How to Split a String in MySQL: A Comprehensive Guide for Database Enthusiasts

By Cristian G. Guasch • Updated: 09/22/23 • 9 min read

Manipulating strings in MySQL can often seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re not familiar with the syntax. However, it’s not as complicated as you might think. In fact, one of the most common operations that developers often need to perform is splitting a string into multiple parts.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to split a string in MySQL. This handy tool can be used for various tasks such as parsing out individual words from sentences or dividing data into more manageable segments.

I’ll start by explaining what exactly ‘splitting a string’ means and why it’s so useful. Then we’ll dive straight into how you can accomplish this using MySQL commands. Trust me; once you’ve mastered this skill, your database management will become significantly easier!

Understanding Strings in MySQL

Let’s dive right into the world of strings in MySQL. If you’re not familiar, a string is a sequence of characters that can contain letters, numbers, and other types of characters. In MySQL, we handle strings as data types that are either fixed-length or variable-length.

When I say ‘fixed-length’, I’m talking about CHAR data type. This means if we define a CHAR(10), it’ll always use 10 bytes storage space regardless of the actual input length. On the flip side, for ‘variable-length’ strings (VARCHAR), only the required space is used.

Here’s an example:

    name CHAR(10),
    address VARCHAR(50)

In this SQL code snippet, name will always take up 10 bytes while address will vary depending on the actual address entered.

But be cautious! One common pitfall is underestimating potential string lengths and setting your VARCHAR too short. Imagine cutting off someone’s street name because you only allocated 20 characters – it’d be quite an issue!

Next up on our agenda is handling special characters within strings. Ever wondered how to indicate a quotation mark within your string? Well, MySQL provides escape sequences for that purpose by using backslashes (”). So inserting a quote inside your string would look something like this:

INSERT INTO test VALUES ('O\'Hara', '123 Main St');

The backslash before ‘O’Hara’ tells MySQL that the apostrophe isn’t ending the string but part of it instead.

And don’t forget about CONCAT function when working with strings in MySQL! It allows us to concatenate two or more strings into one. For instance,

SELECT CONCAT('My', 'SQL') AS ConcatenatedString;

This would return “MySQL” as output.

There you have it, a crash course on understanding strings in MySQL. Keep these points in mind as you navigate your way through the world of database management and string manipulation!

Methods to Split a String in MySQL

When I’m working with data in MySQL, it’s not unusual for me to encounter situations where I need to split a string. Here, I’ll share some of the most effective methods that have made my work easier.

The first and arguably one of the most popular methods is using the SUBSTRING_INDEX() function. This built-in function allows you to extract a substring from a string after counting a certain number of delimiter occurrences:


In this example, we’re splitting the domain name ‘’ by ‘.’ delimiter. The ‘-1’ indicates that we want to return everything after the last occurrence of ‘.’.

Another way I’ve found useful is employing regular expressions (REGEXP). It might seem daunting at first, but once you get going, it can be really powerful:

SELECT column FROM table WHERE column REGEXP '[[:digit:]]';

Here, we’re fetching all records from column where there are digits present.

A common mistake while dealing with strings is neglecting proper handling of special characters like backslashes (\) or quotation marks ("). They need to be escaped properly or else they can result in errors or unexpected results:

SELECT REPLACE(column , '\\\\', '\\') FROM table;

In this example, we’re replacing double backslashes with single ones in our column.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning another method called LOCATE(). Similar to how ‘FIND_IN_SET()’ works but gives more flexibility as it doesn’t require comma-separated values.


This will return position of first occurrence of ‘.’ in our string.

Remember each method has its own unique benefits and limitations. Carefully choosing which one suits your needs best can make your MySQL experience more efficient and less stressful.

Step-by-Step Guide: Using SUBSTRING_INDEX Function

Often times, I find myself needing to split a string in MySQL. It’s a common task for many developers, and thankfully, MySQL provides us with an easy way to do it using the SUBSTRING_INDEX() function. Let’s dive into how we can use this handy function.

