Working with Alter Table in MySQL



The Alter Table allows us to make changes to our SQL tables after they were designed. This is common in applications that are continuously evolving and being built on. With alter table we can change, add, and rename columns. In this article, we will learn how to use Alter Table in MySql.

The Syntax

The basic syntax of Alter Table is as follows:

ALTER TABLE [table_name]

Getting Setup

We will be using docker in this article, but feel free to install your database locally instead. Once you have docker installed, create a new file called docker-compose.yml and add the following.

version: '3'
    image: mysql:latest
    container_name: db
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: root_pass
      MYSQL_DATABASE: app_db
      MYSQL_USER: db_user
      MYSQL_PASSWORD: db_user_pass
      - "6033:3306"
      - dbdata:/var/lib/mysql
    image: phpmyadmin/phpmyadmin
    container_name: pma
      - db
      PMA_HOST: db
      PMA_PORT: 3306
    restart: always
      - 8081:80


Next, run docker-compose up.

Now, navigate to http://localhost:8081/ to access phpMyAdmin. Then log in with the username root and pass root_pass.

Click the SQL tab and you are ready to go.

Creating a DB

In this article, we will need some data to work with. We will be using the sample db provided here: However, we will only enter what we need rather than import the whole db.

With the SQL tab open (or your own sql cli going), let's first create our DB and select it.

create DATABASE if not EXISTS sakila;

USE sakila;
CREATE TABLE employees (
    emp_no      INT             NOT NULL,
    birth_date  DATE            NOT NULL,
    first_name  VARCHAR(14)     NOT NULL,
    last_name   VARCHAR(16)     NOT NULL,
    gender      ENUM ('M','F')  NOT NULL,    
    hire_date   DATE            NOT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY (emp_no)
CREATE TABLE salaries (
    emp_no      INT             NOT NULL,
    salary      INT             NOT NULL,
    from_date   DATE            NOT NULL,
    to_date     DATE            NOT NULL,
    FOREIGN KEY (emp_no) REFERENCES employees (emp_no) ON DELETE CASCADE,
    PRIMARY KEY (emp_no, from_date)

Now, let's enter a few rows

INSERT INTO employees VALUES (10001,'1953-09-02','Georgi','Facello','M','1986-06-26'),
INSERT INTO salaries VALUES (10001,60117,'1986-06-26','1987-06-26'),

Adding a Column

There are many modifications we can make to tables. Let's cover a few common modifications in the next few examples.

To start, we can add a new column using the following. This will add a new column for middle names to our employee table.

ALTER TABLE employees 
  ADD COLUMN middle_name varchar(14) NULL;

This will add the column to the end of all the columns by default. We can choose the placement of the column with a few more statements.

We can use FIRST or AFTER column_name. Let's add the middle name column after first name.

ALTER TABLE employees 
	ADD COLUMN middle_name varchar(14) NULL
	AFTER first_name;

We are not limited to one column. We can add multiple columns by adding another ADD statement.

ALTER TABLE employees 
	ADD COLUMN middle_name varchar(14) NULL
	AFTER first_name,
	ADD COLUMN suffix varchar(14) NULL
	AFTER first_name;

We can few our table details so far by using DESCRIBE.

DESCRIBE employees;
Field Type Null Key Default Extra
emp_no int NO PRI
birth_date date NO
first_name varchar(14) NO
suffix varchar(14) YES
middle_name varchar(14) YES
last_name varchar(16) NO
gender enum('M','F') NO
hire_date date NO

Changing a Column

Let's say we set the number of characters for our middle_name too small. And, for some reason, we want to use numbers for our suffix column. We can use the MODIFY statement to update our column definitions.

To modify one column we can do.

ALTER TABLE employees 
	MODIFY COLUMN middle_name varchar(20) NULL;

In the example, we now allow for middle names up to 20 characters. Now, let's change our suffix to an int.

ALTER TABLE employees 

Similar to before, we can modify multiple columns at the same time.

ALTER TABLE employees 
	MODIFY COLUMN middle_name varchar(20) NULL,

Another example similar to modify is using the renaming columns using the CHANGE COLUMN statement.

ALTER TABLE employees 
	CHANGE COLUMN middle_name middle varchar(20) NULL;

This will change our column middle_name to middle.

Drop a Column

If we want to remove the columns we added, we can do so using the DROP statement.

ALTER TABLE employees 
	DROP COLUMN middle;

Rename a Table

One final example is renaming the table name itself. We can do this using the RENAME TO statement.

ALTER TABLE employees RENAME TO employ;