5.2 MySQL Command Interpreter

The MySQL command interpreter is commonly used to create databases and tables in web database applications and to test queries. Throughout the remainder of this chapter we discuss the SQL statements for managing a database. All these statements can be directly entered into the command interpreter and executed. In later chapters, we'll show how to include SQL statements in PHP scripts so that web applications can get and change data in a database.

Once the MySQL server is running, the command interpreter can be used. The command interpreter can be run using the following command from the shell in a Unix or Mac OS X system, assuming you've created a user hugh with a password shhh:

% /usr/local/bin/mysql -uhugh -pshhh

The shell prompt is represented here as a percentage character, %.

On a Microsoft Windows platform, you can access the command interpreter by clicking on the Start menu, then the Run option, and typing into the dialog box:

"C:\Program Files\EasyPHP1-7\mysql\bin\mysql.exe" -uhugh -pshhh

Then, press the Enter key or click OK.

(For both Unix and Microsoft Windows environments, we're assuming you've installed MySQL in the default directory location using our instructions in Appendix A through Appendix C.)

Running the command interpreter displays the output:

Welcome to the MySQL monitor.  Commands end with ; or \g.

Your MySQL connection id is 3 to server version: 4.0.15-log

Type 'help;' or '\h' for help. Type '\c' to clear the buffer.


The command interpreter displays a mysql> prompt and, after executing any command or statement, it redisplays the prompt. For example, you might issue the statement:

mysql> SELECT NOW( );

This statement reports the time and date in the following output:


| NOW( )               |


| 2004-03-01 13:48:07 |


1 row in set (0.00 sec)


After running a statement, the interpreter redisplays the mysql> prompt. We discuss the SELECT statement later in this chapter.

As with all other SQL statements, the SELECT statement ends in a semicolon. Almost all SQL command interpreters permit any amount of whitespace (spaces, tabs, or carriage returns) in SQL statements, and they check syntax and execute statements only after encountering a semicolon that is followed by a press of the Enter key.

We have used uppercase for the SQL statements throughout this book so that it's clear what's an SQL statement and what isn't. However, any mix of upper- and lowercase is equivalent in SQL keywords. Be careful, though: other parts of SQL statements such as database and table names are case sensitive. You also need to be careful with values: for example, Smith, SMITH, and smith are all different.

On startup, the command interpreter encourages the use of the help command. Typing help produces a list of commands that are native to the MySQL interpreter and that aren't part of SQL. All non-SQL commands can be entered without the terminating semicolon, but the semicolon can be included without causing an error.

The MySQL command interpreter provides a lot of flexibility and many shortcuts:

  • To quit the interpreter, type quit.

  • The up- and down-arrow keys allow you to browse previously entered commands and statements. On most platforms, the history of commands and statements is kept when you quit the interpreter. When you run it again, you can once again scroll up using the up arrow and execute commands and statements that were entered in the previous session.

  • The interpreter has command completion. If you type the first few characters of a string that has previously been entered and press the Tab key, the interpreter automatically completes the command. For example, if wines is typed and the Tab key pressed, the command interpreter outputs winestore, assuming the word winestore has been previously used.

  • If there's more than one option that begins with the characters entered, or you wish the strings that match the characters to be displayed, press the Tab key twice to show all matches. You can then enter additional characters to remove any ambiguity and press the Tab key again for command completion.

  • If you're a Unix user, you can use a text editor to create SQL statements by entering the command edit in the interpreter. This invokes the editor defined by the EDITOR shell environment variable. After you exit the editor, the MySQL command interpreter reads, parses, and runs the file created in the editor.

  • You can run single commands and SQL statements without waiting for a MySQL command prompt. This is particularly useful for adding SQL statements to startup scripts. For example, to run SELECT now( ) from a Unix shell, enter the following command:

    % /usr/local/mysql/bin/mysql -uhugh -pshhh -e "SELECT now( );"

  • You can create MySQL statements in a file using a text editor, and then load and run them. For example, if you have statements stored in the file statements.sql, type the following into the command interpreter to load and run the statements:

    mysql> source statements.sql

    You can also include a directory path before the filename. This feature is discussed in more detail in Chapter 15.

  • Sometimes, you'll find you've mistyped a statement, forgotten a semicolon, or forgotten a quote character. In most cases, to solve the problem you can type a semicolon and press Enter: this causes MySQL to report an error and you can then start again. If you're missing a matching quote character, type it in, then a semicolon, and then press Enter. If you're in a real mess, type Control-C (by holding the Ctrl key and pressing C): this aborts the command interpreter completely.