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3.2. Entering Queries

Make sure that you are connected to the server, as discussed in the previous section. Doing so does not in itself select any database to work with, but that's okay. At this point, it's more important to find out a little about how to issue queries than to jump right in creating tables, loading data into them, and retrieving data from them. This section describes the basic principles of entering commands, using several queries you can try out to familiarize yourself with how mysql works.

Here's a simple command that asks the server to tell you its version number and the current date. Type it in as shown here following the mysql> prompt and press Enter:

| 5.1.2-alpha-log | 2005-10-11   |
1 row in set (0.01 sec)

This query illustrates several things about mysql:

  • A command normally consists of an SQL statement followed by a semicolon. (There are some exceptions where a semicolon may be omitted. QUIT, mentioned earlier, is one of them. We'll get to others later.)

  • When you issue a command, mysql sends it to the server for execution and displays the results, then prints another mysql> prompt to indicate that it is ready for another command.

  • mysql displays query output in tabular form (rows and columns). The first row contains labels for the columns. The rows following are the query results. Normally, column labels are the names of the columns you fetch from database tables. If you're retrieving the value of an expression rather than a table column (as in the example just shown), mysql labels the column using the expression itself.

  • mysql shows how many rows were returned and how long the query took to execute, which gives you a rough idea of server performance. These values are imprecise because they represent wall clock time (not CPU or machine time), and because they are affected by factors such as server load and network latency. (For brevity, the “rows in set” line is sometimes not shown in the remaining examples in this chapter.)

Keywords may be entered in any lettercase. The following queries are equivalent:

mysql> select version(), current_date;
mysql> SeLeCt vErSiOn(), current_DATE;

Here's another query. It demonstrates that you can use mysql as a simple calculator:

mysql> SELECT SIN(PI()/4), (4+1)*5;
| SIN(PI()/4)      | (4+1)*5 |
| 0.70710678118655 |      25 |
1 row in set (0.02 sec)

The queries shown thus far have been relatively short, single-line statements. You can even enter multiple statements on a single line. Just end each one with a semicolon:

| VERSION()       |
| 5.1.2-alpha-log |
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

| NOW()               |
| 2005-10-11 15:15:00 |
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

A command need not be given all on a single line, so lengthy commands that require several lines are not a problem. mysql determines where your statement ends by looking for the terminating semicolon, not by looking for the end of the input line. (In other words, mysql accepts free-format input: it collects input lines but does not execute them until it sees the semicolon.)

Here's a simple multiple-line statement:

mysql> SELECT
    -> USER()
    -> ,
| USER()        | CURRENT_DATE |
| [email protected] | 2005-10-11   |

In this example, notice how the prompt changes from mysql> to -> after you enter the first line of a multiple-line query. This is how mysql indicates that it has not yet seen a complete statement and is waiting for the rest. The prompt is your friend, because it provides valuable feedback. If you use that feedback, you can always be aware of what mysql is waiting for.

If you decide you do not want to execute a command that you are in the process of entering, cancel it by typing \c:

mysql> SELECT
    -> USER()
    -> \c

Here, too, notice the prompt. It switches back to mysql> after you type \c, providing feedback to indicate that mysql is ready for a new command.

The following table shows each of the prompts you may see and summarizes what they mean about the state that mysql is in:

Prompt Meaning
mysql> Ready for new command.
-> Waiting for next line of multiple-line command.
'> Waiting for next line, waiting for completion of a string that began with a single quote (‘'’).
"> Waiting for next line, waiting for completion of a string that began with a double quote (‘"’).
`> Waiting for next line, waiting for completion of an identifier that began with a backtick (‘`’).
/*> Waiting for next line, waiting for completion of a comment that began with /*.

Multiple-line statements commonly occur by accident when you intend to issue a command on a single line, but forget the terminating semicolon. In this case, mysql waits for more input:

mysql> SELECT USER()

If this happens to you (you think you've entered a statement but the only response is a -> prompt), most likely mysql is waiting for the semicolon. If you don't notice what the prompt is telling you, you might sit there for a while before realizing what you need to do. Enter a semicolon to complete the statement, and mysql executes it:

mysql> SELECT USER()
    -> ;
| USER()        |
| [email protected] |

The '> and "> prompts occur during string collection (another way of saying that MySQL is waiting for completion of a string). In MySQL, you can write strings surrounded by either ‘'’ or ‘"’ characters (for example, 'hello' or "goodbye"), and mysql lets you enter strings that span multiple lines. When you see a '> or "> prompt, it means that you have entered a line containing a string that begins with a ‘'’ or ‘"’ quote character, but have not yet entered the matching quote that terminates the string. This often indicates that you have inadvertently left out a quote character. For example:

mysql> SELECT * FROM my_table WHERE name = 'Smith AND age < 30;

If you enter this SELECT statement, then press Enter and wait for the result, nothing happens. Instead of wondering why this query takes so long, notice the clue provided by the '> prompt. It tells you that mysql expects to see the rest of an unterminated string. (Do you see the error in the statement? The string 'Smith is missing the second single quote mark.)

At this point, what do you do? The simplest thing is to cancel the command. However, you cannot just type \c in this case, because mysql interprets it as part of the string that it is collecting. Instead, enter the closing quote character (so mysql knows you've finished the string), then type \c:

mysql> SELECT * FROM my_table WHERE name = 'Smith AND age < 30;
    '> '\c

The prompt changes back to mysql>, indicating that mysql is ready for a new command.

The `> prompt is similar to the '> and "> prompts, but indicates that you have begun but not completed a backtick-quoted identifier.

It is important to know what the '>, ">, and `> prompts signify, because if you mistakenly enter an unterminated string, any further lines you type appear to be ignored by mysql — including a line containing QUIT. This can be quite confusing, especially if you do not know that you need to supply the terminating quote before you can cancel the current command.

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