Autarchy of the Private Cave

Tiny bits of bioinformatics, [web-]programming etc


    18th October 2007

    To start: as of the latest MySQL, syntax presented in the title is not possible. But there are several very easy ways to accomplish what is expected using existing functionality.

    There are 3 possible solutions: using INSERT IGNORE, REPLACE, or INSERT … ON DUPLICATE KEY UPDATE.

    Imagine we have a table:

    1. CREATE TABLE `transcripts` (
    2.  `ensembl_transcript_id` varchar(20) NOT NULL,
    3.  `transcript_chrom_start` int(10) unsigned NOT NULL,
    4.  `transcript_chrom_end` int(10) unsigned NOT NULL,
    5.  PRIMARY KEY  (`ensembl_transcript_id`)
    6. ) ENGINE=InnoDB DEFAULT CHARSET=latin1;

    Now imagine that we have an automatic pipeline importing transcripts meta-data from Ensembl, and that due to various reasons the pipeline might be broken at any step of execution. Thus, we need to ensure two things: 1) repeated executions of the pipeline will not destroy our database, and 2) repeated executions will not die due to ‘duplicate primary key’ errors.

    Method 1: using REPLACE

    It’s very simple:

    1. REPLACE INTO `transcripts`
    2. SET `ensembl_transcript_id` = 'ENSORGT00000000001',
    3. `transcript_chrom_start` = 12345,
    4. `transcript_chrom_end` = 12678;

    If the record exists, it will be overwritten; if it does not yet exist, it will be created.
    However, using this method isn’t efficient for our case: we do not need to overwrite existing records, it’s fine just to skip them.

    Method 2: using INSERT IGNORE
    Also very simple:

    1. INSERT IGNORE INTO `transcripts`
    2. SET `ensembl_transcript_id` = 'ENSORGT00000000001',
    3. `transcript_chrom_start` = 12345,
    4. `transcript_chrom_end` = 12678;

    Here, if the ‘ensembl_transcript_id’ is already present in the database, it will be silently skipped (ignored). (To be more precise, here’s a quote from MySQL reference manual: “If you use the IGNORE keyword, errors that occur while executing the INSERT statement are treated as warnings instead. For example, without IGNORE, a row that duplicates an existing UNIQUE index or PRIMARY KEY value in the table causes a duplicate-key error and the statement is aborted.”.) If the record doesn’t yet exist, it will be created.

    This second method has several potential weaknesses, including non-abortion of the query in case any other problem occurs (see the manual). Thus it should be used if previously tested without the IGNORE keyword.

    There is one more option: to use INSERT … ON DUPLICATE KEY UPDATE syntax, and in the UPDATE part just do nothing do some meaningless (empty) operation, like calculating 0+0 (Geoffray suggests doing the id=id assignment for the MySQL optimization engine to ignore this operation). Advantage of this method is that it only ignores duplicate key events, and still aborts on other errors.

    As a final notice: this post was inspired by Xaprb. I’d also advise to consult his other post on writing flexible SQL queries.


    45 Responses to “MySQL: INSERT IF NOT EXISTS syntax”

    1. MYSQL On Duplicate Key Do Nothing OR Insert If Not Exists Says:

      [...] may also find good reading on the [...]

    2. ceteras Says:

      Very interesting, and helpful.

    3. Tautvydas Says:


    4. Emir Bugra KOKSALAN Says:

      Thank you very much!!

    5. Teo Says:

      Very useful, thank you! How about insert, update and delete in a single query, it’s possible? Something like:

      insert ignore into table (field_one, field_two) values (values_one, values_two) on duplicate key update field_one = values(values_one), field_two = values(values_two) THEN QUERY FOR DELETE HERE?


    6. Bogdan Says:


      As I didn’t do anything similar before, I can’t offer you a ready working solution.

      But you should just try your query :) . The part before THEN should work (unless “insert ignore” is not compatible with “on duplicate key”). For THEN-part, I suspect different syntax might be needed – look for MySQL conditional statements IF-THEN-ELSE.

    7. Geoffray Says:

      About your last option, I don’t think it’s possible to do nothing after the “ON DUPLICATE KEY UPDATE”. What you can do is updating the column (PRIMARY KEY or/and UNIQUE) which generate a duplicate entry error with it’s own value. I think MySQL will ignore the update because these values are similar, so it could also be a quite fast solution.


