MySQL Indexes and maximum lengths

MySQL has several index types; the default and therfore probably most common is the BTree. There’s a limit in MySQL (at least as of this writing when the “current” GA is 5.5.9) is 767 bytes – across all the columns being indexed. Of course, varchar columns can now be bigger than 255 chars, so this limit is probably more easily reached these days.

In my case, I had a table with one column of a URL’s path, and a URL’s Query String, both of which can be larger than the old 255 chars. I also have an index that cover these two plus a few other columsn – normalised protocol, normalised domain, and TCP port.

In trying to move to longer columns (1K) I had to modify my index to restrict the number of characters from these varchar columns to ensure I remained under the 767 limit – I couldn’t just change one of these columns from 255 to 1024.

I throught I’d try and simple change first – instead of increasing the oclumn, just put the restriction on the current columns as they stand – so limit the index to 255 chars (while the column still IS 255). Turns out that in at least 5.5.9, since the specified size is the current column size, it ignores this.

Lets make that clearer; you need to specify a SMALLER length for the indexed columns in order for it to stick. Once that’s done, you can then alter table to increae the column lengths.