It's not NoSQL, it's post-relational

Almost five years ago, we were witness to the reinvention of web frameworks. A couple upstarts named Django and Rails appeared at almost the same time, espousing many of the same values. In the typical Gandhi-cycle, they were first ignored, the incumbents fought them, and then they achieved victory over the incumbents. Today, any framework that’s used on new projects is likely to have more than a hint of Django and Rails in it.

Today, we’re seeing the same thing for databases. Something is going on and things are changing. Barring an unprecedented departure of fashion from software development, I’ll look back five years from now and write about some other shift in the development landscape.

But, all shifts like this need a name. Right now, the best we have is NoSQL. The problem with that name is that it only defines what it is not. That makes it confrontational and not amazingly particular to what it includes or excludes.

Damien Katz, the creator of CouchDB, has noted the need for a better name for this storage revolution. Allow me to proffer mine:


What we’re seeing its the end of the assumption that valuable data should go in some kind of relational database. The end of the assumption that SQL and ACID are the only tools for solving our problems. The end of the viability of master/slave scaling. The end of weaving the relational model through our application code.

We’re seeing an explosion in the ideas about how one should store important data. We’re looking at data to see if it’s even worth persisting. We’re experimenting with new semantics around structure, consistency and concurrency.

In the same way that post-modernism is about reconsidering the ways of the past in art and architecture, post-relational is a chance for software developers to reconsider our own ways. Just as post-modernism didn’t invalidate the entire history of art, post-relational won’t invalidate the usefulness of relational databases.

However, it’s likely that those working in some domains will decide that non-relational databases better fit their needs. That’s progress in our field. It’s fun to watch.

Say it with me: post-relational databases, post-relational storage, post-relational thinking, or simply, post-relational.

Adam Keys @therealadam