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11.4. String Types

The string types are CHAR, VARCHAR, BINARY, VARBINARY, BLOB, TEXT, ENUM, and SET. This section describes how these types work and how to use them in your queries. For string type storage requirements, see Section 11.5, “Data Type Storage Requirements”.

11.4.1. The CHAR and VARCHAR Types

The CHAR and VARCHAR types are similar, but differ in the way they are stored and retrieved. As of MySQL 5.0.3, they also differ in maximum length and in whether trailing spaces are retained.

The CHAR and VARCHAR types are declared with a length that indicates the maximum number of characters you want to store. For example, CHAR(30) can hold up to 30 characters.

The length of a CHAR column is fixed to the length that you declare when you create the table. The length can be any value from 0 to 255. When CHAR values are stored, they are right-padded with spaces to the specified length. When CHAR values are retrieved, trailing spaces are removed.

Values in VARCHAR columns are variable-length strings. The length can be specified as a value from 0 to 255 before MySQL 5.0.3, and 0 to 65,535 in 5.0.3 and later versions. (The maximum effective length of a VARCHAR in MySQL 5.0.3 and later is determined by the maximum row size and the character set used. The maximum column length is subject to a row size of 65,532 bytes.)

In contrast to CHAR, VARCHAR values are stored using only as many characters as are needed, plus one byte to record the length (two bytes for columns that are declared with a length longer than 255).

VARCHAR values are not padded when they are stored. Handling of trailing spaces is version-dependent. As of MySQL 5.0.3, trailing spaces are retained when values are stored and retrieved, in conformance with standard SQL. Before MySQL 5.0.3, trailing spaces are removed from values when they are stored into a VARCHAR column; this means that the spaces also are absent from retrieved values.

If you assign a value to a CHAR or VARCHAR column that exceeds the column's maximum length, the value is truncated to fit. If the truncated characters are not spaces, a warning is generated. For truncation of non-space characters, you can cause an error to occur (rather than a warning) and suppress insertion of the value by using strict SQL mode. See Section 5.2.6, “SQL Modes”.

Before MySQL 5.0.3, if you need a data type for which trailing spaces are not removed, consider using a BLOB or TEXT type. Also, if you want to store binary values such as results from an encryption or compression function that might contain arbitrary byte values, use a BLOB column rather than a CHAR or VARCHAR column, to avoid potential problems with trailing space removal that would change data values.

The following table illustrates the differences between CHAR and VARCHAR by showing the result of storing various string values into CHAR(4) and VARCHAR(4) columns:

ValueCHAR(4)Storage RequiredVARCHAR(4)Storage Required
'''    '4 bytes''1 byte
'ab''ab  '4 bytes'ab'3 bytes
'abcd''abcd'4 bytes'abcd'5 bytes
'abcdefgh''abcd'4 bytes'abcd'5 bytes

Note that the values shown as stored in the last row of the table apply only when not using strict mode; if MySQL is running in strict mode, values that exceed the column length are not stored, and an error results.

If a given value is stored into the CHAR(4) and VARCHAR(4) columns, the values retrieved from the columns are not always the same because trailing spaces are removed from CHAR columns upon retrieval. The following example illustrates this difference:

mysql> CREATE TABLE vc (v VARCHAR(4), c CHAR(4));
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.01 sec)

mysql> INSERT INTO vc VALUES ('ab  ', 'ab  ');
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.00 sec)

mysql> SELECT CONCAT('(', v, ')'), CONCAT('(', c, ')') FROM vc;
+---------------------+---------------------+
| CONCAT('(', v, ')') | CONCAT('(', c, ')') |
+---------------------+---------------------+
| (ab  )              | (ab)                |
+---------------------+---------------------+
1 row in set (0.06 sec)

Values in CHAR and VARCHAR columns are sorted and compared according to the character set collation assigned to the column.

Note that all MySQL collations are of type PADSPACE. This means that all CHAR and VARCHAR values in MySQL are compared without regard to any trailing spaces. For example:

mysql> CREATE TABLE names (myname CHAR(10), yourname VARCHAR(10));
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.09 sec)

mysql> INSERT INTO names VALUES ('Monty ', 'Monty ');
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.00 sec)

mysql> SELECT myname = 'Monty  ', yourname = 'Monty  ' FROM names;
+--------------------+----------------------+
| myname = 'Monty  ' | yourname = 'Monty  ' |
+--------------------+----------------------+
|                  1 |                    1 |
+--------------------+----------------------+
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

Note that this is true for all MySQL versions, and it makes no difference whether your version trims trailing spaces from VARCHAR values before storing them. Nor does the server SQL mode make any difference in this regard.

