1.4. Overview of the MySQL Database Management System

MySQL, the most popular Open Source SQL database management system, is developed, distributed, and supported by MySQL AB. MySQL AB is a commercial company, founded by the MySQL developers. It is a second generation Open Source company that unites Open Source values and methodology with a successful business model.

The MySQL Web site (http://www.mysql.com/) provides the latest information about MySQL software and MySQL AB.

The official way to pronounce “MySQL” is “My Ess Que Ell” (not “my sequel”), but we don't mind if you pronounce it as “my sequel” or in some other localized way.

1.4.1. History of MySQL

We started out with the intention of using the mSQL database system to connect to our tables using our own fast low-level (ISAM) routines. However, after some testing, we came to the conclusion that mSQL was not fast enough or flexible enough for our needs. This resulted in a new SQL interface to our database but with almost the same API interface as mSQL. This API was designed to allow third-party code that was written for use with mSQL to be ported easily for use with MySQL.

The derivation of the name MySQL is not clear. Our base directory and a large number of our libraries and tools have had the prefix “my” for well over 10 years. However, co-founder Monty Widenius's daughter is also named My. Which of the two gave its name to MySQL is still a mystery, even for us.

The name of the MySQL Dolphin (our logo) is “Sakila,” which was chosen by the founders of MySQL AB from a huge list of names suggested by users in our “Name the Dolphin” contest. The winning name was submitted by Ambrose Twebaze, an Open Source software developer from Swaziland, Africa. According to Ambrose, the feminine name Sakila has its roots in SiSwati, the local language of Swaziland. Sakila is also the name of a town in Arusha, Tanzania, near Ambrose's country of origin, Uganda.

1.4.2. The Main Features of MySQL

The following list describes some of the important characteristics of the MySQL Database Software. See also Section 1.6, “MySQL Development Roadmap”, for more information about current and upcoming features.

Internals and Portability:

  • Written in C and C++.

  • Tested with a broad range of different compilers.

  • Works on many different platforms. See Section 2.1.1, “Operating Systems Supported by MySQL”.

  • Uses GNU Automake, Autoconf, and Libtool for portability.

  • APIs for C, C++, Eiffel, Java, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, and Tcl are available. See Chapter 22, APIs and Libraries.

  • Fully multi-threaded using kernel threads. It can easily use multiple CPUs if they are available.

  • Provides transactional and non-transactional storage engines.

  • Uses very fast B-tree disk tables (MyISAM) with index compression.

  • Relatively easy to add other storage engines. This is useful if you want to add an SQL interface to an in-house database.

  • A very fast thread-based memory allocation system.

  • Very fast joins using an optimized one-sweep multi-join.

  • In-memory hash tables, which are used as temporary tables.

  • SQL functions are implemented using a highly optimized class library and should be as fast as possible. Usually there is no memory allocation at all after query initialization.

  • The MySQL code is tested with Purify (a commercial memory leakage detector) as well as with Valgrind, a GPL tool (http://developer.kde.org/~sewardj/).

  • The server is available as a separate program for use in a client/server networked environment. It is also available as a library that can be embedded (linked) into standalone applications. Such applications can be used in isolation or in environments where no network is available.

Data Types:

  • Many data types: signed/unsigned integers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8 bytes long, FLOAT, DOUBLE, CHAR, VARCHAR, TEXT, BLOB, DATE, TIME, DATETIME, TIMESTAMP, YEAR, SET, ENUM, and OpenGIS spatial types. See Chapter 11, Data Types.

  • Fixed-length and variable-length records.

Statements and Functions:

  • Full operator and function support in the SELECT and WHERE clauses of queries. For example:

    mysql> SELECT CONCAT(first_name, ' ', last_name)
        -> FROM citizen
        -> WHERE income/dependents > 10000 AND age > 30;
  • Full support for SQL GROUP BY and ORDER BY clauses. Support for group functions (COUNT(), COUNT(DISTINCT ...), AVG(), STD(), SUM(), MAX(), MIN(), and GROUP_CONCAT()).

  • Support for LEFT OUTER JOIN and RIGHT OUTER JOIN with both standard SQL and ODBC syntax.

  • Support for aliases on tables and columns as required by standard SQL.

  • DELETE, INSERT, REPLACE, and UPDATE return the number of rows that were changed (affected). It is possible to return the number of rows matched instead by setting a flag when connecting to the server.

