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Suppose I want to replicate a single database in mysql on my slave, the master might be creating and writing to multiple databases. is this possoible?
or does the replication slave have to replicate everything written to all dbs after setting up the initial Master Binary Log Coordinates?

if so, what is the best way to backup a single database assuming a lot of writes is going on the master?

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Use the replicate-do-db setting, and note that replication is not the same as a backup... TRUNCATE TABLE very_important or UPDATE credit_cards SET number='whoops' will replicate across and delete everything on the slave as well.

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