How to Declare and Use Variables in MySQL

  1. User-Defined Variables in MySQL
  2. Initialize User-Defined Variables
  3. Use Variables as Fields in a SELECT Statement
  4. Declare Local Variables in MySQL
  5. Declare System Variables in MySQL

In this tutorial article, we will explain how to declare variables within the SQL code for MySQL databases.

On SQL scripts, you can use variables to store values during the execution of a sequence of commands and use them instead of literals.

User-Defined Variables in MySQL

MySQL recognizes different types of variables. The first type is the user-defined variables, identified by an @ symbol used as a prefix. In MySQL, you can access user-defined variables without declaring or initializing them previously. If you do so, a NULL value is assigned to the variable when initialized. For example, if you use SELECT with a variable without giving a value to it, as in this case:

SELECT @SomeVariable;

MySQL returns a NULL value.

Initialize User-Defined Variables

To initialize a user-defined variable, you need to use a SET or SELECT statement. You can initialize many variables at once, separating each assignment statement with a comma, like this:

SET @FirstVar=1, @SecondVar=2;

Once you assign a value to a variable, it will have a type according to the given value. In the previous examples, @FirstVar and @SecondVar are of type int.

The lifespan of a user-defined variable lasts as long as the session is active, and it is invisible to other sessions. Once the session closes, the variable disappears.

There are 5 data types you can assign to a user-defined variable:

  • string (binary or nonbinary)
  • integer
  • decimal
  • floating-point
  • NULL, which can be associated with any type.

To assign a value to a variable, you can use either symbol = or :=. The two following statements have the same effect:

SET @MyIntVar = 1;
SET @MyIntVar := 1;

Use Variables as Fields in a SELECT Statement

Variables can be part of the field lists of a SELECT statement. You can mix variables and field names when you specify fields in a select, as in this example:

SET @IndexVar := 1;
SELECT @IndexVar, ISBN FROM Books;

Declare Local Variables in MySQL

Local variables don’t need the @ prefix in their names, but they must be declared before they can be used. To declare a local variable, you can use the DECLARE statement or use it as a parameter within a STORED PROCEDURE declaration.

When you declare a local variable, optionally, a default value can be assigned to it. If you don’t assign any default value, the variable is initialized with a NULL value.

Each variable lives within a scope, delimited by the BEGIN … END block that contains its declaration.

The following example illustrates two different ways to use local variables: as a procedure parameter and as a variable internal to the procedure:


CREATE PROCEDURE GetUpdatedPrices(itemcount INT)
	DECLARE factor DECIMAL(5, 2);
	SET factor:=3.45;
	SELECT PartNo, Description, itemcount * factor * ListPrice FROM Catalogue;


In the previous example, the variable itemcount is used as a parameter to pass a value to the procedure. That variable is later used in the SELECT statement to multiply the ListPrice field obtained from the table. The local variable factor is used to store a decimal value used to multiply the resulting price.

Declare System Variables in MySQL

There is a third type of variable called system variables used to store values that affect individual client connections (SESSION variables) or affect the entire server operation (GLOBAL variables).

System variables are usually set at server startup. To do so, you can use the command line or include the SET statement in an option file. But their values can be modified within an SQL script.

System variables can be identified using a double @ sign as a prefix or using the words GLOBAL or SESSION in the SET statement. Another way to differentiate GLOBAL and SESSION system variables is to use a second prefix: global or session. Here are a few examples of how you can assign values to system variables:

-- Alternative ways to set session system variables:
SET interactive_timeout=30000;
SET SESSION interactive_timeout=30000;
SET @@interactive_timeout=30000;
SET @@local.interactive_timeout=30000;

-- Alternative ways to set global system variables:
SET @@global.interactive_timeout=30000;
SET GLOBAL interactive_timeout=30000;

To see the system variables in use within a session or in the server, you can use the SHOW VARIABLES statement. You can add a comparison operator to filter this list if you want to get the value of some specific variables. For example: