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Posted Aug 9, 2005

MySQL Stored Procedures: Part 1

By Ian Gilfillan

What are Stored Procedures

MySQL 5.0 finally introduces functionality for Stored Procedures. So what exactly are stored procedures? That is the kind of question that gets database professionals who use other DBMS's raising their eyebrows. Stored procedures have been integral to Oracle, PostgreSQL, DB-2, MS-SQL server and others for years, and it has long been a sore point that MySQL has not had them. But there is no snobbery here - if you are a MySQL newbie, or have been using MySQL for years and want to find out what all the fuss is about, read on. If it is your eyebrows that are raised, and you just want to know how MySQL implements them, you will be relieved to know MySQL stored procedures are very similar to the DB2 implementation, as both are based on the SQL:2003 standard.

A stored procedure is simply a procedure that is stored on the database server. MySQL developers have to date unthinkingly written and stored their procedures on the application (or web) server, mainly because there hasn't been an option. That has been limiting. Some have claimed that there are two schools of thought - one claiming that logic should be in the application, the other saying it should reside in the database. However, most professionals would not bind themselves to one or other viewpoint at all times. As always, there are times when doing either makes sense. Unfortunately, some of the staunchest adherents of the in the application school are only there because until now they have had no choice, and it is what they are used to doing. So why would we want to place logic on the database server?

Why use stored procedures?

  • They will run in all environments, and there is no need to recreate the logic. Since they are on the database server, it makes no difference what application environment is used - the stored procedure remains consistent. If your setup involves different clients, different programming languages - the logic remains in one place. Web developers typically make less use of this feature, since the web server and database server are usually closely linked. However, in complex client-server setups, this is a big advantage. The clients are automatically always in sync with the procedure logic as soon as its been updated.
  • They can reduce network traffic. Complex, repetitive tasks may require getting results, applying some logic to them, and using this to get more results. If this only has to be done on the database server, there is no need to send result sets and new queries back and forth from application server to database server. Network traffic is a common bottleneck causing performance issues, and stored procedures can help reduce this. More often though, it is the database server itself that is the bottleneck, so this may not be much of an advantage.

A simple example

A stored procedure is simply some SQL statements. Almost any valid SQL can go inside a stored procedure, with a few exceptions, which we will look at, at a later date. Let's set up a basic stored procedure first. This one will simply say 'Hello' in the Xhosa language - Molo.

mysql> CREATE PROCEDURE molo() SELECT 'Molo';
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

It is as simple as that. And to call it:

mysql> CALL molo()\G
*************************** 1. row ***************************
Molo: Molo
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

Hardly useful, but the basics are there. CREATE PROCEDURE sp_name() will define the procedure, and CALL sp_name() will call the procedure.


The real benefit of a stored procedure is of course when you can pass values to it, as well as receive values back. The concept of parameters should be familiar to anyone who has had experience with any procedural programming experience.

There are three types of parameter:

  • IN: The default. This parameter is passed to the procedure, and can change inside the procedure, but remains unchanged outside.
  • OUT: No value is supplied to the procedure (it is assumed to be NULL), but it can be modified inside the procedure, and is available outside the procedure.
  • INOUT: The characteristics of both IN and OUT parameters. A value can be passed to the procedure, modified there as well as passed back again.

Mastery of stored procedures does require knowledge of session variables. Most of you probably know how to use session variables already, but if not, the concept is simple. You can assign a value to a variable, and retrieve it later. Here is an example, setting the variable x to the Xhosa word for hello to a group of people.

mysql> SET @x='Molweni';
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)
mysql> SELECT @x\G
*************************** 1. row ***************************
@x: Molweni
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

An IN example

Here is an example of a stored procedure demonstrating the use of an IN parameter. Since IN is the default, there is no need to specify the parameter as such.

mysql> CREATE PROCEDURE sp_in(p VARCHAR(10)) SET @x = P;
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)
mysql> CALL sp_in('Molo');
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)
mysql> SELECT @x\G
*************************** 1. row ***************************
@x: Molo
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

The session variable @x is set inside of the procedure, based upon the parameter P, which is passed to the procedure, and remains unchanged.

An OUT example

mysql> SET @x='Molweni';
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)
mysql> CREATE PROCEDURE sp_out(OUT p VARCHAR(10)) SET P='molo';
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)
mysql> CALL sp_out(@x);
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)
mysql> SELECT @x\G
*************************** 1. row ***************************
@x: molo
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

We reset @x just to make sure the final result is not a legacy of the previous procedure. This time, the parameter P is changed inside of the procedure, while the session variable is passed to the procedure, ready to receive the result.

An INOUT example

mysql> CREATE PROCEDURE sp_inout(INOUT P INT) SET @x=P*2;
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)
mysql> CALL sp_inout(2);
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)
mysql> SELECT @x\G
*************************** 1. row ***************************
@x: 4
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

Here, a parameter is passed to the procedure, used in the calculation, and the results are made available to the session variable @x.

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