MyISAM vs. InnoDB: A Comparison

November 26, 2020


Choosing the right storage engine is a crucial strategic decision that impacts future development. Depending on your use case, decide between two main storage engines for MySQL – MyISAM or InnoDB.

In this article, you will learn the main differences between MyISAM and InnoDB storage engines, how to check which storage engine you are using and how to convert it.

Myisam vs. InnoDB


  • Access to the terminal /command line
  • A functional MySQL database
  • phpMyAdmin installed

What are MyISAM and InnoDB

MyISAM and InnoDB are MySQL storage engines. Storage engines are database management system components used to manipulate data from in database.


MyISAM stands for Indexed Sequential Access Method. It was the default storage engine for MySQL until December 2009. With the release of MySQL 5.5, MyISAM was replaced with InnoDB.

MyISAM is based on an ISAM algorithm that displays information from large data sets fast. It has a small data footprint and is best suitable for data warehousing and web applications.


InnoDB has been the default storage engine for MySQL since the release of MySQL 5.5. It is best suited for large databases that hold relational data.

InnoDB focuses on high reliability and performance, making it great for content management systems. One of the most known uses of InnoDB is MediaWiki software that powers Wikipedia.

MyISAM vs. InnoDB Main Differences

Let’s take a look at the main differences between MyISAM and InnoDB.

LockingTable lockingRow-level locking
Foreign keysNoYes
Table, index, and data storageThree separate files (.frm, .myd, and .myi)Tablespace
Designed forSpeedPerformance

Storage Engine Type

There are two types of storage engines, depending on the rollback method:

  • Non-transactional – write options need to be rolled back manually.
  • Transactional – write options roll back automatically if they don’t complete.

Summary: MyISAM is a non-transactional, while InnoDB is a transactional type of storage engine.


Locking in MySQL is an option that prevents two or more users from modifying data at the same time. The user can’t modify data when the locking option is activated. This feature preserves the validity of all data.

MyISAM uses table locking as the default method of locking. It allows a single session to modify tables at a time. Tables are always locked in the same order. The table locking method is best suitable for read-only databases that don’t require a lot of memory.

Example of table locking:

QueriesColumn 1Column 2Column 3
Query 1 (update)WritingDataData
Query 2 (wait)DataDataData
Query 3 (wait)DataDataData

InnoDB uses row-level locking as the default method of locking. It supports multiple sessions on selected rows by only locking the rows in the modification process. Row-locking is most suitable for databases that have multiple users. The disadvantage is that it requires a lot of memory and takes more time to query and modify data.

Example of row-level locking:

QueriesColumn 1Column 2Column 3
Query 1 (update)WritingDataData
Query 2 (select)ReadingDataReading
Query 3 (update)DataWritingData

Summary: MyISAM uses table locking, while InnoDB uses row-level locking as the default method.

Foreign Keys

A foreign key is a column (or a collection of columns) in one table that links with a column (or a collection of columns) in another table. It prevents actions that destroy the link between tables and the possibility of inserting invalid data.

Summary MyISAM does not support the foreign key option, while InnoDB does.

Link between tables using foreign key option.

Table, Index and Data Storage

The two storage engines differ based on how they store files.

MyISAM stores tables, index, and data into three separate files:

  • .frm – The table format containing the table structure or table definition.
  • .myi – The index file with indexes for each table.
  • .myd – The data file that contains data of each table.

InnoDB stores table structure in the .frm file and has a tablespace where it stores indexes and data.

Summary: MyISAM stores data in three separate files, while InnoDB stores data in a single file.

ACID Support

ACID refers to database transaction properties: atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability. It guarantees that the transaction completes in cases of error or system failure.

Refer to our ACID vs. Base article to learn more about database transaction models.

Summary: MyISAM does not have ACID support, while InnoDB has full ACID compliance.

How to Check if You Are Using MyISAM or InnoDB

Using the correct storage engine is essential for data manipulation. The wrong storage engine can lead to errors in querying and reduced speed and performance. Therefore, it is crucial to check if MyISAM or InnoDB are set as the default storage engine.

