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Refcard #029

Essential MySQL

Exploring the World's Most Popular Open Source Database

by Jason Gilmore

Navigates some of MySQL’s most popular features, including configuration, administration software, backup procedures, SQL features, and user management.

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Essential MySQL
Section 1

About MySQL

MySQL is the world’s most popular open source database, sporting a barrier of entry low enough to attract novice developers yet powerful enough to power some of the world’s most popular websites, among them Yahoo!, BBC News, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Craigslist.

This reference card was created to help you quickly navigate some of MySQL’s most popular features. Covering topics such as configuration, administration software, backup procedures,SQL features, and user management, this card will serve as a handy desk reference for countless projects to come.

Section 2


MySQL supports over 260 configuration parameters, capable of controlling behavior regarding memory, logging, error reporting, and much more. While it’s possible to tweak these parameters by passing them as flags when starting the MySQL server, typically you’ll want to ensure they’re always set at server startup, done by adding them to the my.cnf file.

The my.cnf File

The my.cnf file’s range of impact on the MySQL server is location-dependent:

File/Option Description
/etc/my.cnf (C:\my.cnf or
Windows’ system directory\my.ini
on Windows)
Global scope. All MySQL database servers installed on this server will first refer to this location. Keep in mind this is the only file MySQL’s Windows distribution will reference.
--defaults-extra-file=name Server-instance scope. Passing this flag along when starting MySQL will cause the server instance to examine any parameters found within the referenced file.
~/.my.cnf User-specific scope. This file is located in the user’s home directory.

my.cnf File Syntax

The my.cnf file is a text file broken into several sections. Each section defines the context of the parameters defined within, the context being specific to a particular MySQL client (see the later section MySQL’s Many Clients). For example:

# All clients
port = 3306

# The mysql client

# The mysqldump client

Hot Tip

MySQL comes bundled with several my.cnf templates, each geared towards a specific purpose and resource availability. You can find these files in the support-files directory found in MySQL’s installation directory.

Viewing Configuration Parameters

You can view MySQL’s configuration parameters and their current values using one of the following commands:

From the mysqladmin client:

%>mysqladmin -u root -p variables

From inside the mysql client:


You can find a specific parameter using the LIKE operator:



Section 3

Storage Engines

Storage Engine Description
ARCHIVE The ARCHIVE engine is optimized for managing large amounts of data designated as stored for archived purposes. Data stored using the ARCHIVE engine can only be inserted and selected, and not deleted nor modified.
BDB The Berkeley DB (BDB) storage engine was the first MySQL engine to support transactional operations, but was removed in the version 5.1 release
BLACKHOLE The BLACKHOLE storage engine accepts inserted data without error but does not store it, instead deleting it upon acceptance. While seemingly useless, BLACKHOLE can actually serve several practical roles, ranging from facilitating data replication to assisting in the identification of bottlenecks (due to the ability to use BLACKHOLE to remove the storage engine from the bottleneck candidates).
CSV Comma-separated values (CSV) format is a common storage solution supported by many applications. MySQL’s CSV storage engine manages data in this format, the data files of which can subsequently be read from and written to by applications such as Microsoft Excel.
EXAMPLE EXAMPLE is a featureless storage engine with the sole purpose of providing developers with a skeleton for writing their own storage engines. It is incapable of storing data.
Falcon New to MySQL 6.0, Falcon is optimized for modern database environments requiring maximum data retrieval and update performance without sacrificing transactional/logging features.
FEDERATED Introduced in MySQL 5.0, the FEDERATED storage engine can pool remote MySQL databases together under the guise of a single logical database by creating pointers to these remote tables.
InnoDB MySQL’s most popular transactional storage solution, InnoDB offers complete commit, rollback, and crash recovery features alongside attractive performance capabilities. InnoDB serves as MySQL’s default storage engine on the Windows platform.
Maria Introduced in MySQL 6.0.6, Maria is intended to ultimately serve as MySQL’s default transactional and non-transactional storage engines.
MEMORY The MEMORY storage engine stores data within system memory (RAM), resulting in volatile although extremely fast data access.
MERGE The MERGE storage engine is useful for accessing a group of identical MyISAM tables as if the data resided within a single table structure. Such a configuration might be useful when accessing large amounts of sales data which has been separately stored by month according to an aptly-named table.
MyISAM MyISAM is MySQL’s default storage engine. Although incapable of supporting transactions, MyISAM is optimized for high traffic environments and is very simple to manage.
Section 4

Data Types

MySQL supports a rich set of data types capable of representing nearly every conceivable data format, ranging across dates and times, currency, strings, integers, and floats. This section defines each type and its respective range.

