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MySQL 5.5 Reference Manual  /  ...  /  Internal Temporary Table Use in MySQL

8.4.4 Internal Temporary Table Use in MySQL

In some cases, the server creates internal temporary tables while processing statements. Users have no direct control over when this occurs.

The server creates temporary tables under conditions such as these:

  • Evaluation of UNION statements.

  • Evaluation of some views, such those that use the TEMPTABLE algorithm, UNION, or aggregation.

  • Evaluation of statements that contain an ORDER BY clause and a different GROUP BY clause, or for which the ORDER BY or GROUP BY contains columns from tables other than the first table in the join queue.

  • Evaluation of DISTINCT combined with ORDER BY may require a temporary table.

  • For queries that use the SQL_SMALL_RESULT modifier, MySQL uses an in-memory temporary table, unless the query also contains elements (described later) that require on-disk storage.

  • To evaluate INSERT ... SELECT statements that select from and insert into the same table, MySQL creates an internal temporary table to hold the rows from the SELECT, then inserts those rows into the target table. See Section, “INSERT ... SELECT Statement”.

  • Evaluation of multiple-table UPDATE statements.

  • Evaluation of GROUP_CONCAT() or COUNT(DISTINCT) expressions.

To determine whether a statement requires a temporary table, use EXPLAIN and check the Extra column to see whether it says Using temporary (see Section 8.8.1, “Optimizing Queries with EXPLAIN”).

When the server creates an internal temporary table (either in memory or on disk), it increments the Created_tmp_tables status variable. If the server creates the table on disk (either initially or by converting an in-memory table) it increments the Created_tmp_disk_tables status variable.

Some query conditions prevent the use of an in-memory temporary table, in which case the server uses an on-disk table instead:

  • Presence of a BLOB or TEXT column in the table. This includes user-defined variables having a string value because they are treated as BLOB or TEXT columns, depending on whether their value is a binary or nonbinary string, respectively.

  • Presence of any string column in a GROUP BY or DISTINCT clause larger than 512 bytes.

  • Presence of any string column with a maximum length larger than 512 (bytes for binary strings, characters for nonbinary strings) in the SELECT list, if UNION or UNION ALL is used.

  • The SHOW COLUMNS and DESCRIBE statements use BLOB as the type for some columns, thus the temporary table used for the results is an on-disk table.

Internal Temporary Table Storage Engine

An internal temporary table can be held in memory and processed by the MEMORY storage engine, or stored on disk and processed by the MyISAM storage engine.

If an internal temporary table is created as an in-memory table but becomes too large, MySQL automatically converts it to an on-disk table. The maximum size for in-memory temporary tables is defined by the tmp_table_size or max_heap_table_size value, whichever is smaller. This differs from MEMORY tables explicitly created with CREATE TABLE. For such tables, only the max_heap_table_size variable determines how large a table can grow, and there is no conversion to on-disk format.

Internal Temporary Table Storage Format

In-memory temporary tables are managed by the MEMORY storage engine, which uses fixed-length row format. VARCHAR and VARBINARY column values are padded to the maximum column length, in effect storing them as CHAR and BINARY columns.

On-disk temporary tables are managed by the MyISAM storage engine using dynamic-width row format. Columns take only as much storage as needed, which reduces disk I/O and space requirements, and processing time compared to on-disk tables that use fixed-length rows. The exception to dynamic-length row format is that on-disk temporary tables for derived tables are stored using fixed-length rows.

Prior to MySQL 5.5.47, on-disk temporary table storage uses fixed-length rows.

For statements that initially create an internal temporary table in memory, then convert it to an on-disk table, better performance might be achieved by skipping the conversion step and creating the table on disk to begin with. The big_tables variable can be used to force disk storage of internal temporary tables.