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Home / Database Structure / Data Types / Question No: 107

What are ENUM and SET Data Types in MySQL?

Answer No: 107

In MySQL 5 Certification Study Guide, the ENUM and SET Data Types are well described as below:

The ENUM and SET string data types are used when the values to be stored in a column are chosen from a fixed set of values. You define columns for both types in terms of string values, but MySQL represents them internally as integers. This leads to very efficient storage, but can have some results that are unintuitive unless you keep this string/integer duality in mind.

ENUM is an enumeration type. An ENUM column definition includes a list of allowable values; each value in the list is called a "member" of the list. Every value stored in the column must equal one of the values in the list. A simple (and very common) use for ENUM is to create a two-element list for columns that store yes/no or true/false choices. The following table shows how to declare such columns:

CREATE TABLE booleans( yesno ENUM('Y','N'), truefalse ENUM('T','F') );

Enumeration values aren't limited to being single letters or uppercase. The columns could also be defined like this:

CREATE TABLE booleans( yesno ENUM('yes','no'), truefalse ENUM('true','false'));

An ENUM column definition may list up to 65,535 members. Enumerations with up to 255 members require one byte of storage per value. Enumerations with 256 to 65,535 members require two bytes per value. The following table contains an enumeration column continent that lists continent names as valid enumeration members:

CREATE TABLE Countries ( name char(30), continent 
ENUM ('Asia', 'Europe', 'North America', 'Africa
', 'Oceania','Antarctica', 'South America');

The values in an ENUM column definition are given as a comma-separated list of quoted strings. Internally, MySQL stores the strings as integers, using the values 1 through n for a column with n enumeration members. The following statement assigns the enumeration value 'Africa' to the continent column; MySQL actually stores the value 4 because 'Africa' is the fourth continent name listed in the enumeration definition:

INSERT INTO Countries (name,continent) VALUES('Kenya','Africa');

MySQL reserves the internal value 0 as an implicit member of all ENUM columns. It's used to represent illegal values assigned to an enumeration column. For example, if you assign 'USA' to the continent column, MySQL will store the value 0, rather than any of the values 1 through 7, because 'USA' is not a valid enumeration member. If you select the column later, MySQL displays 0 values as the empty string ''. (In strict SQL mode, an error occurs if you try to store an illegal ENUM value.)

The SET data type, like ENUM, is declared using a comma-separated list of quoted strings that define its valid members. But unlike ENUM, a given SET column may be assigned a value consisting of any combination of those members. The following definition contains a list of symptoms exhibited by allergy sufferers:

CREATE TABLE allergy ( symptom 
SET('sneezing','runny nose','stuffy head','red eyes') );

A patient may have any or all (or none) of these symptoms, and symptom values therefore might contain zero to four individual SET members, separated by commas. The following statements set the symptom column to the empty string (no SET members), a single SET member, and multiple SET members, respectively:

INSERT INTO allergy (symptom) VALUES('');
INSERT INTO allergy (symptom) VALUES('stuffy head');
INSERT INTO allergy (symptom) VALUES('sneezing,red eyes');

MySQL represents SET columns as a bitmap using one bit per member, so the elements in the symptom definition have internal values of 1, 2, 4, and 8 (that is, they have the values of bits 0 through 3 in a byte). Internally, MySQL stores the values shown in the preceding INSERT statements as 0 (no bits set), 4 (bit 2 set), and 9 (bits 0 and 3 set; that is, 1 plus 8).

A SET definition may contain up to 64 members. The internal storage required for set values varies depending on the number of SET elements (1, 2, 3, 4, or 8 bytes for sets of up to 8, 16, 24, 32, or 64 members).

If you try to store an invalid list member into a SET column, it's ignored because it does not correspond to any bit in the column definition. For example, setting a symptom value to 'coughing, sneezing, wheezing' results in an internal value of 1 ('sneezing'). The 'coughing' and 'wheezing' elements are ignored because they aren't listed in the column definition as legal set members. (In strict SQL mode, an error occurs if you try to store an illegal SET value.)

As mentioned earlier in this section, the conversion between string and numeric representations of ENUM and SET values can have unintuitive results. For example, although you would normally refer to an enumeration column using the string forms of its values, you can also use the internal numeric values. The effect of this can be very subtle if the string values look like numbers. Suppose that you define a table t like this:

CREATE TABLE t (age INT, siblings ENUM('0','1','2','3','>3'));

In this case, the enumeration values are the strings '0', '1', '2', '3', and '>3', and the matching internal numeric values are 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, respectively. Now suppose that you issue the following statement:

INSERT INTO t (age,siblings) VALUES(14,'3');

The siblings value is specified here as the string '3', and that is the value assigned to the column in the new record. However, you can also specify the siblings value as a number, as follows:

INSERT INTO t (age,siblings) VALUES(14,3);

But in this case, 3 is interpreted as the internal value, which corresponds to the enumeration value '2'! The same principle applies to retrievals. Consider the following two statements:

SELECT * FROM t WHERE siblings = '3';
SELECT * FROM t WHERE siblings = 3;

In the first case, you get records that have an enumeration value of '3'. In the second case, you get records where the internal value is 3; that is, records with an enumeration value of '2'.

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