  • The MySQL-specific SHOW statement can be used to retrieve information about databases, storage engines, tables, and indexes.

    The EXPLAIN statement can be used to determine how the optimizer resolves a query.

  • Function names do not clash with table or column names. For example, ABS is a valid column name. The only restriction is that for a function call, no spaces are allowed between the function name and the ‘(’ that follows it. See Section 9.5, “Treatment of Reserved Words in MySQL”.

  • You can mix tables from different databases in the same query (as of MySQL 3.22).


  • A privilege and password system that is very flexible and secure, and that allows host-based verification. Passwords are secure because all password traffic is encrypted when you connect to a server.

Scalability and Limits:

  • Handles large databases. We use MySQL Server with databases that contain 50 million records. We also know of users who use MySQL Server with 60,000 tables and about 5,000,000,000 rows.

  • Up to 64 indexes per table are allowed (32 before MySQL 4.1.2). Each index may consist of 1 to 16 columns or parts of columns. The maximum index width is 1000 bytes (767 for InnoDB); before MySQL 4.1.2, the limit is 500 bytes. An index may use a prefix of a column for CHAR, VARCHAR, BLOB, or TEXT column types.


  • Clients can connect to the MySQL server using TCP/IP sockets on any platform. On Windows systems in the NT family (NT, 2000, XP, 2003, or Vista), clients can connect using named pipes. On Unix systems, clients can connect using Unix domain socket files.

  • In MySQL 4.1 and higher, Windows servers also support shared-memory connections if started with the --shared-memory option. Clients can connect through shared memory by using the --protocol=memory option.

  • The Connector/ODBC (MyODBC) interface provides MySQL support for client programs that use ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) connections. For example, you can use MS Access to connect to your MySQL server. Clients can be run on Windows or Unix. MyODBC source is available. All ODBC 2.5 functions are supported, as are many others. See Chapter 23, Connectors.

  • The Connector/J interface provides MySQL support for Java client programs that use JDBC connections. Clients can be run on Windows or Unix. Connector/J source is available. See Chapter 23, Connectors.

  • MySQL Connector/NET enables developers to easily create .NET applications that require secure, high-performance data connectivity with MySQL. It implements the required ADO.NET interfaces and integrates into ADO.NET aware tools. Developers can build applications using their choice of .NET languages. MySQL Connector/NET is a fully managed ADO.NET driver written in 100% pure C#. See Chapter 23, Connectors.


  • The server can provide error messages to clients in many languages. See Section 5.11.2, “Setting the Error Message Language”.

  • Full support for several different character sets, including latin1 (cp1252), german, big5, ujis, and more. For example, the Scandinavian characters ‘å’, ‘ä’ and ‘ö’ are allowed in table and column names. Unicode support is available as of MySQL 4.1.

  • All data is saved in the chosen character set. All comparisons for normal string columns are case-insensitive.

  • Sorting is done according to the chosen character set (using Swedish collation by default). It is possible to change this when the MySQL server is started. To see an example of very advanced sorting, look at the Czech sorting code. MySQL Server supports many different character sets that can be specified at compile time and runtime.

Clients and Tools:

  • MySQL Server has built-in support for SQL statements to check, optimize, and repair tables. These statements are available from the command line through the mysqlcheck client. MySQL also includes myisamchk, a very fast command-line utility for performing these operations on MyISAM tables. See Chapter 5, Database Administration.

  • All MySQL programs can be invoked with the --help or -? options to obtain online assistance.

1.4.3. MySQL Stability

This section addresses the questions, “How stable is MySQL Server?” and, “Can I depend on MySQL Server in this project?” We will try to clarify these issues and answer some important questions that concern many potential users. The information in this section is based on data gathered from the mailing lists, which are very active in identifying problems as well as reporting types of use.

The original code stems back to the early 1980s. It provides a stable code base, and the ISAM table format used by the original storage engine remains backward-compatible. At TcX, the predecessor of MySQL AB, MySQL code has worked in projects since mid-1996, without any problems. When the MySQL Database Software initially was released to a wider public, our new users quickly found some pieces of untested code. Each new release since then has had fewer portability problems, even though each new release has also had many new features.

Each release of the MySQL Server has been usable. Problems have occurred only when users try code from the “gray zones.” Naturally, new users don't know what the gray zones are; this section therefore attempts to document those areas that are currently known. The descriptions mostly deal with Versions 3.23 and later of MySQL Server. All known and reported bugs are fixed in the latest version, with the exception of those listed in the bugs section, which are design-related. See Section A.8, “Known Issues in MySQL”.

