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πŸ““ SQL Basics: Managing MySQL Databases from the Command Line

Note: See the Installing and Configuring MySQL lesson for instructions on installing MySQL.

In this lesson, we'll start using SQL commands in the command line. We'll use MySQL as our database management system.

Connecting to MySQL from the Command Line​

At Epicodus​

To launch MySQL servers:

  • The MySQL server application that we previously installed is configured to run on start, so it should already be running.

  • If the server is not running, restart the computer.

  • Access the command line console for MySQL by executing the command mysql -uroot -pepicodus in the terminal.

At Home​

To log into MySQL via the command line on your personal machine, you may need to enter different values for your username ([YOUR-USERNAME]) and password ([YOUR-PASSWORD]). However the basic command should be the same as you would use in class:


Note to Windows Users​

Sometimes we cannot access the mysql console via GitBash. If you are getting an error message when attempting to access mysql, use PowerShell instead of GitBash. Typically, PowerShell is comes automatically installed on all computers with the Windows operating system.

Working with the Database Prompt​

Once we are logged into our local MySQL server, we'll see a prompt like this:


We'll use a > to show when we should write a command in the MySQL shell.

MySQL can manage many different databases at once. To make changes to a specific database, we must navigate into that database from the MySQL shell.

Let's look at the database we are currently connected to with the following command:


SQL commands aren't actually case sensitive, but it's common practice to capitalize them as seen here. Also, all SQL statements must end with a semicolon.

If we press Enter after a SQL command and nothing happens, check to see if the prompt has changed from MySQL> to ->. If so, that means we forgot a semicolon at the end of our statement. We can just add one and press Enter again to resolve the issue.

Creating a Database​

The current database is NULL because we haven’t created any databases yet. We can tell MySQL to make a new database with this command:

> CREATE DATABASE test_database;

Listing all Databases​

Let's list the databases in our MySQL server:


We'll see our new test_database as well as a few other databases that come with MySQL by default.

Important Note​

One of the pre-existing databases is called information_schema. This database that holds metadata for all our other databases and MySQL requires it. Don't ever delete it.

In fact, it's a standard practice to never alter a database you didn't create. If it came with a tool by default, that tool likely requires it to run. Altering or deleting the database could break it.

Connecting to a Database​

We need to connect to our new database before we can make changes to it:

> USE test_database;

Let's verify that we're connected to the correct database:


Creating Tables in a Database​

Now let's create a table in our database:

> CREATE TABLE contacts (name VARCHAR (255), age INT, birthday DATETIME);

This creates a table called contacts with columns for name, age, and birthday. Each column name has a datatype appended to it.

Data Types​

Just like object properties and variables in C#, SQL columns also have specified data types.

  • In the command above, we give name the data type varchar. This is a varying number of characters and is essentially the SQL equivalent of a string.

  • age is an int. Similar to ints in C#, this is a number value.

  • birthday is a datetime, which includes a date and time.

Some data types have restrictions and requirements. For instance, varchar requires a maximum length, which we've set to 255 characters. 255 is a common default length for varchar data types because it is the maximum amount of data that can be stored with a single byte per character.

SQL has many data types. Here are the most common ones:

  • int
  • float
  • varchar
  • text (for long blocks of text)
  • timestamp
  • datetime
  • boolean

For a full list, see the MySQL Data Type documentation.

Listing Columns​

If we are connected to a database, we can list the columns in a specific table with the following code:

> DESCRIBE contacts;

DESCRIBE takes the name of the table as an argument.

Listing Tables​

To see a list of all tables in the database we are connected to, we can use this command:


Deleting Tables​

If we need to delete a table, we do the following:

> DROP TABLE table_name;

table_name is the name of the table we'd like to delete. Once again, never delete a database you didn't personally create.

Adding Columns​

We can add a new column to a database table we've already created with this command:

> ALTER TABLE contacts ADD favorite_color TEXT;
  • contacts refers to the table we're updating.
  • favorite_color is the name of the new column we're adding.
  • TEXT is the data type of that new column.

Dropping Columns​

We can also remove a column from a table with this command:

> ALTER TABLE contacts DROP favorite_color;
  • contacts is the table we're updating.
  • favorite_color is the column we're removing from it.

Adding Primary Keys​

It's standard practice to include a unique, automatically-incrementing ID number for each record in our database.

To do this, we specify that a column is a primary key when we're adding the column to the database:

> ALTER TABLE contacts ADD id serial PRIMARY KEY;
  • contacts is the table we're updating.
  • id is the name of the new column we're adding.
  • serial is a data type referring to an auto-incrementing integer;
  • PRIMARY KEY tells MySQL that this column will contain the special primary key identifiers used to retrieve objects.

Inserting Data​

Now that we have tables with columns, let's add some data. We can manually add new rows into our database with commands like this:

> INSERT INTO contacts (name, age, birthday) VALUES ('Wes', 43, '1969-05-01');
  • contacts is the table we're adding an entry to.
  • (name, age, birthday) tells MySQL which columns on the table we are providing information for in this command.
  • VALUES tells MySQL that the next set of data is the values that match the columns we just listed.
  • ('Wes', 43, '1969-05-01') is the data we're adding into this new entry.

Note that we need to put quotes around varchars and datetimes but not around ints. We need to use single quotes β€” double quotes won't work.

Retrieving IDs​

We can retrieve the primary key id from a row we just inserted by doing the following:

> INSERT INTO contacts (name, age, birthday) VALUES ('Ada', 26, '1988-12-09');

The value of doing this will become apparent in future lessons as we begin building out applications.


We can read data from a database by making a query.


Here's an example query:

> SELECT name FROM contacts;

This gives us a list of all the names in our contacts table.

We can select multiple columns from a table, too:

> SELECT name, birthday FROM contacts;

We can select all the columns from a table like this:

> SELECT * FROM contacts;

We can limit our SELECTs to only return rows that match certain criteria:

> SELECT * FROM contacts WHERE age >= 18;

This gives us all of the adults in contacts.


A WHERE clauses accepts the following operators: =, !=, >, <, >=, <=, BETWEEN, LIKE, and IN. We can also prepend any operator with NOT. Here are a few examples:

> SELECT * FROM contacts WHERE age BETWEEN 13 AND 17;  
> SELECT * FROM contacts WHERE name BETWEEN 'Judith' AND 'Wilma';
> SELECT * FROM contacts WHERE name LIKE 'We%';
> SELECT * FROM contacts WHERE birthday IN ('1969-01-01', '1999-01-01');

For the LIKE operator, the % is a wildcard, meaning it can stand for any number of any characters.

Updating Records​

What if we need to change data in our database? The simplest and most common way is to select a record by its primary key and update its data.

> UPDATE contacts SET name = 'Wes Anderson' WHERE id = 1;

Deleting Records​

Now let's delete a record:

> DELETE FROM contacts WHERE id = 1;

Dropping Databases​

Here's how we can drop a database once we are finished with it.

> DROP DATABASE test_database;

Quitting MySQL​

Finally, to quit MySQL just run:

> \q


> exit

More Commands​

We can always see a list of MySQL commands by typing the following into the MySQL shell: