AuraDB, a cloud database. The free tier is a great way to tinker with the platform, but it has significant limits on database size. Most importantly, free databases are deleted after 90 days of inactivity! If you start a project on the free tier, make sure you use it regularly (or upgrade your plan).

At higher tiers, AuraDB offers automatic backups, user access controls, and uptime guarantees. Pricing for these tiers is based on capacity and consumption, but Neo4j doesn’t offer further pricing details on their site.

Who’s Neo4j Best For?

If your data is straightforward and doesn’t require much analysis, Neo4j is probably overkill. However, if you’re a big data analyst or working with machine learning, Neo4j is a great choice. It’s good for specialized use cases like fraud detection, real-time recommendation, and supply chain management. Keep in mind, however, that enterprise-scale functionality requires a paid license.

Neo4j is also probably not a great choice for casual users without technical expertise or experience with data science. If you’re just starting out with databases, a relational or document database engine is a better choice.

RavenDB – The Swiss Army Knife

RavenDB is an open-source NoSQL database with a focus on usability and flexibility. Although it technically uses a document database engine, RavenDB is a “multi-model” database. This means that it can work with many different kinds of data. Despite this flexibility, it’s capable of enforcing strict rules for data integrity. The vendor claims that RavenDB merges the best parts of SQL and NoSQL.

RavenDB includes a powerful graphical user interface (GUI) with every tier of the software, including the free Community license. The GUI has tools to edit data, monitor performance, and manage hardware resources. This is especially rare for free open-source software, which has a well-deserved reputation for unfriendly interfaces.

RavenDB Pricing and Limitations

RavenDB’s on-premise Community license is completely free with no size limits. However, the free license has limited scaling and disaster recovery features. You’ll need to pay for the Professional or Enterprise editions to get professional-level scalability and backup. Respectively, these versions cost $828 or $1,458 annually per core. 

RavenDB also offers a free tier for their cloud database. It includes many of the same features but limits hardware resources. Beyond the free tier, pricing for RavenDB Cloud gets tricky. It varies based on provider, resource usage, and geographical region.

Who’s RavenDB Best For?

RavenDB is a flexible NoSQL database that’s eager to help you get started. It’s best for teams that need their database to wear a lot of different hats. It’s also great for users less comfortable with the text-based management of most free databases. However, if you need performance at scale, you’ll have to pay up.

MongoDB – The Heavyweight Champion

Like PostgreSQL, you can’t list open-source databases without MongoDB. MongoDB is a document database first released in 2007, and it’s designed to be big. Really big. MongoDB was created specifically for scale via sharding and replication. Sharding means spreading data across multiple hardware nodes. Replication means creating copies of data so that multiple people can access it at the same time.

Sharding and replication are common database tools, but not all databases offer them for free. MongoDB, however, fully supports enterprise-level scale no matter what license you choose.

MongoDB supports strict data integrity rules, but it wasn’t designed for them. Instead, MongoDB recommends carefully designing your database to avoid data integrity problems.

MongoDB Pricing and Limitations

Similar to PostgreSQL, MongoDB places no restrictions on their free Community license. The main drawback is that it’s by developers, for developers. If you use the free license, you’ll need to rely on your own skills and community support. Developers using MongoDB for free should be comfortable interacting with it through text commands alone.

If you’re willing to pay, MongoDB Enterprise Advanced offers extra features and support. This tier includes guided onboarding, consulting support, and native integration with business intelligence (BI) tools. MongoDB doesn’t advertise a price for this tier.

MongoDB also offers Atlas, a managed cloud database. You can start for free, but it has limitations on storage size and functionality. The free tier is designed for learning and experimentation. For enterprise-level features, you’ll need to pay for the Dedicated tier. This tier begins at $57 per month with additional consumption-based pricing.

Who’s MongoDB Best For?

MongoDB is best suited for large-scale applications with flexible data needs. If you’ve got seasoned developers on your team—or you’re an experienced database engineer yourself—MongoDB is a battle-tested industry standard.

However, if you’re limited in technical experience or IT resources, MongoDB is a harder sell. The data model is easy to use, but implementation can be tricky for inexperienced teams. MongoDB Atlas would be a better place to get started. You can see if the system works for your needs, and upgrade your license when it’s time to scale.

It’s also not the best choice for complex data analysis or applications with known, rigid data requirements. Graph databases and relational databases are better suited for those use cases.

CockroachDB – The Undying

Here’s a joke for you: a raven, an elephant, and a cockroach walk into a bar, arguing about who’s best. The raven boasts of its wisdom, saying that it can learn anything and teach anyone. The elephant boasts of its memory, saying that it can remember everything with perfect clarity and no mistakes. The cockroach is about to speak, but the bartender sees it and steps on it. When the bartender lifts their foot, the cockroach is still there. The bartender tries again and again to squish the cockroach, to no avail. The cockroach endures. The cockroach is unkillable. The cockroach will never die.

CockroachDB, true to its namesake, is designed to be unkillable. It runs simultaneously across different servers in different regions. Each node in its network can work independently, but the entire network acts like a single database. CockroachDB has simple, flexible rules for handling power outages and failures. If a single machine fails, a datacenter loses power, or an asteroid obliterates the east coast of the United States, the rest of the CockroachDB network can keep running without losing data or shutting down.

CockroachDB is fully compatible with PostgreSQL. Applications using either system can migrate from one to another with little or no changes to code. It also allows you to set custom rules for storing data based on geographic location. This allows organizations to easily comply with different data collection laws in the countries they operate in.

CockroachDB Pricing and Limitations

Like other databases in this list, CockroachDB offers a completely free Core edition. This license includes all of CockroachDB’s core survival features. The Core edition also includes CockroachDB Console, a web dashboard for managing your database.

Some advanced features of CockroachDB are limited to the Self-Hosted tier. At this tier, users can set up incremental backups and revision history. It also includes a visualization tool to monitor databases on a world map. Pricing is available via quote from the vendor.

CockroachDB also offers a cloud database service. The starting tier is free, but is aimed at experimentation and evaluation. The Dedicated tier offers enterprise customer support and data compliance tools. This tier starts at $0.50 per hour and varies based on resource usage.

Who’s CockroachDB Best For?

If high availability and data safety are your biggest concerns, CockroachDB is a great pick. It’s especially useful if you’ve got an existing PostgreSQL database to migrate. It also comes in handy if you commonly deal with data regulations and compliance.

However, if you’re more interested in complex analysis or if you have a high tolerance for risk, CockroachDB might not be your first pick. As a relational database, it’s best used for straightforward data setups.

Still Not Sure?

Hopefully, this list has helped you narrow down what you’re looking for in a database. If you want to explore more database software, check out other options for open-source, SQL, and NoSQL databases.

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