    8. Bogdan Says:


      if the MySQL optimization engine really does that, and if this is allowed (remember, we are triggering the ON DUPLICATE KEY event, and then trying to assign that key’s value to another value, even if it is the same), then this is a really good solution.

      Based on your comment, I updated the post, as MySQL syntax in fact doesn’t allow the empty statement after ON (…) UPDATE.

    9. Marius Says:

      Would this work on InnoDB with composite keys as well? My task is to read only new entries from a log and insert them into a MySQL table. The table has a composite key.

      (I could try this myself, but I have no MySQL box to test on for the next few weeks.)

    10. Bogdan Says:


      neither MySQL documentation, nor my (not so extensive) experience with MySQL raise any support for disabling described functionality for composite keys. As I understand, composite key is still a single key, and behaves as such. And MySQL documentation sometimes mentions that composite keys are just concatenated respective fields (columns).

      Actually, it might be that I did apply the REPLACE or IGNORE approach to a composite-keyed table (and it was InnoDB at that time, now for that project I’m using MyISAM to save space). But I’m unsure – didn’t check the code since it was written (now almost a year ago).

    11. cakirhal Says:

      thanks. it is very useful. Sometimes we want to send pop-up messagebox when we changed or ignord the same record. Your solutions are good but I want to know how to inform user that we changed or ignored the record. For example: “Customer couldn’t be added. Because the customer you entered is already exists.” So how can I determine whether users attempt is executed or ignored?

    12. Bogdan Says:


      first of all, you will need to consult MySQL documentation for the exact queries you are using – the “returned rows”/”affected rows” count might be helpful.

      Also, before executing the actual modification query, you can execute selection query (i.e. “SELECT … FROM”) in your program, to know for sure if the customer exists. After that, it is a trivial task to notify the user of any problems.

    13. Todd Says:

      Thank you for the concise explanation.

    14. Jacinto Says:

      thank you for your help, you are the best

    15. wladek Says:

      Thanks, this article is very helpful!

    16. dollan Says:

      I have a table A (col1 INT, col2 VARCHAR(1), col3 VARCHAR(1)) where col1 is primary key
      i’ve a record A(1, ‘A’,null)

      I want to update/insert a records if exists/not-exists to get a result of A(1, ‘A’, ‘B’);

      I can do this using update A set col2=’B’ where col1=1; But, I do not know whether col1=1 exists or not

      what shuld i do?

    17. Bogdan Says:

      Dollan, have you actually read the post text? Either I do not understand your problem, or it can indeed be solved using either INSERT IGNORE or REPLACE INTO.

    18. IK Says:

      Great Post, thanks!
      I am thinking that INSERT IGNORE would not overwrite like REPLACE would, should one want to insert the same text with different parameters. I will definitely try that now.


    19. Lyncis Says:

      Thanks for good explanation.

    20. Phil Says:

      Thanks! Glad to know I’m not the only one thinking this way. :)

    21. MySQL: insert ถ้ายังไม่มี « वीर | บันทึกของวีร์ | Vee(r)'s Blog Says:

      [...] ง่ายๆ เท่าที่อ่านมาจาก ผ่านทาง [...]

    22. willieray Says:

      Fantastic!!! you saved my frazzled brain. if not exists was tormenting me.

    23. Eddie Says:

      I did some speed benchmarking of these methods and found that ON DUPLICATE KEY is the faster that INSERT IGNORE. I also found that just letting the query fail because of a primary key constraint is faster than both. For my application, anyway. Your mileage may vary. More info in my “website” link.

    24. Bogdan Says:

      Thanks, that was an interesting comparison. I only had tens of thousands of rows, so didn’t pay attention to performance.

    25. Alex Says:

      REPLACE INTO `transcripts`
      SET `ensembl_transcript_id` = 'ENSORGT00000000001',
      `transcript_chrom_start` = 12345,
      `transcript_chrom_end` = 12678;

      It’s important to note that unless you mention all fields and have autogenerated fields (such as autoincremented primary key), you get to screw up your DB with this method:

      I tried

      REPLACE INTO images SET filename='variable'

      and guess what, since a record existed, its autoincremened ID got changed.
      So watch out for such mistakes: my error may be your lesson.