Date and Time Types

Type Description
DATE The DATE type represents dates in the format ’YYYY-MM-DD’, and has a range of ’1000-01-01’ to ’9999-12-31’.
DATETIME The DATETIME type represents values containing both a date and a corresponding time in the format ’YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS’. It has a range of ’1000-01-01 00:00:00’ to ’9999-12-31 23:59:59’.
TIME The TIME type represents temporal values in the format ’HH:MM:SS’,ranging from ’-838:59-59’ to ’838:59:59’.
TIMESTAMP Like DATETIME, the TIMESTAMP type represents values containing both a date and time, and sports a format identical to DATETIME. Its range is ’1970-01-01 00:00:01’ UTC to ’2038-01-09 03:14:07’ UTC. The TIMESTAMP differs from other data types in that it can be automatically assigned the current date/time and automatically updated at INSERT and UPDATE time.
YEAR The YEAR type represents years, and supports a two- (’YY’) and four-digit format (’YYYY’). The two-digit format supports a range of 70 (1970) to 69 (2069). The four-digit format supports a range of 1901 to 2155.

Hot Tip

MySQL is fairly flexible in terms of how it accepts date and time type values. For instance, DATE, DATETIME, and TIMESTAMP will all accept '2008-09-02', '2008/09/02', and '2008*09*02' as valid date values.

Data Types, Continued
Numeric Types

Type Description
BIGINT The BIGINT data type supports integer values ranging between -9,223,372,036,854,775,808 and 9,223,372,036,854,775,807.
BIT The BIT data type supports binary values ranging between 1 and 64 bits.
DECIMAL The DECIMAL type stores exact numeric values, and should be used when it is crucial for the data to be stored precisely as provided (currency for instance).
FLOAT The FLOAT data type stores approximate numeric values. For instance, defining a column as FLOA
INT The INT data type supports integer values ranging between -2,147,483,648 and 2,147,483,647.
MEDIUMINT The MEDIUMINT data type supports integer values ranging between -8,388,608 and 8,388,607.
SMALLINT The SMALLINT data type supports integer values ranging between 32,768 and 32,767.
TINYINT The TINYINT data type supports integer values ranging between -128 and 127.

String Types

Type Description
BINARY The BINARY type stores up to 255 bytes, and operates identically to CHAR except that its used for binary strings.

The BLOB, MEDIUMBLOB, TINYBLOB, and LONGBLOB types are used to store data such as images or binary files, and store up to 65,545.
CHAR The CHAR type stores between 0 and 255 characters. Any column defined as a CHAR will consume all of the allotted space regardless of the stored string size. For instance, any CHAR column defined as CHAR(25) will require the same amount of space (that required to store 25 characters) no matter the size of the stored string.
ENUM The ENUM type restricts the stored value to one of several predefined strings. Up to 65,535 elements can be predefined. Allowable values also include ’’ and NULL.
SET A SET type operates like an ENUM, although its predefined number of elements tops out at 64. Further, a SET can store zero, one, or multiple values
The TEXT, LONGTEXT, MEDIUM, and TINYTEXT types store up to 65,534, 4,294,967,295, 16,777,215, and 255 characters, respectively.
VARBINARY The VARBINARY type stores up to 65,535 bytes, and operates identically to VARCHAR except that it’s used for binary strings.
VARCHAR The VARCHAR type stores up to 65,535 characters. Unlike CHAR, each VARCHAR instance requires only the space required to store the provided string, plus one or two additional bytes depending on the string length.
Section 5

Popular Administration Services

Web frameworks help the programmer to embrace best practices, simultaneously decreasing errors and eliminating redundant code. If you haven’t yet settled upon a framework, consider checking out one or several of the following popular solutions:

Resource URL
PHPMyAdmin http://www.phpmyadmin.net/
MySQL Administrator http://www.mysql.com/products/tools/administrator/
SQLyog http://www.webyog.com/en/
Section 6

MySQL's Many Clients

MySQL is bundled with quite a few clients capable of doing everything from performing backups, managing the MySQL server, converting table formats, and stress-testing the database. In this section I’ll briefly introduce the most commonly used clients.

