10.1.4. Connection Character Sets and Collations

Several character set and collation system variables relate to a client's interaction with the server. Some of these have been mentioned in earlier sections:

Additional character set and collation system variables are involved in handling traffic for the connection between a client and the server. Every client has connection-related character set and collation system variables.

A "connection" is what you make when you connect to the server. The client sends SQL statements, such as queries, over the connection to the server. The server sends responses, such as result sets or error messages, over the connection back to the client. This leads to several questions about character set and collation handling for client connections, each of which can be answered in terms of system variables:

Clients can fine-tune the settings for these variables, or depend on the defaults (in which case, you can skip the rest of this section). If you do not use the defaults, you must change the character settings for each connection to the server.

Two statements affect the connection-related character set variables as a group:


ucs2, utf16, utf16le, and utf32 cannot be used as a client character set, which means that they do not work for SET NAMES or SET CHARACTER SET.

The MySQL client programs mysql, mysqladmin, mysqlcheck, mysqlimport, and mysqlshow determine the default character set to use as follows:

When a client connects to the server, it sends the name of the character set that it wants to use. The server uses the name to set the character_set_client, character_set_results, and character_set_connection system variables. In effect, the server performs a SET NAMES operation using the character set name.

With the mysql client, to use a character set different from the default, you could explicitly execute SET NAMES every time you start up. To accomplish the same result more easily, add the --default-character-set option setting to your mysql command line or in your option file. For example, the following option file setting changes the three connection-related character set variables set to koi8r each time you invoke mysql:


If you are using the mysql client with auto-reconnect enabled (which is not recommended), it is preferable to use the charset command rather than SET NAMES. For example:

mysql> charset
        utf8Charset changed

The charset command issues a SET NAMES statement, and also changes the default character set that mysql uses when it reconnects after the connection has dropped.

Example: Suppose that column1 is defined as CHAR(5) CHARACTER SET latin2. If you do not say SET NAMES or SET CHARACTER SET, then for SELECT column1 FROM t, the server sends back all the values for column1 using the character set that the client specified when it connected. On the other hand, if you say SET NAMES 'latin1' or SET CHARACTER SET latin1 before issuing the SELECT statement, the server converts the latin2 values to latin1 just before sending results back. Conversion may be lossy if there are characters that are not in both character sets.

If you want the server to perform no conversion of result sets or error messages, set character_set_results to NULL or binary:

SET character_set_results = NULL;

To see the values of the character set and collation system variables that apply to your connection, use these statements:

SHOW VARIABLES LIKE 'character_set%';SHOW VARIABLES LIKE 'collation%';

You must also consider the environment within which your MySQL applications execute. See Section 10.1.5, "Configuring the Character Set and Collation for Applications".

For more information about character sets and error messages, see Section 10.1.6, "Character Set for Error Messages".

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