Note: MySQL performance tuning requires evaluating numerous factors. We recommend using InnoDB instead of MyISAM for the best performance.

Check via Command Line

Find information about the default storage engine by following the steps listed below.

1. Open the terminal and log into the MySQL shell. Then, display a list of databases:


2. Locate the preferred database from the list and select it:

USE database_name;

The terminal displays a confirmation message about the database change.

Navigating to the preferred database.

3. Next, use the SHOW CREATE TABLE command to display information about the table and storage engine:

SHOW CREATE TABLE database_name.table_name;

In the example below, the output lists InnoDB as a default storage engine.

Cheking storage engine using terminal.

Note: Replace database_name and table_name with the name of your database and table.

Check Using phpMyAdmin

There are two ways to check the default storage engine in phpMyAdmin:

  • From a table list.
  • By running a query.

From a Table List

You can use a table list to find out which tables use MyISAM or InnoDB as the default storage engine.

1. Open phpMyAdmin and select the preferred database from the list.

2. In the Table list, locate the Type column to see the types of storage engines. In our example, the Customers table uses MyISAM as a default storage engine.

Checking the table default storage engine.

Running a Query

Another way to display a default storage engine is to run a query.

1. Log in to phpMyAdmin and select the preferred database from a database list.

2. Select the SQL tab to access query options.

3. Enter the following command to display all tables using MyISAM as a storage engine:

SELECT TABLE_NAME, ENGINE FROM information_schema. TABLES WHERE TABLE_SCHEMA = 'database_name' and ENGINE = 'myISAM'

4. Click Go to run a query.

Query command needed to check default storage engine.

Note: Replace database_name with the name of your database.

The output displays a list of all tables containing the MyISAM storage engine.

Query output displaying tables with MyISAM storage engines.

You can use the same command to find databases using the InnoDB storage engine. Modify the query by replacing ENGINE = 'myISAM' with ENGINE = 'InnoDB'.

How to Convert MyISAM and InnoDB

Problems can occur if you use InnoDB in everyday processes, while an older table uses MyISAM. That is why it is essential to know how to convert tables.

Convert Storage Engine via Terminal

Run the ALTER TABLE command in the MySQL shell to convert the storage engine from MyISAM to InnoDB and vice versa.

  • To convert InnoDB to MyISAM, run:
ALTER TABLE database_name.table_name ENGINE=MyISAM;
  • To convert MyISAM to InnoDB, run:
ALTER TABLE database_name.table_name ENGINE=InnoDB;

The terminal prints out a confirmation message.

Changing MyISAM and InnoDB storage engines in terminal.

Convert Storage Engine Using phpMyAdmin

There are two ways to convert the storage engine in phpMyAdmin:

  • Using the Table Operations menu.
  • Running a query.

Using the Operations Menu

1. Select the preferred database from a database menu.

2. Choose a table for which you want to modify the storage engine and select the More drop-down menu.

3. Click Operations to access the menu.

Selecting the Operations option.

4. Locate the Storage Engine setting in the Table options and click the storage engine to load the drop-down menu containing various storage engines. Select InnoDB from the list and click GO to save the change.

Changing the storage engine in the Operations menu.

Running a Query

1. Access the SQL command center for the preferred database.

2. Run the ALTER TABLE command in the MySQL shell to convert the storage engine.

To convert to MyISAM, run:


To convert to InnoDB, run:


3. Click the GO button to run the query.

Converting table storage engine using SQL query option.

You have successfully converted the storage engine.


After reading this article, you should better understand the differences between MyISAM and InnoDB storage engines. Knowing the differences helps you choose the storage engine that fits your needs the most.

You have also learned how to check the storage engine and how to convert it if needed.

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Milica Dancuk
Milica Dancuk is a technical writer at phoenixNAP with a passion for programming. With a background in Electrical Engineering and Computing, coupled with her teaching experience, she excels at simplifying complex technical concepts in her writing.
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