For those cases where trailing pad characters are stripped or comparisons ignore them, if a column has an index that requires unique values, inserting into the column values that differ only in number of trailing pad characters will result in a duplicate-key error. For example, if a table contains 'a', an attempt to store 'a ' causes a duplicate-key error.

11.4.2. The BINARY and VARBINARY Types

The BINARY and VARBINARY types are similar to CHAR and VARCHAR, except that they contain binary strings rather than non-binary strings. That is, they contain byte strings rather than character strings. This means that they have no character set, and sorting and comparison are based on the numeric values of the bytes in the values.

The allowable maximum length is the same for BINARY and VARBINARY as it is for CHAR and VARCHAR, except that the length for BINARY and VARBINARY is a length in bytes rather than in characters.

The BINARY and VARBINARY data types are distinct from the CHAR BINARY and VARCHAR BINARY data types. For the latter types, the BINARY attribute does not cause the column to be treated as a binary string column. Instead, it causes the binary collation for the column character set to be used, and the column itself contains non-binary character strings rather than binary byte strings. For example, CHAR(5) BINARY is treated as CHAR(5) CHARACTER SET latin1 COLLATE latin1_bin, assuming that the default character set is latin1. This differs from BINARY(5), which stores 5-bytes binary strings that have no character set or collation.

When BINARY values are stored, they are right-padded with the pad value to the specified length. The pad value and how it is handled is version specific:

  • As of MySQL 5.0.15, the pad value is 0x00 (the zero byte). Values are right-padded with 0x00 on insert, and no trailing bytes are removed on select. All bytes are significant in comparisons, including ORDER BY and DISTINCT operations. 0x00 bytes and spaces are different in comparisons, with 0x00 < space.

    Example: For a BINARY(3) column, 'a ' becomes 'a \0' when inserted. 'a\0' becomes 'a\0\0' when inserted. Both inserted values remain unchanged when selected.

  • Before MySQL 5.0.15, the pad value is space. Values are right-padded with space on insert, and trailing spaces are removed on select. Trailing spaces are ignored in comparisons, including ORDER BY and DISTINCT operations. 0x00 bytes and spaces are different in comparisons, with 0x00 < space.

    Example: For a BINARY(3) column, 'a ' becomes 'a  ' when inserted and 'a' when selected. 'a\0' becomes 'a\0 ' when inserted and 'a\0' when selected.

For VARBINARY, there is no padding on insert and no bytes are stripped on select. All bytes are significant in comparisons, including ORDER BY and DISTINCT operations. 0x00 bytes and spaces are different in comparisons, with 0x00 < space. (Exceptions: Before MySQL 5.0.3, trailing spaces are removed when values are stored. Before MySQL 5.0.15, trailing 0x00 bytes are removed for ORDER BY operations.)

Note: The InnoDB storage engine continues to preserve trailing spaces in BINARY and VARBINARY column values through MySQL 5.0.18. Beginning with MySQL 5.0.19, InnoDB uses trailing space characters in making comparisons as do other MySQL storage engines.

For those cases where trailing pad bytes are stripped or comparisons ignore them, if a column has an index that requires unique values, inserting into the column values that differ only in number of trailing pad bytes will result in a duplicate-key error. For example, if a table contains 'a', an attempt to store 'a\0' causes a duplicate-key error.

You should consider the preceding padding and stripping characteristics carefully if you plan to use the BINARY data type for storing binary data and you require that the value retrieved be exactly the same as the value stored. The following example illustrates how 0x00-padding of BINARY values affects column value comparisons:

mysql> CREATE TABLE t (c BINARY(3));
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.01 sec)

mysql> INSERT INTO t SET c = 'a';
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.01 sec)

mysql> SELECT HEX(c), c = 'a', c = 'a\0\0' from t;
+--------+---------+-------------+
| HEX(c) | c = 'a' | c = 'a\0\0' |
+--------+---------+-------------+
| 610000 |       0 |           1 |
+--------+---------+-------------+
1 row in set (0.09 sec)

If the value retrieved must be the same as the value specified for storage with no padding, it might be preferable to use VARBINARY or one of the BLOB data types instead.

