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MySQL 5.6 Reference Manual  /  ...  /  Using System Variables

5.1.5 Using System Variables

The MySQL server maintains many system variables that indicate how it is configured. Section 5.1.4, “Server System Variables”, describes the meaning of these variables. Each system variable has a default value. System variables can be set at server startup using options on the command line or in an option file. Most of them can be changed dynamically while the server is running by means of the SET statement, which enables you to modify operation of the server without having to stop and restart it. You can refer to system variable values in expressions.

The server maintains two kinds of system variables. Global variables affect the overall operation of the server. Session variables affect its operation for individual client connections. A given system variable can have both a global and a session value. Global and session system variables are related as follows:

  • When the server starts, it initializes all global variables to their default values. These defaults can be changed by options specified on the command line or in an option file. (See Section 4.2.3, “Specifying Program Options”.)

  • The server also maintains a set of session variables for each client that connects. The client's session variables are initialized at connect time using the current values of the corresponding global variables. For example, the client's SQL mode is controlled by the session sql_mode value, which is initialized when the client connects to the value of the global sql_mode value.

System variable values can be set globally at server startup by using options on the command line or in an option file. When you use a startup option to set a variable that takes a numeric value, the value can be given with a suffix of K, M, or G (either uppercase or lowercase) to indicate a multiplier of 1024, 10242 or 10243; that is, units of kilobytes, megabytes, or gigabytes, respectively. Thus, the following command starts the server with a query cache size of 16 megabytes and a maximum packet size of one gigabyte:

mysqld --query_cache_size=16M --max_allowed_packet=1G

Within an option file, those variables are set like this:


The lettercase of suffix letters does not matter; 16M and 16m are equivalent, as are 1G and 1g.

If you want to restrict the maximum value to which a system variable can be set at runtime with the SET statement, you can specify this maximum by using an option of the form --maximum-var_name=value at server startup. For example, to prevent the value of query_cache_size from being increased to more than 32MB at runtime, use the option --maximum-query_cache_size=32M.

Many system variables are dynamic and can be changed while the server runs by using the SET statement. For a list, see Section, “Dynamic System Variables”. To change a system variable with SET, refer to it as var_name, optionally preceded by a modifier:

  • To indicate explicitly that a variable is a global variable, precede its name by GLOBAL or @@global.. The SUPER privilege is required to set global variables.

  • To indicate explicitly that a variable is a session variable, precede its name by SESSION, @@session., or @@. Setting a session variable requires no special privilege, but a client can change only its own session variables, not those of any other client.

  • LOCAL and @@local. are synonyms for SESSION and @@session..

  • If no modifier is present, SET changes the session variable.

A SET statement can contain multiple variable assignments, separated by commas. If you set several system variables, the most recent GLOBAL or SESSION modifier in the statement is used for following variables that have no modifier specified.


SET sort_buffer_size=10000;
SET @@local.sort_buffer_size=10000;
SET GLOBAL sort_buffer_size=1000000, SESSION sort_buffer_size=1000000;
SET @@sort_buffer_size=1000000;
SET @@global.sort_buffer_size=1000000, @@local.sort_buffer_size=1000000;

The @@var_name syntax for system variables is supported for compatibility with some other database systems.

If you change a session system variable, the value remains in effect until your session ends or until you change the variable to a different value. The change is not visible to other clients.

If you change a global system variable, the value is remembered and used for new connections until the server restarts. (To make a global system variable setting permanent, you should set it in an option file.) The change is visible to any client that accesses that global variable. However, the change affects the corresponding session variable only for clients that connect after the change. The global variable change does not affect the session variable for any client that is currently connected (not even that of the client that issues the SET GLOBAL statement).

To prevent incorrect usage, MySQL produces an error if you use SET GLOBAL with a variable that can only be used with SET SESSION or if you do not specify GLOBAL (or @@global.) when setting a global variable.

To set a SESSION variable to the GLOBAL value or a GLOBAL value to the compiled-in MySQL default value (or autosized default, for those variables that are autosized), use the DEFAULT keyword. For example, the following two statements are identical in setting the session value of max_join_size to the global value:

SET max_join_size=DEFAULT;
SET @@session.max_join_size=@@global.max_join_size;

Not all system variables can be set to DEFAULT. In such cases, use of DEFAULT results in an error.

You can refer to the values of specific global or session system variables in expressions by using one of the @@-modifiers. For example, you can retrieve values in a SELECT statement like this:

SELECT @@global.sql_mode, @@session.sql_mode, @@sql_mode;

When you refer to a system variable in an expression as @@var_name (that is, when you do not specify @@global. or @@session.), MySQL returns the session value if it exists and the global value otherwise. (This differs from SET @@var_name = value, which always refers to the session value.)


