MySQL for Developers

Full-text searching in MySQL

Searching for data in a database is a crucial aspect of creating effective applications. While simple string searches can help find basic results, what happens when you're searching across multiple columns or trying to find specific words within a block of text? That's where full-text indexing and full-text searching come in handy in databases like MySQL.

In this video, we'll go over how to use full-text indexing in MySQL, including adding indexes and implementing full-text searches with natural language and boolean modes.

Adding full-text indexes

To add a full-text index to a table in MySQL, you can use an ALTER TABLE statement. In this example, we'll be adding a full-text index across the first_name, last_name, and bio columns in our people table.

ALTER TABLE people ADD FULLTEXT INDEX `fulltext`(first_name, last_name, bio);

Note the use of the FULLTEXT keyword to create a full-text index instead of a regular B-tree index.

Creating a full-text index can take some time, so be prepared for it to take longer than a regular index. You can check that the index was created successfully by running SHOW INDEXES FROM people; which should display the new full-text index.

Implementing full-text searches

With the full-text index in place, we can start implementing full-text searches.

Natural language mode

By default, full-text searches in MySQL are done in natural language mode. Natural language mode matches the search query against the indexed columns and returns the most relevant results.

For example, to search for all people with the first name "Aaron," we can use the following query:

SELECT * FROM people WHERE MATCH(first_name, last_name, bio) AGAINST('Aaron');

This query will search across all three indexed columns and display all rows where "Aaron" appeared.

Boolean mode

For more advanced full-text searches, you can switch to boolean mode. Boolean mode allows you to use modifiers, like +, -, >, <, and parentheses in your search query.

Here's an example of a boolean search query:

SELECT * FROM people
  WHERE MATCH(first_name, last_name, bio) AGAINST('+Aaron -Francis' IN BOOLEAN MODE);

This query will search for all rows where "Aaron" appears and exclude any rows where "Francis" appears. The + indicates that "Aaron" is a required search term, and the - indicates that "Francis" is excluded.

In boolean mode, you can also add quotation marks to search for an exact phrase or use the NEAR operator to search for words within a certain distance of each other.

Sorting results by relevancy

When using natural language mode, MySQL automatically orders the results by their relevancy score, with the most relevant result at the top. However, in Boolean mode, you need to manually sort the results.

Luckily, MySQL returns the relevancy score as part of the search query results. You can use this score to sort the results using an ORDER BY statement.


Full-text indexing and searching in MySQL can be a powerful tool for searching across multiple columns and finding specific words or phrases within text blocks. While it may not be as robust as a standalone search engine, it's a great option if you're already using MySQL as your database and want to avoid adding another tool to your infrastructure.

With the ability to add full-text indexes and implement both natural language and boolean searches, you can fine-tune your search queries to find exactly what you need. So next time you need to search across multiple columns in your database, give full-text indexing a try!

About this lesson

Master full-text searching with MySQL. This video covers the use of FULLTEXT indexes to search across multiple columns. Unlock new search capabilities and optimize your databases today.

Closed captioned

Meet your instructor, Aaron Francis

Developer Educator at PlanetScale

I’m a dad to one-year-old twins and a software developer with a keen interest in processes and automation.

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