Client Description
my_print_defaults Outputs the options defined in the my.cnf files.
myisam_ftdump Displays information regarding any defined FULLTEXT indexes found in MyISAM-defined tables
myisamchk Aids in the review, repair and optimization of MyISAM-defined tables
myisamlog Displays the contents of MyISAM log files
myisampack Compresses MyISAM tables, greatly enhancing the read performance
mysql The MySQL client, used to manage users, databases, tables, and data, in addition to tweak MySQL’s performance and behavior.
mysql_config Displays information regarding options you may find useful when compiling MySQL.
mysql_convert_table_format Converts tables from one storage engine to another
mysql_fix_extensions Converts MyISAM table extensions to a standard format, which is useful when migrating MyISAM files from one operating system to another.
mysql_setpermission A wrapper for setting MySQL user privileges
mysqlaccess Aids in the review of user privileges
mysqladmin Performs a wide array of administrative tasks pertinent to server operation
mysqlbinlog Used for examining the contents of MySQL’s binary log
mysqlcheck A unified wrapper for the SQL statements CHECK TABLE, REPAIR TABLE, ANALYZE TABLE, and OPTIMIZE TABLE.
mysqldump Facilitates in database backup creation. See the later section "Performing Backups" for more information
mysqlhotcopy Facilitates in database backup creation. See the later section "Performing Backups" for more information.
mysqlimport A wrapper for the LOAD DATA INFILE SQL statement
mysqlshow A wrapper to SHOW statements such as SHOW TABLES.
mysqlslap Tests MySQL’s performance by placing an artificial load on the server and reporting the results.
perror The perror client helps to clarify the often cryptic system error numbers often returned alongside MySQL errors.
Section 7

Key Administration Tasks

Logging into the MySQL server
To login to the MySQL server using the mysql client, you’ll typically provide your MySQL username and password:

%>mysql -u username -p
Enter password: *****
Welcome to the MySQL monitor. Commands end with ; or \g.
Your MySQL connection id is 2
Server version: 5.1.22-rc-community MySQL Community
Server (GPL)

Type 'help;' or '\h' for help. Type '\c' to clear
the buffer.


Once logged in, you can select a database or begin carrying out other administrative tasks. To save some time you can pass the desired database along on the command line when logging in:

%>mysql -u username -p database_name

If you’re connecting to a remote database, pass the hostname or IP address along using the -h option:

%>mysql -h hostname -u username -p database_name

To logout of the MySQL server, use quit or the \q flag:


Modifying the mysql Prompt
MySQL’s default prompt is enough to remind you you’re currently logged into MySQL rather than into an operating system shell. However like most shells you can modify MySQL’s prompt to your liking. For instance, when logged into the mysql client execute the following command to change your prompt to mysql (user@host)>:

mysql>prompt mysql (\U)>
mysql (root@localhost)>

Key Administration Tasks, Continued

Mysql prompt
\c A counter that tracks the total number of issued session commands
\d The current database
\D The current date
\h The server host
\u Your username
\U Your username@hostname


Creating a
Once logged into the MySQL server, you can create a new
database using the CREATEDATABASE command:

mysql>CREATE DATABASE dzone;

You can also create a new database without logging into the server
per se using the mysqladmin client:

 %>mysqladmin -u root -p
create dzone

to a Database
You can begin using a specific database by specifying it on the commandline when logging into the MySQL server (see “Logging into the MySQL server”), or by using the USE command:

mysql>USE dzone;

Deleting a
To delete a database, use the DROP DATABASE command:

mysql>DROP DATABASE dzone;


Creating a Table To create a table, pass the desired table name to the CREATE TABLE structure, along with any column definitions:

CREATE TABLE table_name (
  column1 definition,
  column2 definition,
  columnN definition

For instance:

CREATE TABLE authors (
  name VARCHAR(255) NOT
  email VARCHAR(255)

Displaying a table structure

mysql>DESCRIBE table_name;

Listing All Tables To view a list of all tables in a database, execute the SHOW TABLES command:


To view a list of tables residing in a database other than the one you're currently in, use:


a Table
You can add, delete and modify table columns using the ALTER TABLE command.
  • To add a column to an existing table: mysql>ALTER TABLE table_name ADD COLUMN column_name ->column_type column_type_attributes;
  • As an example, to add a column to the end of the previously created authors table: mysql>ALTER TABLE authors ADD COLUMN telephone ->VARCHAR(20) NOT NULL;
  • To add a column at a specific location, use the AFTER clause. For instance: mysql>ALTER TABLE authors ADD COLUMN telephone ->VARCHAR(20) NOT NULL AFTER name;
  • To delete a column: mysql>ALTER TABLE table_name DROP COLUMN column_name;
  • To modify an existing column: mysql>ALTER TABLE table_name CHANGE COLUMN column_name ->column_name column_type column_type_attributes;
Deleting a
To delete a table, use the DROP TABLE command:

mysql>DROP TABLE table_name;

a Table
To rename a table, use the ALTER TABLE command with the RENAME clause:

mysql>ALTER TABLE table_name RENAME new_table_name;

Section 8

Managing Users

MySQL is packaged with a powerful security model, capable of controlling practically every conceivable user action, ranging from which commands he can execute to how many queries he can execute in an hour. This model works in a two-step sequence:

Step 1—Authentication The user’s host, username, and password are examined. If a match is made within MySQL’s privilege tables, the user is authorized. Otherwise, the user’s connection attempt is denied.
Step 2—Authorization Once authenticated, the user’s submitted command is examined and compared against the user’s defined privileges, also found in MySQL’s privilege tables. If the user has sufficient privileges, the command is executed, otherwise it is denied.

Although covering the nuances surrounding MySQL’s privilege tables is beyond the scope of this document, the remainder of this section should give you ample reminders regarding commonplace tasks. You are, however, encouraged to carefully review the privilege table documentation found in the MySQL manual (http://dev.mysql.com/doc/), as it’s easy to make a mistake when using this powerful feature.

Creating a New User Account
New user accounts can be created in a variety of ways, however the easiest and most error-proof is through the GRANT command. The general structure looks like this:

mysql>GRANT privilege1, privilege2, privilegeN ON database_name.*
->TO 'username'@'host' IDENTIFIED BY 'password';

The following command will create a new user named jason, granting SELECT, INSERT, and UPDATE privileges to all tables found in the dzone database when connecting from and when providing the password secret:

->TO 'jason'@'' IDENTIFIED BY 'secret';

To grant a user all privileges on all databases, use *.* in place of the database name.

Hot Tip

Be sure to include the IDENTIFIED BY clause when creating new users! Neglecting to include this information results in a user being created without a required password.
Deleting a User Account
You can delete a user using two methods, the method you choose being dependent on the context of "delete". To remove all user privileges but not entirely remove the user from the system (for instance if you needed to temporarily disable account access), use the REVOKE command:


To completely remove a user from the system, revoking all privileges and erasing the user account, use the DROP USER command:

mysql>DROP USER 'jason'@'';

Changing a Password
To change a user’s password, use the SET PASSWORD command. For instance, to change the password of the previously created jason account:

mysql>SET PASSWORD FOR 'jason'@'' = PASSWORD('supersecret');

Granting Privileges
To grant additional privileges, you use the GRANT command in precisely the same manner as it was used to create a user; MySQL will recognize the user’s existence and just modify the user’s privileges accordingly. For instance, to add the DELETE privilege to the previously created user jason@

mysql>GRANT DELETE ON dzone.* TO 'jason'@'';

Revoking Privileges
To revoke privileges, use the REVOKE command. For instance, to remove the DELETE and UPDATE privileges from the previously created user jason@

mysql>REVOKE DELETE, UPDATE FROM 'jason'@'';

Managing Users, Continued

Granting Table- and Column-specific Privileges
MySQL administrators can also control user privileges at the table and column level using the GRANT and REVOKE commands. For instance, to grant user jason@ INSERT and SELECT privileges on the dzone database’s timesheets table:

mysql>GRANT INSERT ON dzone.timesheets TO 'jason’@’';

However, security-minded administrators can prevent users from potentially modifying or selecting any column but the hours column found in the timesheets table:

mysql>GRANT INSERT (hours), SELECT (hours) ON dzone.timesheets
  ->TO 'jason'@'';

Renaming Users
To rename an existing user, use the RENAME USER command:

mysql>RENAME USER 'jason'@'' TO 'wjg'@'';

Section 9

Key SQL Tasks

While executing standard SQL statements is likely old hat for most users, it may be more difficult to recall the syntax pertinent to some of MySQL’s relatively new SQL features, namely Stored Routines, Views, and Triggers. This section serves as a refresher for these features basic syntax.