Some variables displayed by SHOW VARIABLES may not be available using SELECT @@var_name syntax; an Unknown system variable occurs. As a workaround in such cases, you can use SHOW VARIABLES LIKE 'var_name'.

Suffixes for specifying a value multiplier can be used when setting a variable at server startup, but not to set the value with SET at runtime. On the other hand, with SET you can assign a variable's value using an expression, which is not true when you set a variable at server startup. For example, the first of the following lines is legal at server startup, but the second is not:

shell> mysql --max_allowed_packet=16M
shell> mysql --max_allowed_packet=16*1024*1024

Conversely, the second of the following lines is legal at runtime, but the first is not:

mysql> SET GLOBAL max_allowed_packet=16M;
mysql> SET GLOBAL max_allowed_packet=16*1024*1024;

Some system variables can be enabled with the SET statement by setting them to ON or 1, or disabled by setting them to OFF or 0. However, to set such a variable on the command line or in an option file, you must set it to 1 or 0; setting it to ON or OFF will not work. For example, on the command line, --delay_key_write=1 works but --delay_key_write=ON does not.

To display system variable names and values, use the SHOW VARIABLES statement:

| Variable_name                   | Value                             |
| auto_increment_increment        | 1                                 |
| auto_increment_offset           | 1                                 |
| automatic_sp_privileges         | ON                                |
| back_log                        | 50                                |
| basedir                         | /home/mysql/                      |
| binlog_cache_size               | 32768                             |
| bulk_insert_buffer_size         | 8388608                           |
| character_set_client            | latin1                            |
| character_set_connection        | latin1                            |
| character_set_database          | latin1                            |
| character_set_results           | latin1                            |
| character_set_server            | latin1                            |
| character_set_system            | utf8                              |
| character_sets_dir              | /home/mysql/share/mysql/charsets/ |
| collation_connection            | latin1_swedish_ci                 |
| collation_database              | latin1_swedish_ci                 |
| collation_server                | latin1_swedish_ci                 |
| innodb_additional_mem_pool_size | 1048576                           |
| innodb_autoextend_increment     | 8                                 |
| innodb_buffer_pool_size         | 8388608                           |
| innodb_checksums                | ON                                |
| innodb_commit_concurrency       | 0                                 |
| innodb_concurrency_tickets      | 500                               |
| innodb_data_file_path           | ibdata1:10M:autoextend            |
| innodb_data_home_dir            |                                   |
| version                         | 5.1.6-alpha-log                   |
| version_comment                 | Source distribution               |
| version_compile_machine         | i686                              |
| version_compile_os              | suse-linux                        |
| wait_timeout                    | 28800                             |

With a LIKE clause, the statement displays only those variables that match the pattern. To obtain a specific variable name, use a LIKE clause as shown:

SHOW VARIABLES LIKE 'max_join_size';

To get a list of variables whose name match a pattern, use the % wildcard character in a LIKE clause:


Wildcard characters can be used in any position within the pattern to be matched. Strictly speaking, because _ is a wildcard that matches any single character, you should escape it as \_ to match it literally. In practice, this is rarely necessary.

For SHOW VARIABLES, if you specify neither GLOBAL nor SESSION, MySQL returns SESSION values.

The reason for requiring the GLOBAL keyword when setting GLOBAL-only variables but not when retrieving them is to prevent problems in the future. If we were to remove a SESSION variable that has the same name as a GLOBAL variable, a client with the SUPER privilege might accidentally change the GLOBAL variable rather than just the SESSION variable for its own connection. If we add a SESSION variable with the same name as a GLOBAL variable, a client that intends to change the GLOBAL variable might find only its own SESSION variable changed.

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User Comments
  Posted by Rajesh K on June 30, 2011
There is a slight difference in behavior of some session variables like character_set_client. It doesn't take the value from global variable

Source: which says

Updated the description for character_set_client:

The character set for statements that arrive from the client. The
session value of this variable is set using the character set
requested by the client when the client connects to the server. (Many
clients support a --default-character-set option to enable this
character set to be specified explicitly.) The global
value of the variable is used to set the session value in cases when
the client-requested value is unknown or not available, or the server
is configured to ignore client requests:

* The client is from a version of MySQL older than MySQL 4.1, and thus
does not request a character set.

* The client requests a character set not known to the server. For
example, a Japanese-enabled client requests sjis when connecting to a
server not configured with sjis support.

* mysqld was started with the --skip-character-set-client-handshake
option, which causes it to ignore client character set configuration.
This reproduces MySQL 4.0 behavior and is useful should you wish to
upgrade the server without upgrading all the clients.

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