MySQL – Base64 vs BLOB

For the sake of simplicity, suppose I’m developing a mobile app like Instagram. Users can download images from the server, and upload images of their own. Currently the server stores all images (in reality, just small thumbnails) in a MySQL database as BLOBs. It seems that the most common way to transfer images is by using Base64 encoding, which leaves me with two options:

  1. Server stores all images as BLOBs. To upload an image, client encodes it into Base64 string, then sends it to the server. Server decodes image BACK into binary format and stores it as BLOB in the database. When client requests an image, server re-encodes the image as Base64 string and sends it to the client, who then decodes it back to binary for display.
  2. Server stores all images as Base64 strings. To upload an image, client encodes it into Base64 string and sends it to the server. Server does no encoding or decoding, but simply stores the string in the database. When client requests an image, the Base64 string is returned to the client, who then decodes it for display.

Clearly, option #1 requires significantly more processing on the server, as images must be encoded/decoded with every single request. This makes me lean toward option #2, but some research has suggested that storing Base64 string in MySQL is much less efficient than storing the image directly as BLOB, and is generally discouraged.

I’m certainly not the first person to encounter this situation, so does anybody have suggestions on the best way to make this work?


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Method 1

JSON assumes utf8, hence is incompatible with images unless they are encoded in some way.

Base64 is almost exactly 8/6 times as bulky as binary (BLOB). One could argue that it is easily affordable. 3000 bytes becomes about 4000 bytes.

Everyone should be able to accept arbitrary 8-bit codes, but not everybody does. Base-64 may be the simplest and overall best compromise for not having to deal with 8-bit data.

Since these are “small”, I would store them in a table, not a file. I would, however, store them in a separate table and JOIN by an appropriate id when you need them. This allows queries that don’t need the image to run faster because they are not stepping over the BLOBs.

Technically, TEXT CHARACTER SET ascii COLLATE ascii_bin would do, but BLOB makes it clearer that there is not really any usable text in the column.

Method 2

Why would you base64-encode the images on the wire? I think you’re starting from a wrong assumption.

Method 3

I don’t see why the DB Server shouldn’t always keep binary data in it’s native form. Thus, use a BLOB.
(But even if you did store the data in Base64 string, there is no need concern yourself about encoding/decoding performance because the IO’s impact will be more significant.)

I don’t get why the client should send the data in base64 though. Why not just “stream” it using a simple HTTP call?

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