    26. Server Says:

      Also i’m using

      INSERT INTO `table` (value1,value2) SELECT ‘stuff for value1′,’stuff for value2′ WHERE NOT EXISTS (SELECT * FROM table WHERE value1=’stuff for value1′ AND value2=’stuff for value2′) LIMIT 1

    27. Bogdan Says:

      Using sub-query most likely will be slower than all the other solutions (because sub-queries will use temporary tables).

      Also, MySQL INSERT…SELECT manual page says: However, you cannot insert into a table and select from the same table in a subquery. Thus, your solution may not work at all.

    28. cutesmyls Says:


      I have a note table, each note has a respective x and y positions..and everytime i add/create a new note, the newly added note should have a unique x and y values in the db..can you suggest on how to do this on sql?

    29. Bogdan Says:

      MySQL-specific solution would be to use autoincrement (linked page also has an example for a two-component primary key, something like your X and Y; see also comments there for more detailed explanation).

      Actually, do think if you really want those X and Y serve the purpose of unique IDs… maybe it is better having a single ID, and storing X and Y as values?

      In any case, you could implement X/Y-incrementing logic in your app completely DB-engine independently, e.g. = SELECT MAX(X) + 1 FROM table; = SELECT MAX(Y) + 1 FROM table;
      INSERT INTO table(X, Y, note) VALUES (,, note);

      However, in this case you should be aware of possible race conditions, if there are several processes possibly writing to that table. To avoid that, you will need table locking. Some apps (e.g. Gallery2) maintain separate tables (sequences) of incremental IDs, to avoid locking data-tables in favour of locking only sequence-tables…

      Better use a single autoincrement ID :)

    30. ienaxxx Says:

      Very nice article, really useful

    31. ViserExcizer Says:

      wundervoll! thanks for this

    32. vivin Says:

      nice thank u!!!

    33. Claude Quézel Says:

      Note that the mysql doc states:

      If the statement updates a row instead, LAST_INSERT_ID() is not meaningful. However, you can work around this by using LAST_INSERT_ID(expr). Suppose that id is the AUTO_INCREMENT column. To make LAST_INSERT_ID() meaningful for updates, insert rows as follows:

      INSERT INTO table (a,b,c) VALUES (1,2,3)

    34. Thanks Says:

      Thanks man.. first result on google, no need to go anywhere else

    35. Chris Says:

      cheers – just saved me a real headache. Was considering doing a SELECT for every record, checking for existence, then making a decision based on that… man, sometimes I go round the houses when a simple solution is right there in front of me.

    36. Pope Says:

      You are my Hero!

    37. MySQL if exist update else insert | Says:

      [...] [...]

    38. Bill Says:

      I have created a page that will automatically add posts to WordPress but every time it runs, it creates duplicate posts. The code string is below. I’ve tried several variations to get the code to update the record if it has changed, otherwise ignore it and add any new records. Any help would be appreciated.

      $link = mysql_connect($hostname, $user, $pass);
      mysql_select_db($dbname, $link);

      $results = mysql_query(“SELECT * FROM genesis”,$link);


    39. Frank Says:

      Thanks for info:INSERT IGNORE INTO table_name SET col = ‘value’;
      Still, table shall be updated as:
      ALTER TABLE `db_name`.`table_name` ADD UNIQUE KEY(col);
      (otherwise, the first statement won’t work.)
      All the best,

    40. Subhendu Says:

      Thanks dude..

      After struggling for couple of hours I found this “INSERT IGNORE INTO”.

      Thanks A TON

    41. KKR Says:

      INSERT into select “va11″, “val2″ from dual where not exists (select val1 from where username = “val1″);

    42. Mario Says:

      “Insert Ignore into” increments auto number even in cases that new record is not added.

    43. MySQL INSERT IF NOT EXISTS: Checking whether a record exists and inserting » What Is Internet? Says:

      [...] Bogdan has the answers . [...]

    44. Sabby Says:

      Very useful and best information, only thing is that site fonts are very small. We cannot read it. INSERT IGNORE INTO `transcripts`
      SET `ensembl_transcript_id` = ‘ENSORGT00000000001′,
      `transcript_chrom_start` = 12345,
      `transcript_chrom_end` = 12678;
      I hope you understand what I mean, ignore my comment just make the changes.
      Thank you.

    45. Bogdan Says:

      I’ve increased font size a little, should be better now. What is your screen resolution? Is it higher than 1920×1080 or 1920×1200?

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