Stored Routines

MySQL collectively refers to stored procedures and stored functions as stored routines. Stored procedures are executed using the CALL statement, and can return values as MySQL variables, whereas stored functions can be called directly from within a MySQL like any other standard MySQL function.

In this section a brief refresher is provided regarding managing what is arguably the more useful of the two, namely stored functions.

Creating a Stored Function
A stored function is created using the CREATE FUNCTION command. A simple example follows:

mysql>DELIMITER $$
mysql>CREATE FUNCTION calculate_bonus
        ->(employee_id INTEGER) RETURNS DECIMAL(5,2)
        ->DECLARE article_count INTEGER;
        ->DECLARE bonus DECIMAL(10,2);
        ->SELECT count(id) AS article_count FROM articles
        ->WHERE author_id = employee_id;
        ->SET bonus = article_count * 10;
        ->RETURN bonus;

Once created, you can call calculate_bonus() from within a query: mysql>SELECT name, phone, calculate_bonus(id) FROM authors;

Hot Tip

Stored procedures and functions support complex logical syntax features, including conditionals and looping statements.

Altering a Stored Function
To modify an existing function, use the ALTER FUNCTION command:

mysql>DELIMITER $$
mysql>ALTER FUNCTION calculate_bonus
mysql>DELIMITER $$

Deleting a Stored Function
To delete a stored function, use the DROP FUNCTION command:

mysql>DROP FUNCTION calculate_bonus;

Key SQL Tasks, Continued


Views can greatly simplify the execution and management of an otherwise complex query by assigning an alias to it, allowing the developers to execute the query by its alias rather than repeatedly entering the query in its entirety.

Creating a View
Views are created using the CREATE VIEW command. For instance:

mysql>CREATE VIEW author_view AS
->SELECT name, e-mail, phone FROM authors ORDER BY email ASC;

You can then execute the view like so:

mysql>SELECT * FROM author_view;

Passing Query Parameters
You can pass parameters to a view like you would any typical query. For instance to retrieve only information about the author with the e-mail address jason@example.com:

mysql>SELECT * FROM author_view WHERE email = "jason@example.com";

Viewing a View
You can examine the columns retrieved by the view using the DESCRIBE statement:

mysql>DESCRIBE author_view;

To view the view syntax, use SHOW CREATE VIEW:

mysql>SHOW CREATE VIEW author_view;

Modifying a View
To modify a view, use the ALTER VIEW statement:

mysql>ALTER VIEW author_view AS
    ->SELECT name, phone FROM authors ORDER BY phone;

Deleting a View
To delete a view, use the DROP VIEW statement:

mysql>DROP VIEW author_view;


Triggers are automatically activated in accordance with a specific table-related event. They’re useful for automating table updates which should occur when another table is modified in some way.

Creating a Trigger
To create a trigger, use the CREATE TRIGGER command, passing the trigger actions into the command body. For instance, the following trigger will increment an category’s article counter each time a new article of that specific category is added to the database:

mysql>DELIMITER $$
mysql>CREATE TRIGGER article_counter
    ->AFTER INSERT ON articles
    ->UPDATE categories SET counter = counter + 1 WHERE id = NEW.category_id;

Modifying a Trigger
You currently cannot modify an existing trigger from within the mysql client. Instead, you should delete the existing trigger and create it anew with the desired changes incorporated.
Deleting a Trigger
To delete a trigger, execute the DROP TRIGGER command:
mysql>DROP TRIGGER pay_author;
Section 10

Performing Backups

Performing regular backups is an essential part of even the smallest database project. Fortunately MySQL makes this very easy by offering several backup solutions.

Copying Files

If your tables use the MyISAM storage engine, you can backup the database simply by copying the files used to store the tables and data. To do so, you’ll need to first execute the LOCK TABLES command (only a read lock is required), followed by FLUSH TABLES. Once executed, copy the files, and when the copy is complete, execute UNLOCK TABLES.

