MySQL Pocket Reference

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This book review was published by Slashdot, 2007-04-09.

MySQL Pocket Reference

MySQL database administrators and developers have several options for MySQL reference sources, though naturally none of them are ideal in all situations. The online MySQL documentation is extensive, but the most commonly needed nuggets are buried in its necessarily exhaustive contents. Third-party MySQL reference books can winnow out some of the rarely-used minutia, but they still encompass hundreds of pages, reflecting the complexity of the subject. For quickly looking up the most frequently used command syntax and other details, a MySQL user would usually be best served by a much more compact book, such as MySQL Pocket Reference.

Written by George Reese, this book was published by O'Reilly Media, on 1 February 2003, under the ISBN 978-0596004460. It may span only 96 pages, and weigh only 3.2 ounces, but it packs a substantial amount of useful information into a diminutive form. The book's material is organized into several sections, covering MySQL installation, command-line tools, data types, SQL, operators, functions, and table types.

After presenting a quick introduction and some other housekeeping topics, the author briefly explains how to install, configure, and start up MySQL, as well as how to set the root password. This RDBMS includes a dozen command-line tools, and the author next provides the briefest of summaries for each one, and more details on the most commonly used one, mysql.

The next four sections compose the meat of the book, as they cover the MySQL data types, SQL query language, operators, and functions. Of all the aspects of any programming language or RDBMS, the one that frequently causes the most confusion — and for which a handy reference guide would be most appreciated — is the proper use of data types. In MySQL Pocket Reference, the author presents all of the MySQL data types, grouped into numerics, strings, dates, and complex types. For each data type, the author shows the declaration syntax, the storage space required, and the purpose of the data type.

MySQL version 4.0 supports ANSI SQL 92, as well as some proprietary extensions, which is true for most if not all substantial RDBMSs. Reese explains the case sensitivity of MySQL for various contexts; the use of literals, including escape sequences; the rules concerning identifier naming and aliasing; and how to insert comments in your code. Much more space is devoted to all of the MySQL commands, ranging from ALTER TABLE to USE. For each command, the reader is shown the syntax, including optional keywords, clauses, and other elements, as well as a generous number of illustrative examples.

The last three sections of the book cover operators (arithmetic, comparison, and logical), functions (aggregate and otherwise), and table types. The section on functions will likely get a lot of use from the average reader, as it is relatively easy to forget the name and parameter list of any function — particularly if it has not been used by the developer for some time, and is not present in the surrounding code.

Like any pocket reference book, this one is not intended to serve as a full reference source or as a MySQL tutorial — of which O'Reilly offers several. Rather, it is best used for quickly answering questions concerning command syntax, operator precedence, function parameter order, or any of the other MySQL language details that are not listed automatically by programming editors, nor otherwise immediately obvious. Yet despite its small size, this book contains information that may be unknown to even some of the most experienced MySQL administrators and programmers. For instance, I had no idea that 2007-04-00 is considered a valid date. (I only wish that my taxes were due on that day.)

O'Reilly Media has a Web page on their site that provides some additional resources related to this book. These include links for reading the reviews offered by other readers, submitting your own review, and checking the errata for the book, of which there are 20, as of this writing — 19 of which have been confirmed.

There appear to be only two flaws in this book. It lacks a list of MySQL reserved words, which is odd for a reference book. Also, the text on every page is set too close to the binding, thus compelling the reader to force open the book more than should be necessary, just to comfortably read the inmost ends of the lines of text. This could be easily fixed in a subsequent edition, by moving the text outwards approximately half a centimeter, since the outer margins are much wider than necessary.

Speaking of editions, because this first edition of the book appeared in early 2003, it covers up to version 4.0 of MySQL. One can only hope that a second edition will be made available at some point in the future, so that it can be brought up to date with all of the new additions to MySQL 5, which are substantial. These include cursors, stored procedures, triggers, and views.

Nonetheless, this first edition would be of value to anyone using MySQL. In essence, MySQL Pocket Reference is neatly organized, extremely portable, and packs much valuable information into a succinct format.

Copyright © 2007 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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