MySQL 5.1 Reference Manual  /  Functions and Operators  /  Type Conversion in Expression Evaluation

12.2 Type Conversion in Expression Evaluation

When an operator is used with operands of different types, type conversion occurs to make the operands compatible. Some conversions occur implicitly. For example, MySQL automatically converts numbers to strings as necessary, and vice versa.

mysql> SELECT 1+'1';
        -> 2
mysql> SELECT CONCAT(2,' test');
        -> '2 test'

It is also possible to convert a number to a string explicitly using the CAST() function. Conversion occurs implicitly with the CONCAT() function because it expects string arguments.

mysql> SELECT 38.8, CAST(38.8 AS CHAR);
        -> 38.8, '38.8'
mysql> SELECT 38.8, CONCAT(38.8);
        -> 38.8, '38.8'

See later in this section for information about the character set of implicit number-to-string conversions, and for modified rules that apply to CREATE TABLE ... SELECT statements.

The following rules describe how conversion occurs for comparison operations:

  • If one or both arguments are NULL, the result of the comparison is NULL, except for the NULL-safe <=> equality comparison operator. For NULL <=> NULL, the result is true. No conversion is needed.

  • If both arguments in a comparison operation are strings, they are compared as strings.

  • If both arguments are integers, they are compared as integers.

  • Hexadecimal values are treated as binary strings if not compared to a number.

  • If one of the arguments is a TIMESTAMP or DATETIME column and the other argument is a constant, the constant is converted to a timestamp before the comparison is performed. This is done to be more ODBC-friendly. Note that this is not done for the arguments to IN()! To be safe, always use complete datetime, date, or time strings when doing comparisons. For example, to achieve best results when using BETWEEN with date or time values, use CAST() to explicitly convert the values to the desired data type.

  • If one of the arguments is a decimal value, comparison depends on the other argument. The arguments are compared as decimal values if the other argument is a decimal or integer value, or as floating-point values if the other argument is a floating-point value.

  • In all other cases, the arguments are compared as floating-point (real) numbers.

For information about conversion of values from one temporal type to another, see Section 11.3.7, “Conversion Between Date and Time Types”.

The following examples illustrate conversion of strings to numbers for comparison operations:

mysql> SELECT 1 > '6x';
        -> 0
mysql> SELECT 7 > '6x';
        -> 1
mysql> SELECT 0 > 'x6';
        -> 0
mysql> SELECT 0 = 'x6';
        -> 1

For comparisons of a string column with a number, MySQL cannot use an index on the column to look up the value quickly. If str_col is an indexed string column, the index cannot be used when performing the lookup in the following statement:

SELECT * FROM tbl_name WHERE str_col=1;

The reason for this is that there are many different strings that may convert to the value 1, such as '1', ' 1', or '1a'.

Comparisons that use floating-point numbers (or values that are converted to floating-point numbers) are approximate because such numbers are inexact. This might lead to results that appear inconsistent:

mysql> SELECT '18015376320243458' = 18015376320243458;
        -> 1
mysql> SELECT '18015376320243459' = 18015376320243459;
        -> 0

Such results can occur because the values are converted to floating-point numbers, which have only 53 bits of precision and are subject to rounding:

mysql> SELECT '18015376320243459'+0.0;
        -> 1.8015376320243e+16

Furthermore, the conversion from string to floating-point and from integer to floating-point do not necessarily occur the same way. The integer may be converted to floating-point by the CPU, whereas the string is converted digit by digit in an operation that involves floating-point multiplications.

The results shown will vary on different systems, and can be affected by factors such as computer architecture or the compiler version or optimization level. One way to avoid such problems is to use CAST() so that a value is not converted implicitly to a float-point number:

mysql> SELECT CAST('18015376320243459' AS UNSIGNED) = 18015376320243459;
        -> 1

For more information about floating-point comparisons, see Section B.5.4.8, “Problems with Floating-Point Values”.

Implicit conversion of a numeric or temporal value to a string produces a binary string (a BINARY, VARBINARY, or BLOB value). Such implicit conversions to string typically occur for functions that are passed numeric or temporal values when string values are more usual, and thus can have effects beyond the type of the converted value. Consider the expression CONCAT(1, 'abc'). The numeric argument 1 is converted to the binary string '1' and the concatenation of that value with the nonbinary string 'abc' produces the binary string '1abc'.

For integer expressions, the preceding remarks about expression evaluation apply somewhat differently for expression assignment; for example, in a statement such as this:

CREATE TABLE t SELECT integer_expr;

In this case, the table in the column resulting from the expression has type INT or BIGINT depending on the length of the integer expression. If the maximum length of the expression does not fit in an INT, BIGINT is used instead. The length is taken from the max_length value of the SELECT result set metadata (see Section 21.8.5, “C API Data Structures”). This means that you can force a BIGINT rather than INT by use of a sufficiently long expression:

CREATE TABLE t SELECT 000000000000000000000;

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