CHAR and VARCHAR data types


Informix supports the following character data types:

Table 1. Informix character data types
Informix data type Description
CHAR(n) SBCS and MBCS character data (max is 32767 bytes)
VARCHAR(n[,m]) SBCS and MBCS character data (max is 255 bytes)
NCHAR(n) Same as CHAR, with specific collation order
NVARCHAR(n[,m]) Same as VARCHAR, with specific collation order
LVARCHAR(n) max size varies depending on the IDS version

With Informix, both CHAR/VARCHAR and NCHAR/NVARCHAR data types can be used to store single-byte or multibyte encoded character strings. The only difference between CHAR/VARCHAR and NCHAR/NVARCHAR is in how they use sorting: N[VAR]CHAR types use the collation order, while [VAR]CHAR types use the byte order.

The character set used to store strings in CHAR/VARCHAR/NCHAR/NVARCHAR columns is defined by the DB_LOCALE environment variable.

The character set used by applications is defined by the CLIENT_LOCALE environment variable.

Informix uses Byte Length Semantics (the size N that you specify in [VAR]CHAR(N) is expressed in bytes, not characters as in some other databases)

Oracle® MySQL and MariaDB

MySQL and MariaDB support the following data types to store character data:

Table 2. MySQL character data types
MySQL data type Description
CHAR(n) SBCS or MBCS character data using the database character set, where n is specified in characters (max is 255 characters)
VARCHAR(n) SBCS or MBCS character data using the database character set, where n is specified in characters (max is 65535 characters)
NCHAR(n) SBCS or MBCS character data using the national character set, where n is specified in characters (max is 255 characters)
NVARCHAR(n) SBCS or MBCS character data using the national character set, where n is specified in characters (max is 65535 characters)
TEXT The Large Object type to store SBCS or MBCS character data using the database character set

MySQL uses character length semantics to define the size of CHAR/VARCHAR columns, while Informix and Genero use Byte Length Semantics.

MySQL can support multiple character sets, you can run the SHOW CHARACTER SET statement to list supported encoding. There are different configuration levels to define the character set used by MySQL to store data. The server character set defines the default for database character sets if not specified in the CREATE DATABASE command. You can even define a specific character set at the table and column level, but this is not recommended with Genero applications. The database character set is used to store CHAR and VARCHAR columns. The NCHAR and NATIONAL VARCHAR types use a predefined character set which can be different from the database character set. In MySQL the national character set is UTF-8.

MySQL can automatically convert from/to the client and server characters sets. In the client applications, the character set can be defined with the default-character-set configuration option, or with the SET NAMES SQL instruction (but that instruction is not supported with Genero see below).


If the STRICT_TRANS_TABLES option is not defined in the sql_mode parameter, MySQL truncates character strings, when the value is too large for the target column. However, the STRICT_TRANS_TABLES option controls also numeric data truncation/overflow. This option should be used, to avoid numeric data truncation/overflow being ignored (with only an SQL warning), and to produce an SQL error instead when the numeric value does not fit into the target column type.

Note that by default, when fetching CHAR columns from MySQL, trailing blanks are trimmed. This does not matter as long as you fetch CHAR columns into CHAR variables, but this non-standard behavior will impact CHAR fetch into VARCHAR, or other SQL areas such as string concatenation for example. You can control the behavior of CHAR trailing blanks trimming with the PAD_CHAR_TO_FULL_LENGTH option of the sql_mode parameter. But when this mode is used, the result of the SQL LENGTH() function will be different since trailing blanks are significant for that function in MySQL.


Informix CHAR(N) types must be mapped to MySQL CHAR(N) types. Informix VARCHAR(N) or LVARCHAR(N) types must be mapped to MySQL VARCHAR(N).

Table columns using a different character encoding than the database is not supported with Genero: All table columns must use the same character encoding defined at the database level.

Store single-byte or multibyte character strings in MySQL CHAR, VARCHAR and TEXT columns.

Define the DB client application character set, to make it correspond to the runtime system character set.

MySQL/MariaDB support the SET NAMES SQL instruction, to change the character set after connecting to the database. However, this is not supported with Genero: The driver needs to know the character set at connection initialization. Use the default-character-set configuration option.

With MySQL/MariaDB, the client application character set must be defined with the default-character-set option, under the [client] section of the configuration file, for example:

A specific MySQL/MariaDB configuration file can be defined with an FGLPROFILE entry, see Oracle MySQL specific FGLPROFILE parameters, MariaDB specific FGLPROFILE parameters.

MySQL uses character length semantics: When you define a CHAR(20) and the database character set is multibyte, the column can hold more bytes/characters than the Informix CHAR(20) type, when using byte length semantics. When using a multibyte character set (such as UTF-8), define database columns with the size in character units, and use character length semantics in BDL programs with FGL_LENGTH_SEMANTICS=CHAR.

When extracting a database schema from a MySQL database, the fgldbsch schema extractor uses the size of the column in characters, not the octet length. If you have created a CHAR(10 (characters) ) column in a MySQL database using the UTF-8 character set, the .sch file will get a size of 10, which will be interpreted depending on FGL_LENGTH_SEMANTICS as a number of bytes or characters.

Review your database schema when using CHAR columns with a size exceeding the MySQL limits: If you need to store CHAR character strings larger as the MySQL CHAR limit, you can use the MySQL TEXT type. However, as of MySQL version 5.0.3 (supporting large VARCHAR sizes), as long as you use short sizes for CHAR (<100c), the character types can be used as is in MySQL.

The CHAR(N>255) types are converted by the SQL Translator to a MySQL TEXT type, because MySQL CHAR type has a limit of 255 characters. When designing a database, consider using CHAR only for short character string data storage (<50c), and use VARCHAR for larger character string data storage (name, address, comments).


For each TEXT column fetched from MySQL, the MySQL database driver needs to allocate a temporary string buffer of 65535 bytes. The memory used by this temporary buffer is freed when freeing the cursor.

When using VARCHAR types, the SQL Translator leaves the type definition as is, even for N > 255, assuming that the target MySQL server version is at least 5.0.3 (supporting VARCHAR(N) up to 65535 characters).

See also the section about Localization.

The CHAR/VARCHAR type translation can be controlled with the following FGLPROFILE entries:
dbi.database.dsname.ifxemul.datatype.char = { true | false }
dbi.database.dsname.ifxemul.datatype.varchar = { true | false }
For more details see IBM Informix emulation parameters in FGLPROFILE.