I was reading the book MySQL high performance, and it mentioned that:

CHAR is also better than VARCHAR for data that’s changed frequently, because a fixed-length row is not prone to fragmentation.

But the thing I could not understand is how VARCHAR is subjected to fragmentation in the first place?

  • 3
    I think it means that rows are subject to fragmentation (and fized-length less than vraiable-length rows.) Dec 27, 2013 at 13:57

1 Answer 1


To elaborate on ypercube's correct comment, the problem is not that there is fragmentation on the VARCHAR, but in rows that contain variable length data.

If I were to have a table with these values:

| i | v     |
| 1 | some  |
| 2 | small |
| 3 | text  |

And then issue:

UPDATE my_table SET v = 'dinosaur' WHERE i = 2

Then, depending on the storage engine, I might find that there's just no room for the word 'dinosaur' within the existing row location, since rows were written sequentially and compactly to disk. That might mean I would need to change the location of row #2, or place my 'dinosaur' text on an external location, or what have you.

On the other hand, if I were to issue:

UPDATE my_table SET v = 'a'

There would now be a lot of wasted space; I might be interested in reclaiming that space.

This is the fragmentation problem within rows.

  • +1 Fragmentation is bad because it needs extra disk seeks to fetch the whole row otherwise it would have been a single disk seek (if the whole row is fitted to the disk page). Am i correct?
    – Trying
    Dec 29, 2013 at 9:44
  • Yes, but that's just the small part. Fragmentation may also lead to rows which are "natural neighbours" reside in distant locations on disk, which means more I/O on queries that may run faster. Fragmentation also wastes your disk space... Dec 29, 2013 at 18:01

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