11.4.3. The BLOB and TEXT Types

A BLOB is a binary large object that can hold a variable amount of data. The four BLOB types are TINYBLOB, BLOB, MEDIUMBLOB, and LONGBLOB. These differ only in the maximum length of the values they can hold. The four TEXT types are TINYTEXT, TEXT, MEDIUMTEXT, and LONGTEXT. These correspond to the four BLOB types and have the same maximum lengths and storage requirements. See Section 11.5, “Data Type Storage Requirements”. No lettercase conversion for TEXT or BLOB columns takes place during storage or retrieval.

BLOB columns are treated as binary strings (byte strings). TEXT columns are treated as non-binary strings (character strings). BLOB columns have no character set, and sorting and comparison are based on the numeric values of the bytes in column values. TEXT columns have a character set, and values are sorted and compared based on the collation of the character set.

If a TEXT column is indexed, index entry comparisons are space-padded at the end. This means that, if the index requires unique values, duplicate-key errors will occur for values that differ only in the number of trailing spaces. For example, if a table contains 'a', an attempt to store 'a ' causes a duplicate-key error. This is not true for BLOB columns.

When not running in strict mode, if you assign a value to a BLOB or TEXT column that exceeds the data type's maximum length, the value is truncated to fit. If the truncated characters are not spaces, a warning is generated. You can cause an error to occur and the value to be rejected rather than to be truncated with a warning by using strict SQL mode. See Section 5.2.6, “SQL Modes”.

In most respects, you can regard a BLOB column as a VARBINARY column that can be as large as you like. Similarly, you can regard a TEXT column as a VARCHAR column. BLOB and TEXT differ from VARBINARY and VARCHAR in the following ways:

  • There is no trailing-space removal for BLOB and TEXT columns when values are stored or retrieved. Before MySQL 5.0.3, this differs from VARBINARY and VARCHAR, for which trailing spaces are removed when values are stored.

    Note that TEXT is on comparison space extended to fit the compared object, exactly like CHAR and VARCHAR.

  • For indexes on BLOB and TEXT columns, you must specify an index prefix length. For CHAR and VARCHAR, a prefix length is optional. See Section 7.4.3, “Column Indexes”.

  • BLOB and TEXT columns cannot have DEFAULT values.

LONG and LONG VARCHAR map to the MEDIUMTEXT data type. This is a compatibility feature. If you use the BINARY attribute with a TEXT data type, the column is assigned the binary collation of the column character set.

MySQL Connector/ODBC defines BLOB values as LONGVARBINARY and TEXT values as LONGVARCHAR.

Because BLOB and TEXT values can be extremely long, you might encounter some constraints in using them:

  • Only the first max_sort_length bytes of the column are used when sorting. The default value of max_sort_length is 1024. This value can be changed using the --max_sort_length=N option when starting the mysqld server. See Section 5.2.3, “System Variables”.

    You can make more bytes significant in sorting or grouping by increasing the value of max_sort_length at runtime. Any client can change the value of its session max_sort_length variable:

    mysql> SET max_sort_length = 2000;
    mysql> SELECT id, comment FROM t
        -> ORDER BY comment;

    Another way to use GROUP BY or ORDER BY on a BLOB or TEXT column containing long values when you want more than max_sort_length bytes to be significant is to convert the column value into a fixed-length object. The standard way to do this is with the SUBSTRING() function. For example, the following statement causes 2000 bytes of the comment column to be taken into account for sorting:

    mysql> SELECT id, SUBSTRING(comment,1,2000) FROM t
        -> ORDER BY SUBSTRING(comment,1,2000);
  • The maximum size of a BLOB or TEXT object is determined by its type, but the largest value you actually can transmit between the client and server is determined by the amount of available memory and the size of the communications buffers. You can change the message buffer size by changing the value of the max_allowed_packet variable, but you must do so for both the server and your client program. For example, both mysql and mysqldump allow you to change the client-side max_allowed_packet value. See Section 7.5.2, “Tuning Server Parameters”, Section 8.8, “mysql — The MySQL Command-Line Tool”, and Section 8.13, “mysqldump — A Database Backup Program”. You may also want to compare the packet sizes and the size of the data objects you are storing with the storage requirements, see Section 11.5, “Data Type Storage Requirements”

Each BLOB or TEXT value is represented internally by a separately allocated object. This is in contrast to all other data types, for which storage is allocated once per column when the table is opened.