The MySQL Server design is multi-layered with independent modules. Some of the newer modules are listed here with an indication of how well-tested each of them is:

  • Replication (Stable)

    Large groups of servers using replication are in production use, with good results. Work on enhanced replication features is continuing.

  • InnoDB tables (Stable)

    The InnoDB transactional storage engine has been stable since version 3.23.49. InnoDB is being used in large, heavy-load production systems.

  • Full-text searches (Stable)

    Full-text searching is widely used. Important feature enhancements were added in MySQL 4.0 and 4.1.

  • MyODBC 3.51 (Stable)

    MyODBC 3.51 uses ODBC SDK 3.51 and is in wide production use. Some issues brought up appear to be application-related and independent of the ODBC driver or underlying database server.

1.4.4. How Large MySQL Tables Can Be

MySQL 3.22 had a 4GB (4 gigabyte) limit on table size. With the MyISAM storage engine in MySQL 3.23, the maximum table size was increased to 65536 terabytes (2567 – 1 bytes). With this larger allowed table size, the maximum effective table size for MySQL databases is usually determined by operating system constraints on file sizes, not by MySQL internal limits.

The InnoDB storage engine maintains InnoDB tables within a tablespace that can be created from several files. This allows a table to exceed the maximum individual file size. The tablespace can include raw disk partitions, which allows extremely large tables. The maximum tablespace size is 64TB.

The following table lists some examples of operating system file-size limits. This is only a rough guide and is not intended to be definitive. For the most up-to-date information, be sure to check the documentation specific to your operating system.

Operating SystemFile-size Limit
Linux 2.2-Intel 32-bit2GB (LFS: 4GB)
Linux 2.4+(using ext3 filesystem) 4TB
Solaris 9/1016TB
NetWare w/NSS filesystem8TB
Win32 w/ FAT/FAT322GB/4GB
Win32 w/ NTFS2TB (possibly larger)
MacOS X w/ HFS+2TB

On Linux 2.2, you can get MyISAM tables larger than 2GB in size by using the Large File Support (LFS) patch for the ext2 filesystem. On Linux 2.4, patches also exist for ReiserFS to get support for big files (up to 2TB). Most current Linux distributions are based on kernel 2.4 or higher and include all the required LFS patches. With JFS and XFS, petabyte and larger files are possible on Linux. However, the maximum available file size still depends on several factors, one of them being the filesystem used to store MySQL tables.

For a detailed overview about LFS in Linux, have a look at Andreas Jaeger's Large File Support in Linux page at http://www.suse.de/~aj/linux_lfs.html.

Windows users please note: FAT and VFAT (FAT32) are not considered suitable for production use with MySQL. Use NTFS instead.

By default, MySQL creates MyISAM tables with an internal structure that allows a maximum size of about 4GB. You can check the maximum table size for a MyISAM table with the SHOW TABLE STATUS statement or with myisamchk -dv tbl_name. See Section 13.5.4, “SHOW Syntax”.

If you need a MyISAM table that is larger than 4GB and your operating system supports large files, the CREATE TABLE statement supports AVG_ROW_LENGTH and MAX_ROWS options. See Section 13.1.5, “CREATE TABLE Syntax”. You can also change these options with ALTER TABLE to increase a table's maximum allowable size after the table has been created. See Section 13.1.2, “ALTER TABLE Syntax”.

Other ways to work around file-size limits for MyISAM tables are as follows:

1.4.5. Year 2000 Compliance

The MySQL Server itself has no problems with Year 2000 (Y2K) compliance:

  • MySQL Server uses Unix time functions that handle dates into the year 2037 for TIMESTAMP values. For DATE and DATETIME values, dates through the year 9999 are accepted.

  • All MySQL date functions are implemented in one source file, sql/time.cc, and are coded very carefully to be year 2000-safe.

  • In MySQL, the YEAR data type can store the years 0 and 1901 to 2155 in one byte and display them using two or four digits. All two-digit years are considered to be in the range 1970 to 2069, which means that if you store 01 in a YEAR column, MySQL Server treats it as 2001.

