MySQL CLI for Beginners


I find that the majority of webmasters (and even some sysadmins!) who work with MySQL use phpMyAdmin as a web-based front-end management tool for MySQL. Whilst phpMyAdmin makes database management a breeze, for those interested in some ‘command line interface’ experience with MySQL, I’ve pieced together some beginner notes from various websites…

Creating a Database

In order to create a database you need to have the PRIVILEGES- this may be because you are the root user or you (or you systems administrator) has created an admin user that has ALL PRIVILEGES over all databases. In these examples a user called ‘admin’ has been created precisely for this purpose. Creating a database is fairly straightforward.

Logging In

A reminder of how to start the MySQL Client Software, and as we are not concerned with manipulating just one database we don’t have to specify a database as part of our startup command.

$ mysql -u <username> -p
Enter password:

Create database command

Next we are ready to enter the very simple command to create a database which is:

mysql> CREATE DATABASE <database>;
Let’s imagine that we are going to create a ‘mdatabase’ database (those wishing  to create a database for use with the VWs should use this). We would enter the command:

mysql> CREATE DATABASE mdatabase;

We can now check for the presence of this database by typing:

| Database  |
| mysql     |
| mdatabase    |
2 rows in set (0.06 sec)

The other database listed (‘mysql’) is the internal database which MySQL uses to manage users, permissions etc.

NOTE: Deleting or DROPing a database is similar to the DROP TABLE command:

DROP DATABASE <database>

Granting Privileges on the new database

Now that we have created a database, we need to decide who gets to use it. This is done by granting permissions for a user to use the database. This has a simplified syntax of:

GRANT <privileges>
ON <database>
TO <user>
[IDENTIFIED BY <password>]

Where the items in square brackets are optional. The most common use is to give ALL PRIVILEGES on a database to a local user who has to use a password to access the database (in this case mdatabase).

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> TO newuser@localhost
-> IDENTIFIED BY ‘newpassword’;

If you are creating a database for general use you should use this statement, substituting your username and password of choice. There are some other options we will look at. To restrict the user to manipulating data (rather than table or database structures) the statement would be altered to:

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> TO newuser@localhost
-> IDENTIFIED BY ‘newpassword’;

So that the user can only change the data using SELECT,INSERT,UPDATE or DELETE statements. If you wished to give a non-local user permissions on the database (for use with remote clients) then you could designate an IP or host address from which the user can connect:

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> TO [email protected]
-> IDENTIFIED BY ‘newpassword’;

Now a user on the machine ‘’ can connect to the database. To allow a user to connect from anywhere you would use a wildcard ‘%

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> TO newuser@’%’
-> IDENTIFIED BY ‘newpassword’;

You could even decide that a user doesn’t need a password if connecting from a certain machine.

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> TO [email protected]

But I think it is sometimes good to provide a password anyway. Finally we’ll look at the WITH GRANT OPTION condition. This allows the user to give others privileges to that database:

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> TO newuser@localhost
-> IDENTIFIED BY ‘newpassword’

This would allow the user ‘newuser’ to log into the database and give their friend privileges to SELECT,INSERT,UPDATE or DELETE from the database.

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> TO friend@localhost
-> IDENTIFIED BY ‘friendpass’;

The WITH GRANT OPTION usually signifies ownership although it is worth noting that no user can GRANT more privileges that they themselves possess.

Revoking privileges

Revoking privileges is almost identical to granting them as you simply substitute RE VOKE…. FROM for GRANT….TO and omit any passwords or other options.

For example to REVOKE the privileges assigned to a user called ‘badmdatabase‘:

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> FROM badmdatabase@localhost;

Or just to remove UPDATE, INSERT and DELETE privileges to that data cannot be changed.

-> ON mdatabase.*
-> FROM badmdatabase@localhost;

Backing Up Data

There are several methods we can use to backup data. We are going to look at a couple of utilities that come with MySQL: mysqlhotcopy and mysqldump.


mysqlhotcopy is a command line utility written in Perl that backs up (to a location you specify) the files which make up a database. You could do this manually, but mysqlhotcopy has the advantage of combining several different commands that lock the tables etc to prevent data corruption. The syntax (as ever) first.

$ mysqlhotcopy -u <username> -p <database> /backup/location/

Which SHOULD copy all the tables (*.frm, *.MYI, *.MYD) into the new directory – the script does require the DBI perl module though. To restore these backup files simply copy them back into your MySQL data directory.


