What Is the VARCHAR Data Type?


Larry Thompson

The VARCHAR data type is one of the most commonly used data types in relational databases. It is used to store variable-length character strings, such as names, addresses, and descriptions. In this article, we will explore the VARCHAR data type and its various features.

What is the VARCHAR Data Type?

The VARCHAR data type stands for “variable character.” It allows you to store a variable-length string with a maximum length specified during table creation. The maximum length can range from 1 to 65,535 characters (bytes) depending on the database system you are using.

Defining VARCHAR Columns

To define a column with the VARCHAR data type, you need to specify the maximum length in parentheses after the data type. For example:

CREATE TABLE customers (
   customer_id INT,
   first_name VARCHAR(50),
   last_name VARCHAR(50),
   email VARCHAR(100)

In this example, we have defined four columns in a table called customers. The first_name and last_name columns can store up to 50 characters each, while the email column can store up to 100 characters.


You may wonder why we use the VARCHAR data type instead of CHAR when both can store character strings. The main difference between these two data types is that CHAR always uses a fixed amount of storage space equal to the maximum length specified, regardless of how much actual data it contains.

In contrast, VARCHAR only uses the amount of storage space required for the actual data stored in the column plus one or two bytes for overhead. This makes it more efficient for storing variable-length strings.

Working with VARCHAR Data

When working with VARCHAR data, it is important to keep in mind the maximum length specified for each column. If you try to insert a string that exceeds the maximum length, it will be truncated to fit the defined length. Therefore, it is crucial to choose an appropriate length based on the expected data.

You can also perform various operations on VARCHAR data, such as concatenation, comparison, and substring extraction. Additionally, you can use functions like LENGTH() to determine the number of characters in a VARCHAR column.


The VARCHAR data type is a versatile option for storing variable-length character strings in relational databases. Its flexibility and efficiency make it ideal for storing textual data of varying lengths. By understanding how to define and work with VARCHAR columns effectively, you can optimize your database design and improve overall performance.

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