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I'm building a wordpress plugin that I plan to distribute. It requires more than 20 database tables. This seems like A LOT of additional tables to add to the wordpress database. Is there any value in requiring users to use a completely separate database for this plugin? Or should I just continue down the path of adding 20+ tables to user's default wordpress database.

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I would just keep it confined to the WP database. That way you have everything in 1 place. I have several databases which have over 50 tables. I wouldn't worry about it.

In case your site becomes real big you can always move your db to a separate server.

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