This is my preferred method of backing up. This outputs the table structure and data in series of SQL commands stored in a text file. The simplified syntax is

$ mysqldump -u <username> -p <database> [<table>] > file.sql

So for example to back up a ‘mdatabase’ database which may have been created by completing the workshops:

$ mysqldump -u admin -p mdatabase > mdatabase.sql

After entering the password a ‘mdatabase.sql’ file should be created. When you look at this file you can actually see that the data and structures are stored as a series of SQL statements. e.g.:

— MySQL dump 8.22

— Host: localhost    Database: mdatabase
— Server version       3.23.52

— Table structure for table ‘artist’

artistID int(3) NOT NULL auto _increment,
name varchar(20) default NULL,

— Dumping data for table ‘artist’

INSERT INTO artist VALUES (1,’Jamiroquai’);
INSERT INTO artist VALUES (2,’Various’);
INSERT INTO artist VALUES (3,’westlife’);
INSERT INTO artist VALUES (4,’Various’);
INSERT INTO artist VALUES (5,’Abba’);

And so on for the other tables.

We could also have chosen to output just one table from the database, for example the artist table:

$ mysqldump -u admin -p mdatabase artist > artist.sql

We could even dump all the databases out (providing we have the permissions).

$ mysqldump -u admin -p –all-databases > alldb.sql

Restoring a Dump

Restoring a dump depends on what you have actually dumped. For example to restore a database to a blank database (perhaps having transferred the sql file to another machine) it is fairly simple.

$ mysql -u admin -p mdatabase < mdatabase.sql

…or to add a non-existent table to a database…

$ mysql -u admin -p mdatabase < artist.sql

However, what happens if we want to restore data to an existing database (perhaps a nightly backup) ? Well we would have to add other options:

The equivalent of overwriting the existing tables would be telling the dump to automatically drop any tables that exist before restoring the stored tables. This is done with the ‘ –add-drop-table ‘ option added to our statement.

$ mysqldump -u admin -p –add-drop-table mdatabase > mdatabase.sql

Then restore like normal:

$ mysql -u admin -p mdatabase < mdatabase.sql

The reverse might also be true. We may wish to create the database if it doesn’t already exist. To do this we use the ‘–databases’ option to specify the database we wish to back up (you can specify more than one).

$ mysqldump -u admin -p –databases mdatabase > mdatabaseDB.sql

This will create additional SQL statements at the start of each database that CREATEs the dumped database (checking first to see if it does indeed exist) then USEing that database to import the table data into.

— Current Database: mdatabase

CREATE DATABASE /*!32312 IF NOT EXISTS*/ mdatabase;

USE mdatabase;

Again we can resort like normal, but of course this time we can omit the database name.

$ mysql -u admin -p < mdatabaseDB.sql

Optimising a dump

There are a couple of options that are sometimes worth including when backing up and restoring large databases.

The first option is ‘–opt‘, this is used override the mysql server’s normal method of reading the whole result set into memory giving a faster dump. Example:

$ mysqldump -u admin -p –opt mdatabase > mdatabase.sql

The second option is ‘-a‘ or ‘-all‘ (either will do). Which also optimises the dump by creating mysql specific CREATE statements that speeds up the restore:

$ mysqldump -u admin -p –all mdatabase > mdatabase.sql

Using mysqldump to copy databases.

It is possible to combine a dump and a restore on one line by using a pipe ‘|‘ to pass the output of the dump directly to mysql basically bypassing the file. This may initially seem a bit redundant, but we can use this method to copy a database to another server or even create a duplicate copy.

For example to copy the ‘mdatabase‘ database to a mysql server called ‘‘:

$ mysqldump -u admin -p –databases mdatabase | \
> mysql -u backup -p MyPassword -h

Note: the”\” at the end of the first line means you wish to contine the command on another line before executing it.

You may, in certain circumstances, wish to make a copy of live data so that you can test new scripts and ‘real world’ data. To do this you would need to duplicate a local database. First create the duplicate database:

mysql> CREATE DATABASE mdatabase2;

Then once appropriate privileges have been assigned we can copy the tables from the first table into the second.

$ mysqldump -u admin -p mdatabase | mysql -u backup -p MyPassword mdatabase2

Notice in both these examples the second half of the line (after the pipe) passes the password as part of the connection statement. This is because asking for two separate passwords at the same time breaks most shells. That is why I have used a ‘backup’ user who can be granted permissions and have them revoked as necessary.

Miscellaneous Leftovers

This final bit includes a few brief tricks that weren’t really appropriate to include elsewhere, but are still worth noting.

Remote Client Connection

If you have set the privileges to allow remote connections to a database, you can connect from a remote command line client by using the -h flag:

$ mysql -u <username> -p -h <host>

For example to connect to a fictional server:

$ mysql -u admin -p -h

Non-Interactive Commands

Sometimes you may wish to just do a quick look up on a table without the hassle of logging into the client, running the query then logging back out again. You can instead just type one line using the ‘ -e ‘ flag. For example:

$ mysql -u admin -p mdatabase -e ‘SELECT cds.artist, cds.title FROM cds’

Enter password:
| artist     | title                        |
| Jamiroquai | A Funk Odyssey               |
| Various    | Now 49                       |
| westlife   | westlife                     |
| Various    | Eurovision Song contest 2001 |
| Abba       | Abbas Greatest Hits          |

For more MySQL guides… ask Google 🙂