What Is a Varchar Data Type?


Angela Bailey

A common data type used in databases is the VARCHAR data type. This data type is often used to store textual information such as names, addresses, and descriptions. Understanding what a VARCHAR data type is and how it works is essential for effectively working with databases.

What Does VARCHAR Stand For?

The term VARCHAR stands for variable character. As the name suggests, a VARCHAR column can store variable-length character strings. This means that the length of the data stored in a VARCHAR column can vary from one row to another.

How Does It Work?

When defining a column with the VARCHAR data type, you need to specify the maximum length of characters that can be stored in that column. For example, if you define a column as VARCHAR(50), it means that this column can store up to 50 characters.

One of the advantages of using the VARCHAR data type is its flexibility. Unlike fixed-length data types such as char, which always reserve a certain amount of space regardless of whether it is fully utilized or not, VARCHAR only consumes storage space based on the actual length of the stored value.


Let’s consider an example table called “users” with two columns: “name” and “email”. The “name” column is defined as a VARCHAR(100) and the “email” column is defined as a VARCHAR(255).

If we insert a row with the following values:

  • Name: John Doe
  • Email: john@example.com

The “name” column will consume 8 bytes (assuming UTF-8 encoding) and the “email” column will consume 17 bytes. Since we specified the maximum length for each column, the database will ensure that the inserted values do not exceed those limits.

Choosing the Right Length

When choosing the length for a VARCHAR column, it’s important to consider the expected maximum length of the data you intend to store. It’s generally a good practice to set a reasonable maximum length that accommodates your data without wasting unnecessary storage space.

Setting an overly large maximum length can lead to inefficient use of storage, while setting it too small may cause truncation or errors if data exceeds the defined limit.


The VARCHAR data type is a valuable tool for storing variable-length character strings in databases. Its flexibility and efficient use of storage make it a popular choice among developers and database administrators. By understanding how VARCHAR works and considering appropriate length limits, you can effectively utilize this data type in your database designs.

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