First off, it’s important to understand what the SUBSTRING_INDEX() function does. It essentially returns a substring of a string before a specified number of occurrences of the delimiter. Here is the syntax:

SUBSTRING_INDEX(string, delimiter, number)

Now suppose you have a list of email addresses and you want to extract the username part before ‘@’. Here’s how you’d do it:

SELECT SUBSTRING_INDEX(email,'@',1) as 'Username'
FROM User;

In this example, email is our string column from table User, ‘@’ is our delimiter and 1 specifies that we want the substring before first occurrence of ‘@’. This will give us all usernames from email addresses.

But be warned! Common mistakes might creep up on you while using this function. One such mistake might involve forgetting that MySQL counts from zero and not one when determining instances of your chosen delimiter.

Another potential pitfall occurs when your string doesn’t contain any instance of your specified delimiter – in such cases MySQL would return entire string instead showing no error or warning.

There are plenty more examples out there like these where understanding nuances can make all difference between a successful query or hours spent debugging. So remember folks – practice makes perfect!

Next time you find yourself needing to split strings in MySQL, don’t sweat it! With SUBSTRING_INDEX(), you’ve got an easy solution right at your fingertips. Happy coding!

Common Pitfalls When Splitting Strings

I’ve traversed the rough terrains of string splitting in MySQL, and let me tell you, it’s not always smooth sailing. There are some common pitfalls that I’d like to caution you about.

Firstly, there’s the issue of empty string values when using SUBSTRING_INDEX(). Let’s say you have a dataset with commas separating each value:

SET @str = 'Apple,,Banana';

What do you think will be returned? You might expect 'Apple,Banana', but surprise! You’ll get 'Apple,'. This is because SUBSTRING_INDEX() counts every occurrence of the delimiter – even if there’s no actual data between them!

Next on our list is ignoring trailing delimiters. In the heat of coding, it’s easy to forget about those pesky extra delimiters at the end of your strings. This can lead to unexpected results:

SET @str = 'Apple,Banana,Orange,,,';

The above code returns 'Apple,Banana,Orange' as expected. But add an index higher than three and what do we get? More commas!

Another thing that might trip you up is case sensitivity. MySQL string functions are case-sensitive by default which means ‘APPLE’ and ‘apple’ are treated as different strings:

SET @str = 'apple,bAnAna,OraNge';

Running this SQL command will yield 'apple', leaving out any instances where Apple may be capitalized differently.

Finally, keep in mind that incorrect usage of negative indexes with SUBSTRING_INDEX() can produce unexpected results. Negative indexes indicate starting from the right side rather than left:

SET @str = 'Apple,Banana,Orange';

This will return 'Orange', not Banana as one might think.

So, there you have it! Some common pitfalls when splitting strings in MySQL. Getting a grip on these challenges can help you navigate the world of string manipulation with more confidence and fewer errors. Always remember to check your input and output values carefully to avoid any unexpected surprises!

Conclusion: Selecting the Right Approach for String Splitting

Splitting strings in MySQL isn’t just a one-size-fits-all operation. It’s an art that requires a clear understanding of your data, and the specific needs of your project.

Let me give you an example. If you’re dealing with simple, uniform data and need to split strings by a common delimiter, then using MySQL’s built-in SUBSTRING_INDEX() function could be your best bet. Here’s how it works:


In this example, we’re splitting the domain name ‘’ at each period (.) to get the top-level domain (in this case, ‘com’).

But what if things aren’t so straightforward? What if you’ve got varying delimiters or complex string patterns? That’s where regular expressions come into play. Using REGEXP_SUBSTR(), you can specify complex patterns to split your strings exactly how you need them:

SELECT REGEXP_SUBSTR('123-456-7890', '[^-]+');

This will split a phone number string at each hyphen (-), extracting one segment at a time.

There are a few common pitfalls to look out for when splitting strings:

  • Be careful not to overuse REGEX functions as they can slow down performance.
  • Always check whether your version of MySQL supports the function you want to use.
  • Remember that different databases might handle string splitting differently. What works in MySQL might not work in SQL Server or Oracle.

So remember, picking the right approach for splitting strings all comes down to context – understand your data, know your tools and choose wisely!

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