Creating Delimited Backups

To backup the table data in delimited format, use the SELECT INTO OUTFILE command. For instance to backup the authors table used in previous examples, execute:

mysql>SELECT * INTO OUTFILE 'authors090308.sql' FROM authors;

Using mysqldump

The mysqldump client is convenient because it supports creating backups of all databases using any MySQL storage engine, not to mention that it automatically takes care of important details such as locking the tables during the backup.

The mysqldump client supports an enormous number of options, and it’s recommended you take some time to review them in the MySQL manual, however this section will give you enough to at least remind you of what’s required to perform a variety of different backups.

Backing Up a Specific Database

To backup a single database, just pass the database name to the mysqldump client, piping the output to a text file:

%>mysqldump [options] database_name > backup0903.sql

Of course, you’ll require proper permissions to execute mysqldump in conjunction with a specific database (namely the SELECT and LOCK privileges), therefore you’ll typically also need to pass along your username and password. In this case, this command typically looks similar to:

%>mysqldump -u root -p database_name > backup0903.sql

Backing Up Specific Tables

To backup specific tables, you’ll need to identify the database, followed by each specific table name you’d like to backup:

%>mysqldump [options] database_name table_name [table_
name2...] > backupfile.sql

Backing Up All Databases

To backup all databases, pass the --all-databases option:

%>mysqldump [options] --all-databases > backupfile.sql

Using mysqlhotcopy

If all of your backup tables use the MyISAM storage engine, and you’re able to log into the server where the tables are stored, the mysqlhotcopy might be the ideal solution due to its speed advantages.

To backup the dzone database to a directory located at /home/jason/backups using mysqlhotcopy, execute:

%>mysqlhotcopy -u root -p dzone /home/jason/backups

To copy multiple databases, just string each database name together:

%>mysqlhotcopy -u root -p dzone wjgilmore /home/jason/backups

Like mysqldump, mysqlhotcopy offers an enormous number of options, so be sure to review the MySQL manual (http://dev. mysql.com/doc/) to learn all that’s available.

Hot Tip

MySQL’s replication features make it possible to maintain a consistently synchronized version of the live database. Replication is out of the scope of this reference card, but be sure to visit the MySQL documentation (http://dev.mysql.com/doc/) if replication is more suitable to your needs.

Performing Backups, Continued

If you’re looking for a more robust backup solution, check out mylvmbackup (http://lenz.homelinux.org/mylvmbackup/), which when configured properly can typically perform a safe backup while your application is still running. Another great solution is Zmanda (http://www.zmanda.com/), which is available in both community and enterprise versions.

Section 11

MySQL's Date and Time Features

In addition to temporal data types, MySQL supports over 50 functions intended to facilitate the retrieval and manipulation of date-related data. Rather than exhaustively itemize these functions, it seems useful to instead offer a number of common examples which may help jumpstart your search for the appropriate approach to carry out date- and time-related queries.

Query Function
Select all rows
inserted within
the last 24 hours

mysql>SELECT * FROM entries WHERE entry_date >
->UNIX_TIMESTAMP(NOW()) - 86400;

Select all rows
inserted today

mysql>SELECT * FROM entries WHERE date(entry_date) =

Determine the
weekday of the
most recent entry

mysql>SELECT DAYNAME(MAX(entry_date)) AS day FROM entries;

Calculating the
average age of users

mysql>SELECT AVG(YEAR(CURDATE()) - YEAR(birthdate)) -
->(RIGHT(CURDATE(),5) < RIGHT(birthdate,5)))
->AS age FROM users;

Calculating the
number of days since
the last blog post

mysql>SELECT TO_DAYS(NOW()) - TO_DAYS(MAX(entry_date))
->FROM posts;

Calculating the
number of weeks since
the last blog post

mysql>SELECT (TO_DAYS(NOW()) - TO_DAYS(MAX(entry_date)))
->/ 7 FROM posts;

Determining the
date one week prior
to a user’s birthday

mysql>SELECT DATE_SUB(CONCAT(YEAR(NOW()),"-",MONTH(birthdate),
    ->"-",DAYOFMONTH(birthdate)), INTERVAL 7 DAY) as
    ->one_week_prior FROM users;


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