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I have a database which now needs to support 4 byte characters (Chinese). Luckily I already have MySQL 5.5 in production.

So I would just like to make all collations which are utf8_bin to utf8mb4_bin.

I believe there is no performance loss/gain with this change other than a bit of storage overhead.

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Use ALTER TABLE tbl_name [[DEFAULT] CHARACTER SET charset_name] [COLLATE collation_name] –  Raihan Nov 22 '11 at 18:31
I think he wants to make everything utf8mb4_bin, meaning tables and columns. –  Glen Solsberry Nov 22 '11 at 20:37
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2 Answers

From How to support full Unicode in MySQL databases, here are the queries you can run to update the charset and collation of a database, a table, or a column:

# For each database:
ALTER DATABASE database_name CHARACTER SET = utf8mb4 COLLATE = utf8mb4_unicode_ci;
# For each table:
ALTER TABLE table_name CONVERT TO CHARACTER SET utf8mb4 COLLATE utf8mb4_unicode_ci;
# For each column:
ALTER TABLE table_name CHANGE column_name column_name VARCHAR(191) CHARACTER SET utf8mb4 COLLATE utf8mb4_unicode_ci;
# (Don’t blindly copy-paste this! The exact statement depends on the column type, maximum length, and other properties. The above line is just an example for a `VARCHAR` column.)

Note, however, that you cannot fully automate the conversion from utf8 to utf8mb4. As described in step 4 of the abovementioned guide, you’ll need to check the maximum length of columns and index keys, as the number you specify has a different meaning when utf8mb4 is used instead of utf8.

Section 10.1.11 of the MySQL 5.5 Reference Manual has some more information on this.

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According to the ALTER TABLE syntax (dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.5/en/alter-table.html) CONVERT TO handles conversion between the character sets for each column, modifying the column type where appropriate. I think that means ALTER-ing each column is redundant. Is there some reason each column must be ALTER-ed? –  CatShoes Aug 27 '13 at 19:23
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I would write a script (in Perl, or whatever) to use information_schema (TABLES and COLUMNS) to walk through all the tables, and do MODIFY COLUMN on every CHAR/VARCHAR/TEXT field. I would collect all the MODIFYs into a single ALTER for each table; this will be more efficient.

I think (but am not sure) that Raihan's suggestion only changes the default for the table.

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