Introducing Dragonfly Cloud! Learn More

Question: What are the differences between key-value stores and relational databases?


Key-value stores and relational databases serve the purpose of data storage and retrieval but differ significantly in their structure, use cases, and performance characteristics.

Key-Value Stores:

Key-value stores are a type of NoSQL database that store data as a collection of key-value pairs, where each key is unique. This simple structure allows for highly efficient data retrieval, insertion, and deletion operations based solely on the key. They are designed to be highly scalable, offering high performance for read/write operations, and are ideal for use cases requiring rapid access to large volumes of data, such as session stores, caching, and real-time recommendations.

Example of Key-Value Store Usage:

# Using Redis, a popular key-value store, to set and get a value import redis # Assuming Redis is running locally on the default port r = redis.Redis() # Setting a value r.set('user:100', '{"name": "Alice", "age": 30}') # Getting and printing the value value = r.get('user:100') print(value) # Outputs the stored JSON data

Relational Databases:

Relational databases, based on the relational model, organize data into tables (relations) consisting of rows and columns. Each table represents a different entity type, and relationships can be formed using primary and foreign keys. Relational databases are ACID-compliant (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability), ensuring reliable transaction processing and data integrity. They are suited for complex queries, data relationships, and transactions, making them ideal for traditional business applications like customer relationship management systems, financial systems, and other scenarios requiring complex reports or data consistency across multiple entities.

Example of SQL Query in a Relational Database:

SELECT Employees.Name, Departments.DepartmentName FROM Employees JOIN Departments ON Employees.DepartmentID = Departments.ID WHERE Employees.Age > 25;


  • Structure: Key-value stores use a simple data model (key-value pairs), while relational databases use a structured tabular model with relationships.
  • Schema: Key-value stores are schema-less, allowing flexible data models. Relational databases require a predefined schema, which ensures data consistency but lacks flexibility.
  • Query Capability: Relational databases support complex queries and transactions, thanks to SQL. Key-value stores provide fast access to data by key but have limited query capabilities.
  • Scalability: Key-value stores are generally more horizontally scalable, easily distributed across multiple nodes. Relational databases can scale but might require more effort and complexity.

In summary, the choice between a key-value store and a relational database depends on the specific requirements of your project, including the complexity of the data relationships, scalability needs, and the types of operations and queries you intend to perform.

Was this content helpful?

White Paper

Free System Design on AWS E-Book

Download this early release of O'Reilly's latest cloud infrastructure e-book: System Design on AWS.

Free System Design on AWS E-Book

Start building today 

Dragonfly is fully compatible with the Redis ecosystem and requires no code changes to implement.