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9.4. User-Defined Variables

You can store a value in a user-defined variable and then refer to it later. This enables you to pass values from one statement to another. User-defined variables are connection-specific. That is, a user variable defined by one client cannot be seen or used by other clients. All variables for a given client connection are automatically freed when that client exits.

User variables are written as @var_name, where the variable name var_name may consist of alphanumeric characters from the current character set, ‘.’, ‘_’, and ‘$’. The default character set is latin1 (cp1252 West European). This may be changed with the --default-character-set option to mysqld. See Section 5.10.1, “The Character Set Used for Data and Sorting”. A user variable name can contain other characters if you quote it as a string or identifier (for example, @'my-var', @"my-var", or @`my-var`).

Note: User variable names are case sensitive before MySQL 5.0 and not case sensitive in MySQL 5.0 and up.

One way to set a user-defined variable is by issuing a SET statement:

SET @var_name = expr [, @var_name = expr] ...

For SET, either = or := can be used as the assignment operator. The expr assigned to each variable can evaluate to an integer, real, string, or NULL value. However, if the value of the variable is selected in a result set, it is returned to the client as a string.

You can also assign a value to a user variable in statements other than SET. In this case, the assignment operator must be := and not = because = is treated as a comparison operator in non-SET statements:

mysql> SET @t1=0, @t2=0, @t3=0;
mysql> SELECT @t1:=(@t2:=1)+@t3:=4,@t1,@t2,@t3;
+----------------------+------+------+------+
| @t1:=(@t2:=1)+@t3:=4 | @t1  | @t2  | @t3  |
+----------------------+------+------+------+
|                    5 |    5 |    1 |    4 |
+----------------------+------+------+------+

User variables may be used in contexts where expressions are allowed. This does not currently include contexts that explicitly require a literal value, such as in the LIMIT clause of a SELECT statement, or the IGNORE N LINES clause of a LOAD DATA statement.

If a user variable is assigned a string value, it has the same character set and collation as the string. The coercibility of user variables is implicit as of MySQL 5.0.3. (This is the same coercibility as for table column values.)

Note: In a SELECT statement, each expression is evaluated only when sent to the client. This means that in a HAVING, GROUP BY, or ORDER BY clause, you cannot refer to an expression that involves variables that are set in the SELECT list. For example, the following statement does not work as expected:

mysql> SELECT (@aa:=id) AS a, (@aa+3) AS b FROM tbl_name HAVING b=5;

The reference to b in the HAVING clause refers to an alias for an expression in the SELECT list that uses @aa. This does not work as expected: @aa contains the value of id from the previous selected row, not from the current row.

The order of evaluation for user variables is undefined and may change based on the elements contained within a given query. In SELECT @a, @a := @a+1 ..., you might think that MySQL will evaluate @a first and then do an assignment second, but changing the query (for example, by adding a GROUP BY, HAVING, or ORDER BY clause) may change the order of evaluation.

The general rule is never to assign a value to a user variable in one part of a statement and use the same variable in some other part of the same statement. You might get the results you expect, but this is not guaranteed.

Another issue with setting a variable and using it in the same statement is that the default result type of a variable is based on the type of the variable at the start of the statement. The following example illustrates this:

mysql> SET @a='test';
mysql> SELECT @a,(@a:=20) FROM tbl_name;

For this SELECT statement, MySQL reports to the client that column one is a string and converts all accesses of @a to strings, even though @a is set to a number for the second row. After the SELECT statement executes, @a is regarded as a number for the next statement.

To avoid problems with this behavior, either do not set and use the same variable within a single statement, or else set the variable to 0, 0.0, or '' to define its type before you use it.

A user variable cannot be used directly in an SQL statement as an identifier or as part of an identifier, even if it is set off with backticks. This is shown in the following example:

mysql> SELECT c1 FROM t;
+----+
| c1 |
+----+
|  0 |
+----+
|  1 |
+----+
2 rows in set (0.00 sec)

mysql> SET @col = "c1";
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

mysql> SELECT @col FROM t;
+------+
| @col |
+------+
| c1   |
+------+
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

mysql> SELECT `@col` FROM t;
ERROR 1054 (42S22): Unknown column '@col' in 'field list'

mysql> SET @col = "`c1`";
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

mysql> SELECT @col FROM t;
+------+
| @col |
+------+
| `c1` |
+------+
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

One way to work around this problem is to assemble a string for the query in application code, as shown here using PHP 5:

<?php
  $mysqli = new mysqli("localhost", "user", "pass", "test");
  
  if( mysqli_connect_errno() )
    die("Connection failed: %s\n", mysqli_connect_error());

  $col = "c1";
  
  $query = "SELECT $col FROM t";
  
  $result = $mysqli->query($query);
  
  while($row = $result->fetch_assoc())
  {
    echo "<p>" . $row["$col"] . "</p>\n";
  }
  
  $result->close();
  
  $mysqli->close();
?>

(Assembling an SQL statement in this fashion is sometimes known as “Dynamic SQL”.) It is also possible to perform such operations using prepared statements, without the need to concatenate strings of SQL in client code. This example illustrates how this can be done:

mysql> SET @c = "c1";
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

mysql> SET @s = CONCAT("SELECT ", @c, " FROM t");
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

mysql> PREPARE stmt FROM @s;
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.04 sec)
Statement prepared

mysql> EXECUTE stmt;
+----+
| c1 |
+----+
|  0 |
+----+
|  1 |
+----+
2 rows in set (0.00 sec)

mysql> DEALLOCATE PREPARE stmt;
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

You cannot use a placeholder for the name of a database, table, or column in an SQL prepared statement. See Section 13.7, “SQL Syntax for Prepared Statements”, for more information.

If you refer to a variable that has not been initialized, it has a value of NULL and a type of string.

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