Knowledge base vs database: what’s the difference?

Both knowledge bases and databases store valuable information. Both make retrieving information easier. But they are far from the same thing.

So, knowledge base vs database: what’s the difference?

What is a database?

A database is a home for the data your organisation collects. Using a database is one of the most prolific ways to store organised data. It’s a computerised system that not only holds data, but makes it easier to manage and make sense of that data, too.

Typically, automation software helps you to transform and load ingested data into your database. It takes a database management system (DBMS) to then access, manipulate and use this data.

What is a knowledge base?

A knowledge base is a collection of answers. It’s a repository of solutions, instructions and ready-prepared answers about a given subject or area. You can think of them as a bit like a library dedicated to a given topic, product, business, department, service, etcetera.

A knowledge base, then, can take the form of an FAQ section, a web portal, PDFs, spreadsheets, Wikis, and so on.


• Form of data

One key difference in the question of knowledge base vs database is the form of the information that they store and provide access to.

Databases store data in its basic form. The straight facts, the foundational points of information that will then need to be further processed and analysed. It doesn’t present answers — it holds the information needed to construct the answers.

Knowledge bases, meanwhile, hold ready-to-apply information. Formulated answers, structured how-to guides, troubleshooting instructions. This is not data in its base form — it’s answers to structured questions and common issues.

• Purpose

The purpose of each side of the knowledge base vs database question is also a key difference.

The purpose of a database is to take the masses of raw data ingested by a company / organisation and store it safely, making it accessible and usable. They make base data easy to search, manipulate and filter.

The purpose of knowledge bases is to make it easy for people to find answers to questions without having to ask for help. They’re a self-service tool there to provide solutions and instructions to users.

• Access and use

Another key difference in the knowledge vs database comparison is the way each is accessed and used.

Databases require a database management system to access the data. This is an interface that sits between the user and the database. To retrieve data from a relational database, you use structured query language (SQL). Retrieving data from a non-relational database isn’t restricted to only SQL.

See also: ELI5: the relational vs non-relational database

Knowledge bases, on the other hand, don’t require this technicality. They’re easy to read and navigate as you would any other file, webpage/site, or spreadsheet.

Knowledge base vs database

While both sides of the knowledge base vs database comparison deal with information, that’s really where the similarities end.

To recap, databases hold base data. The information companies collect to inform their decision making, support their customer service, and so on.

Knowledge bases, meanwhile, are a library of resources and answers. Information, that is, that has already been formulated into a ready-to-use solution or set of instructions.

Useful links

What is a database? A 500-word overview

The history of databases

ELI5: is a spreadsheet a database?

ELI5: data ingestion