In some cases, it may be desirable to store binary data such as media files in BLOB or TEXT columns. You may find MySQL's string handling functions useful for working with such data. See Section 12.4, “String Functions”. For security and other reasons, it is usually preferable to do so using application code rather than allowing application users the FILE privilege. You can discuss specifics for various languages and platforms in the MySQL Forums (http://forums.mysql.com/).

11.4.4. The ENUM Type

An ENUM is a string object with a value chosen from a list of allowed values that are enumerated explicitly in the column specification at table creation time.

An enumeration value must be a quoted string literal; it may not be an expression, even one that evaluates to a string value. This means that you also may not employ a user variable as an enumeration value.

For example, you can create a table with an ENUM column like this:

CREATE TABLE sizes (
    name ENUM('small', 'medium', 'large')
);

However, this version of the previous CREATE TABLE statement does not work:

CREATE TABLE sizes (
    c1 ENUM('small', CONCAT('med','ium'), 'large')
);

You also may not employ a user variable as an enumeration value. This pair of statements do not work:

SET @mysize = 'medium';

CREATE TABLE sizes (
    name ENUM('small', @mysize, 'large')
);

If you wish to use a number as an enumeration value, you must enclose it in quotes.

The value may also be the empty string ('') or NULL under certain circumstances:

  • If you insert an invalid value into an ENUM (that is, a string not present in the list of allowed values), the empty string is inserted instead as a special error value. This string can be distinguished from a “normal” empty string by the fact that this string has the numerical value 0. More about this later.

    If strict SQL mode is enabled, attempts to insert invalid ENUM values result in an error.

  • If an ENUM column is declared to allow NULL, the NULL value is a legal value for the column, and the default value is NULL. If an ENUM column is declared NOT NULL, its default value is the first element of the list of allowed values.

Each enumeration value has an index:

  • Values from the list of allowable elements in the column specification are numbered beginning with 1.

  • The index value of the empty string error value is 0. This means that you can use the following SELECT statement to find rows into which invalid ENUM values were assigned:

    mysql> SELECT * FROM tbl_name WHERE enum_col=0;
  • The index of the NULL value is NULL.

  • The term “index” here refers only to position within the list of enumeration values. It has nothing to do with table indexes.

For example, a column specified as ENUM('one', 'two', 'three') can have any of the values shown here. The index of each value is also shown:

ValueIndex
NULLNULL
''0
'one'1
'two'2
'three'3

An enumeration can have a maximum of 65,535 elements.

Trailing spaces are automatically deleted from ENUM member values in the table definition when a table is created.

When retrieved, values stored into an ENUM column are displayed using the lettercase that was used in the column definition. Note that ENUM columns can be assigned a character set and collation. For binary or case-sensitive collations, lettercase is taken into account when assigning values to the column.

If you retrieve an ENUM value in a numeric context, the column value's index is returned. For example, you can retrieve numeric values from an ENUM column like this:

mysql> SELECT enum_col+0 FROM tbl_name;

If you store a number into an ENUM column, the number is treated as the index into the possible values, and the value stored is the enumeration member with that index. (However, this does not work with LOAD DATA, which treats all input as strings.) If the numeric value is quoted, it is still interpreted as an index if there is no matching string in the list of enumeration values. For these reasons, it is not advisable to define an ENUM column with enumeration values that look like numbers, because this can easily become confusing. For example, the following column has enumeration members with string values of '0', '1', and '2', but numeric index values of 1, 2, and 3:

numbers ENUM('0','1','2')

If you store 2, it is interpreted as an index value, and becomes '1' (the value with index 2). If you store '2', it matches an enumeration value, so it is stored as '2'. If you store '3', it does not match any enumeration value, so it is treated as an index and becomes '2' (the value with index 3).

mysql> INSERT INTO t (numbers) VALUES(2),('2'),('3');
mysql> SELECT * FROM t;
+---------+
| numbers |
+---------+
| 1       | 
| 2       | 
| 2       | 
+---------+

ENUM values are sorted according to the order in which the enumeration members were listed in the column specification. (In other words, ENUM values are sorted according to their index numbers.) For example, 'a' sorts before 'b' for ENUM('a', 'b'), but 'b' sorts before 'a' for ENUM('b', 'a'). The empty string sorts before non-empty strings, and NULL values sort before all other enumeration values. To prevent unexpected results, specify the ENUM list in alphabetical order. You can also use GROUP BY CAST(col AS CHAR) or GROUP BY CONCAT(col) to make sure that the column is sorted lexically rather than by index number.

