2.5.2 Character sets

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Ideally a proper character set will be set at the server level, and doing this is described within the Character Set Configuration section of the MySQL Server manual. Alternatively, each MySQL API offers a method to set the character set at runtime.

The character set and character escaping

The character set should be understood and defined, as it has an affect on every action, and includes security implications. For example, the escaping mechanism (e.g., mysqli_real_escape_string for mysqli and PDO::quote for PDO_MySQL) will adhere to this setting. It is important to realize that these functions will not use the character set that is defined with a query, so for example the following will not have an effect on them:

Example 2.5 Problems with setting the character set with SQL


$mysqli = new mysqli("localhost", "my_user", "my_password", "world");

// Will NOT affect $mysqli->real_escape_string();
$mysqli->query("SET NAMES utf8mb4");

// Will NOT affect $mysqli->real_escape_string();
$mysqli->query("SET CHARACTER SET utf8mb4");

// But, this will affect $mysqli->real_escape_string();

// But, this will NOT affect it (UTF-8 vs utf8mb4) -- don't use dashes here


Below are examples that demonstrate how to properly alter the character set at runtime using each API.

Possible UTF-8 confusion

Because character set names in MySQL do not contain dashes, the string "utf8" is valid in MySQL to set the character set to UTF-8 (up to 3 byte UTF-8 Unicode Encoding). The string "UTF-8" is not valid, as using "UTF-8" will fail to change the character set and will throw an error.

Example 2.6 Setting the character set example: mysqli

$mysqli = new mysqli("localhost", "my_user", "my_password", "world");

echo 'Initial character set: ' . $mysqli->character_set_name() . "\n";

if (!$mysqli->set_charset('utf8mb4')) {
    printf("Error loading character set utf8mb4: %s\n", $mysqli->error);

echo 'Your current character set is: ' . $mysqli->character_set_name() . "\n";


Example 2.7 Setting the character set example: pdo_mysql

$pdo = new PDO("mysql:host=localhost;dbname=world;charset=utf8mb4", 'my_user', 'my_pass');