Char vs Varchar – Mysql

The CHAR and VARCHAR types are similar, but differ in the way they are stored and retrieved. 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 unless the PAD_CHAR_TO_FULL_LENGTH SQL mode is enabled.

Values in VARCHAR columns are variable-length strings. The length can be specified as a value from 0 to 65,535. The effective maximum length of a VARCHAR is subject to the maximum row size (65,535 bytes, which is shared among all columns) and the character set used. See Section C.10.4, “Limits on Table Column Count and Row Size”.

In contrast to CHAR, VARCHAR values are stored as a 1-byte or 2-byte length prefix plus data. The length prefix indicates the number of bytes in the value. A column uses one length byte if values require no more than 255 bytes, two length bytes if values may require more than 255 bytes.

If strict SQL mode is not enabled and you assign a value to a CHAR or VARCHAR column that exceeds the column’s maximum length, the value is truncated to fit and a warning is generated. For truncation of nonspace characters, you can cause an error to occur (rather than a warning) and suppress insertion of the value by using strict SQL mode.

For VARCHAR columns, trailing spaces in excess of the column length are truncated prior to insertion and a warning is generated, regardless of the SQL mode in use. For CHAR columns, truncation of excess trailing spaces from inserted values is performed silently regardless of the SQL mode.

VARCHAR values are not padded when they are stored. Trailing spaces are retained when values are stored and retrieved, in conformance with standard SQL.


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 (assuming that the column uses a single-byte character set such as latin1).

Value CHAR(4) Storage Required VARCHAR(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

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