Why so few developers are using Firebird SQL?

Recently I started a new project in which I need to choose another database besides MySQL. Since then, I had been using MySQL for basically everything, but given the MySQL licensing scheme and a few restrictions of the project itself, this time I had to use something else. So I choose Firebird SQL.

But there’s something about Firebird that always bothered me: why so few developers actually know and use Firebird? Basically (at least here in Brazil) I only see it being used among Delphi developers. Why isn’t it as popular as MySQL or PostgreSQL? Given its features (listed below), can we say that the project lives an unfair situation?

Firebird have several features which makes it a great choice:

  • Really free:: contraty to MySQL, you can use Firebird in your commercial applications without any fee or legal problem. (BTW: I know that PostgreSQL have this advantage too)
  • All the basic features of large RDBMS:: stored procedures, triggers, A.C.I.D. compliance, online backup, generators, referential integrity, etc…
  • Small footprint: had you seen its embeddable version? Just amazing: in less then 1 Mb you have all the features of the default one without cutting anything!
  • Low hardware requirements: basically, if something computes, it can run Firebird.
  • Available in all the major OS platforms: Linux, Windows, Mac OS, Solaris and others
  • Reasonable performance: Firebird performance remains between MySQL and PostgreSQL.
  • Really active project: despite its low popularity, it’s a quite active project. In april/2009, for example, was announced the 2.5 beta version of the project.
  • Databases with unlimited size: the database size limit is determined by the filesystem in which the database is stored. But, if your database exceed its limit its always possible to split it in several files.
    (the largest database known have 960 Gb link)
  • 100% SQL 92 compability
  • Connectivity: basically you can access a Firebird SQL through any programming language

My experience with Flamerobin is being really pleasant, but it’s really sad to see that since I wrote my Microsoft Access to Firebird database converter (MDB2FDB http://www.firebase.com.br/fb/downloads.php?categ=8) in 2006 that the Firebird popularity hadn’t changed at all!

Since I really like this software, and I think that its current popularity situation is unfair, maybe it could be interesting to list some actions that may help this project. So, here is my list:

Of course, I couldn’t finish this post without guessing (just guesses) the reasons why Firebird SQL is so unpopular if compared to MySQL or PostgreSQL:

  • There’s no big player like Sun/Oracle or IBM supporting it right now.
  • The official website is terrible (http://www.firebirdsql.org). Seems futile, but the first impression of the project is horrible. Makes you think it’s stalled.
    Firebird’s biggest sponsor today is IBPhoenix , which main business IS Firebird. But even it’s website falls in the same problem.
  • The fact of being Delphi related since it’s begning. With Delphi’s decadence, its popularity just floundered with it.
  • Poor documentation

Maybe things may change to Firebird SQL after Oracle bought Sun (many MySQL users are getting scared (I see no reason for this by the way)) and may play with Firebird, but it’s something improbable to happen. :)

Of course, these are just my opinions about it. I really whould like to know yours. Why do you think so few developers are using Firebird today?

106 thoughts on “Why so few developers are using Firebird SQL?

  1. Firebird has not any active developers community.
    At least, if you want to use it with PHP – do not do it.
    pdo_firebird has very poor implementation and not any issues fixes for years.
    Once time you will get “Segmentation fault” and will can to do nothing with it. :(
    So, you must to use old and buggy ibase_* functions, manually implement placeholders emulation, and hope that all will works without crashes. No garanties here. And when you get crash – nobody helps you with it…


  2. Our company has been supporting Firebird in more than one hundred production environments for more than a decade. We currently serve the call centre collections industry where downtime is an absolute no-no and many of our sites have hundreds of users.

    Firebird does have it’s nitty gritty issues ,however, if you take time and study it you won’t be sorry. Make sure to get Helen Borrie’s book and work through it.

    Firebird 3 which should be released towards the end of 2015 will resolve many of the most obvious pain points. We just won a deal over another software vendor who rely on MW SQL – the reason was the client did not want to fork out $40 000 for a major SQL implementation :)

    If you need some help contact me at hans.vanaardt at voyagernetz dot com


  3. documentation for vb.net developers – nothing
    not supported bellow .net 4
    I not find any web hosting which support fbSql in my country

    and, yes, site is absolute disaster, so unprofessional, messy .. just…. no comment.

    so long firebird, bye bye


  4. Firebird 2.0 is what, 6 or 8 years behind schedule? And when it releases it will be outdated from the beginning with no clue as to whether it will take 10 years to see 3.5. Why would you choose Firebird over PostgreSQL which releases yearly, has many more developers, much greater popularity and support, and a great deal more features?

    Honestly there’s not a single reason to choose Firebird over PostgreSQL today.


    Joseph Reply:

    Sorry, meant Firebird 3.0


  5. Some strange comments here so I feel somewhat compelled to answer this old question.

    – Of course runtimes less than .NET 4.0 are supported. The ADO.NET library existed long before there was ever a .NET 4.0.

    – I’ve been using it in .NET for many, many years. Not sure what documentation is needed for a standard ADO.NET data access library. MSDN and forum posts have answered pretty much everything I have ever needed.

    – There are countless reasons to use Firebird instead of Postgresql. To say there aren’t is a ridiculous overstatement. Of course such blanket “My experience covers every development circumstance ever, anywhere” statements are common on the web. Hopefully people visiting the page recognize that kind of nonsense for what it is.

    – Right now in the summer of 2016 the site seems fine to me. My only criticism here would be navigating the documentation. But not enough to care. Of course this is an open source project. If someone doesn’t like it they can ask how they can help improve it.

    My personal speculations regarding its lack of popularity are:

    1) The world has gone from client/server applications where Firebird truly shines, to hosted solutions where it does not shine.
    2) New applications are being written with a web first mentality nowadays. It is correct to say that you’ll be hard pressed to find Firebird on the vase majority of hosted solutions out there. There is no compelling reason for many host providers to make it an option either.
    3) The other place countless new apps are being created are on Amazon and Azure. Again, they have excellent database options already.
    4) As mentioned, Delphi has been dying for years despite what its owners say. It’s the only development language where Firebird will be almost universally considered as an option. In other languages there are strong biases towards different database options which results in better database driver options.
    5) Most people using open source databases are also using open source drivers. Unless there is a critical mass for supporting a particular database these projects frequently stall and become abandonware when the original author(s) moves on.

    I’m happy Firebird is still a healthy option. It’s an outstanding option for client/server desktop apps that commonly have to be installed in hundreds/thousands of different locations where there is little or no I/T support, poor hardware, and unsupported operating systems (just because Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP doesn’t mean everyone updated…).


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