If you want to determine all possible values for an ENUM column, use SHOW COLUMNS FROM tbl_name LIKE enum_col and parse the ENUM definition in the Type column of the output.

11.4.5. The SET Type

A SET is a string object that can have zero or more values, each of which must be chosen from a list of allowed values specified when the table is created. SET column values that consist of multiple set members are specified with members separated by commas (‘,’). A consequence of this is that SET member values should not themselves contain commas.

For example, a column specified as SET('one', 'two') NOT NULL can have any of these values:

''
'one'
'two'
'one,two'

A SET can have a maximum of 64 different members.

Trailing spaces are automatically deleted from SET member values in the table definition when a table is created.

When retrieved, values stored in a SET column are displayed using the lettercase that was used in the column definition. Note that SET columns can be assigned a character set and collation. For binary or case-sensitive collations, lettercase is taken into account when assigning values to the column.

MySQL stores SET values numerically, with the low-order bit of the stored value corresponding to the first set member. If you retrieve a SET value in a numeric context, the value retrieved has bits set corresponding to the set members that make up the column value. For example, you can retrieve numeric values from a SET column like this:

mysql> SELECT set_col+0 FROM tbl_name;

If a number is stored into a SET column, the bits that are set in the binary representation of the number determine the set members in the column value. For a column specified as SET('a','b','c','d'), the members have the following decimal and binary values:

SET MemberDecimal ValueBinary Value
'a'10001
'b'20010
'c'40100
'd'81000

If you assign a value of 9 to this column, that is 1001 in binary, so the first and fourth SET value members 'a' and 'd' are selected and the resulting value is 'a,d'.

For a value containing more than one SET element, it does not matter what order the elements are listed in when you insert the value. It also does not matter how many times a given element is listed in the value. When the value is retrieved later, each element in the value appears once, with elements listed according to the order in which they were specified at table creation time. For example, suppose that a column is specified as SET('a','b','c','d'):

mysql> CREATE TABLE myset (col SET('a', 'b', 'c', 'd'));

If you insert the values 'a,d', 'd,a', 'a,d,d', 'a,d,a', and 'd,a,d':

mysql> INSERT INTO myset (col) VALUES 
-> ('a,d'), ('d,a'), ('a,d,a'), ('a,d,d'), ('d,a,d');
Query OK, 5 rows affected (0.01 sec)
Records: 5  Duplicates: 0  Warnings: 0

Then all of these values appear as 'a,d' when retrieved:

mysql> SELECT col FROM myset;
+------+
| col  |
+------+
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
+------+
5 rows in set (0.04 sec)

If you set a SET column to an unsupported value, the value is ignored and a warning is issued:

mysql> INSERT INTO myset (col) VALUES ('a,d,d,s');
Query OK, 1 row affected, 1 warning (0.03 sec)

mysql> SHOW WARNINGS;
+---------+------+------------------------------------------+
| Level   | Code | Message                                  |
+---------+------+------------------------------------------+
| Warning | 1265 | Data truncated for column 'col' at row 1 |
+---------+------+------------------------------------------+
1 row in set (0.04 sec)

mysql> SELECT col FROM myset;
+------+
| col  |
+------+
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
| a,d  |
+------+
6 rows in set (0.01 sec)

If strict SQL mode is enabled, attempts to insert invalid SET values result in an error.

SET values are sorted numerically. NULL values sort before non-NULL SET values.

Normally, you search for SET values using the FIND_IN_SET() function or the LIKE operator:

mysql> SELECT * FROM tbl_name WHERE FIND_IN_SET('value',set_col)>0;
mysql> SELECT * FROM tbl_name WHERE set_col LIKE '%value%';

The first statement finds rows where set_col contains the value set member. The second is similar, but not the same: It finds rows where set_col contains value anywhere, even as a substring of another set member.

The following statements also are legal:

mysql> SELECT * FROM tbl_name WHERE set_col & 1;
mysql> SELECT * FROM tbl_name WHERE set_col = 'val1,val2';

The first of these statements looks for values containing the first set member. The second looks for an exact match. Be careful with comparisons of the second type. Comparing set values to 'val1,val2' returns different results than comparing values to 'val2,val1'. You should specify the values in the same order they are listed in the column definition.

If you want to determine all possible values for a SET column, use SHOW COLUMNS FROM tbl_name LIKE set_col and parse the SET definition in the Type column of the output.

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