What Is VARCHAR Data Type in SQL?


Scott Campbell

What Is VARCHAR Data Type in SQL?

In SQL, the VARCHAR data type is used to store variable-length character strings. It is one of the most commonly used data types for storing textual data in databases. The term VARCHAR stands for “variable character,” which means that the length of the string can vary.

Definition and Syntax

The syntax for declaring a column with the VARCHAR data type in SQL is as follows:

  • column_name VARCHAR(max_length)

The column_name represents the name of the column, while max_length specifies the maximum number of characters that can be stored in that column. It is important to note that the maximum length value can vary depending on the database management system (DBMS) being used.

Characteristics and Usage

The VARCHAR data type has several characteristics that make it widely used:

  • Variable Length: Unlike fixed-length data types such as CHAR, which always occupy the entire allocated space regardless of the actual string length, VARCHAR only uses storage space based on the actual length of the stored string. This makes it more efficient in terms of storage usage.
  • Flexible: As a variable-length data type, VARCHAR allows you to store strings of different lengths within the specified maximum limit.

    This flexibility is particularly useful when dealing with textual data that may vary in size.

  • Ease of Use: The VARCHAR data type is straightforward to work with and manipulate using SQL statements. You can easily insert, update, and retrieve values from columns defined as VARCHAR.

Data Length Considerations

When choosing the maximum length for a VARCHAR column, it is essential to consider the expected length of the data that will be stored in it. Setting an unnecessarily large maximum length can result in wasted storage space, while setting it too small may cause truncation of data.

It’s worth noting that some DBMSs impose a limit on the maximum length of VARCHAR columns. For example, MySQL allows a maximum length of 65,535 characters, while SQL Server has a limit of 8,000 characters (in versions prior to SQL Server 2016).


Here are a few examples that demonstrate the usage of VARCHAR:

  • name VARCHAR(50): This defines a column named “name” that can store strings up to 50 characters in length.
  • description VARCHAR(255): This defines a column named “description” with a maximum length of 255 characters.

In these examples, you can modify the max_length value according to your specific requirements.


The VARCHAR data type is widely used in SQL for storing variable-length character strings. Its variable length nature and flexibility make it suitable for storing textual data efficiently. Remember to choose an appropriate maximum length based on your expected data size and consider any limitations imposed by the DBMS you are using.

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