The following simple demonstration illustrates that MySQL Server has no problems with DATE or DATETIME values through the year 9999, and no problems with TIMESTAMP values until after the year 2030:

Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

mysql> CREATE TABLE y2k (date DATE,
    ->                   date_time DATETIME,
    ->                   time_stamp TIMESTAMP);
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.01 sec)

    -> ('1998-12-31','1998-12-31 23:59:59','1998-12-31 23:59:59'),
    -> ('1999-01-01','1999-01-01 00:00:00','1999-01-01 00:00:00'),
    -> ('1999-09-09','1999-09-09 23:59:59','1999-09-09 23:59:59'),
    -> ('2000-01-01','2000-01-01 00:00:00','2000-01-01 00:00:00'),
    -> ('2000-02-28','2000-02-28 00:00:00','2000-02-28 00:00:00'),
    -> ('2000-02-29','2000-02-29 00:00:00','2000-02-29 00:00:00'),
    -> ('2000-03-01','2000-03-01 00:00:00','2000-03-01 00:00:00'),
    -> ('2000-12-31','2000-12-31 23:59:59','2000-12-31 23:59:59'),
    -> ('2001-01-01','2001-01-01 00:00:00','2001-01-01 00:00:00'),
    -> ('2004-12-31','2004-12-31 23:59:59','2004-12-31 23:59:59'),
    -> ('2005-01-01','2005-01-01 00:00:00','2005-01-01 00:00:00'),
    -> ('2030-01-01','2030-01-01 00:00:00','2030-01-01 00:00:00'),
    -> ('2040-01-01','2040-01-01 00:00:00','2040-01-01 00:00:00'),
    -> ('9999-12-31','9999-12-31 23:59:59','9999-12-31 23:59:59');
Query OK, 14 rows affected, 2 warnings (0.00 sec)
Records: 14  Duplicates: 0  Warnings: 2

mysql> SELECT * FROM y2k;
| date       | date_time           | time_stamp          |
| 1998-12-31 | 1998-12-31 23:59:59 | 1998-12-31 23:59:59 |
| 1999-01-01 | 1999-01-01 00:00:00 | 1999-01-01 00:00:00 |
| 1999-09-09 | 1999-09-09 23:59:59 | 1999-09-09 23:59:59 |
| 2000-01-01 | 2000-01-01 00:00:00 | 2000-01-01 00:00:00 |
| 2000-02-28 | 2000-02-28 00:00:00 | 2000-02-28 00:00:00 |
| 2000-02-29 | 2000-02-29 00:00:00 | 2000-02-29 00:00:00 |
| 2000-03-01 | 2000-03-01 00:00:00 | 2000-03-01 00:00:00 |
| 2000-12-31 | 2000-12-31 23:59:59 | 2000-12-31 23:59:59 |
| 2001-01-01 | 2001-01-01 00:00:00 | 2001-01-01 00:00:00 |
| 2004-12-31 | 2004-12-31 23:59:59 | 2004-12-31 23:59:59 |
| 2005-01-01 | 2005-01-01 00:00:00 | 2005-01-01 00:00:00 |
| 2030-01-01 | 2030-01-01 00:00:00 | 2030-01-01 00:00:00 |
| 2040-01-01 | 2040-01-01 00:00:00 | 0000-00-00 00:00:00 |
| 9999-12-31 | 9999-12-31 23:59:59 | 0000-00-00 00:00:00 |
14 rows in set (0.00 sec)

The final two TIMESTAMP column values are zero because the year values (2040, 9999) exceed the TIMESTAMP maximum. The TIMESTAMP data type, which is used to store the current time, supports values that range from '1970-01-01 00:00:00' to '2030-01-01 00:00:00' on 32-bit machines (signed value). On 64-bit machines, TIMESTAMP handles values up to 2106 (unsigned value).

Although MySQL Server itself is Y2K-safe, you may run into problems if you use it with applications that are not Y2K-safe. For example, many old applications store or manipulate years using two-digit values (which are ambiguous) rather than four-digit values. This problem may be compounded by applications that use values such as 00 or 99 as “missing” value indicators. Unfortunately, these problems may be difficult to fix because different applications may be written by different programmers, each of whom may use a different set of conventions and date-handling functions.

Thus, even though MySQL Server has no Y2K problems, it is the application's responsibility to provide unambiguous input. See Section 11.3.4, “Y2K Issues and Date Types”, for MySQL Server's rules for dealing with ambiguous date input data that contains two-digit year values.