Using the Ruby MySQL Module

Paul DuBois

Document revision: 1.06
Last update: 2007-05-26

Table of Contents


Programs that access MySQL databases can be written in the Ruby scripting language by using Tomita Masahiro's MySQL module. This module provides a Ruby client API; it is implemented as a wrapper around the MySQL C client API. This document describes how to install the MySQL module and use it to write MySQL-based Ruby scripts. A related document describes the Ruby DBI module that provides a higher-level interface that is more abstract and database-independent. See the "Resources" section for a pointer to that document and also for information about downloading the example scripts used here.

Obtaining and Installing the MySQL Module

To use the Ruby MySQL module, first make sure that you have the MySQL C client API header files and libraries installed. This is a requirement because the API provided by the Ruby module is built on top of the C API.

The Ruby MySQL module can be obtained from the following site:

The module is distributed as a compressed tar file, which you should unpack after downloading it. For example, if the current version is 2.7.1, the distribution file can be unpacked using either of the following commands:
   % tar zxf mysql-ruby-2.7.1.tar.gz
   % gunzip < mysql-ruby-2.7.1.tar.gz | tar xf -
After unpacking the distribution, change location into its top-level directory and configure it using the extconf.rb script in that directory:
   % ruby extconf.rb
If extconf.rb successfully locates your MySQL header file and library directories, you can proceed to build and install the module. Otherwise, it indicates what it could not find, and you'll need to run the command again with additional options that specify the appropriate directory locations. For example, if your header file and library directories are /usr/local/mysql/include/mysql and /usr/local/mysql/include/lib, the configuration command looks like this:
   % ruby extconf.rb \
       --with-mysql-include=/usr/local/mysql/include/mysql \
Alternatively, tell extconf.rb where to find the mysql_config program. In that case, extconf.rb runs mysql_config to locate the header and library files:
   % ruby extconf.rb --with-mysql-config=/usr/local/mysql/bin/mysql_config
After configuring the distribution, build and install the module:
   % make
   % make install
You might need to run the installation command as root.

If you have problems getting the module installed, see the distribution's README file for additional configuration and build information.

The preceding instructions apply to Unix systems. It is possible to install the module on Windows as well, but you need some sort of Unix-like environment such as Cygwin. For links to pages that provide Windows instructions, see the "Resources" section.

MySQL Module Overview

The MySQL module defines four classes:

In most cases, Ruby methods in the module act as wrappers around the corresponding functions in the C API, except that the Ruby method names do not begin with a mysql_ prefix. For example, the Ruby real_connect method is a wrapper around the C mysql_real_connect() function. (What this means is that if you're wondering about something not discussed in this document, you may be able to figure out what you want to know by referring to the C API chapter in the MySQL Reference Manual or by consulting other documentation that discusses the C API.)

A Simple MySQL-Based Ruby Script

With the Ruby MySQL module installed, you should be able to access your MySQL server from within Ruby programs. Assume for purposes of this article that the server is running on the local host and that you have access to a database named test by connecting using an account that has a username and password of testuser and testpass. You can set up this account by using the mysql program to connect to the server as the MySQL root user and issuing the following statement:

   mysql> GRANT ALL ON test.* TO 'testuser'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'testpass';
If the test database does not exist, create it with this statement:
   mysql> CREATE DATABASE test;
If you want to use a different server host, username, password, or database name, just substitute the appropriate values in each of the scripts discussed in the remainder of this article.

As a first exercise in MySQL-based Ruby programming, let's create a script named simple.rb that just connects to the server, retrieves and displays the server version, and disconnects. Use a text editor to create simple.rb with the following contents (or download the script from the link listed in "Resources"):

   #!/usr/bin/ruby -w
   # simple.rb - simple MySQL script using Ruby MySQL module

   require "mysql"

     # connect to the MySQL server
     dbh = Mysql.real_connect("localhost", "testuser", "testpass", "test")
     # get server version string and display it
     puts "Server version: " + dbh.get_server_info
   rescue Mysql::Error => e
     puts "Error code: #{e.errno}"
     puts "Error message: #{e.error}"
     puts "Error SQLSTATE: #{e.sqlstate}" if e.respond_to?("sqlstate")
     # disconnect from server
     dbh.close if dbh
The script works as follows:
If simple.rb executes successfully when you run it, you should see output something like this:
   % ruby simple.rb
   Server version: 5.1.14-beta-log
If simple.rb does not execute successfully, an error will occur. Methods in the MySQL module raise a Mysql::Error exception when they fail. Exception objects have read-only error, errno, and (for recent versions of the MySQL module) sqlstate values that contain the error message string, numeric error code, and five-character SQLSTATE value. The rescue clause in simple.rb illustrates how to access the exception values: It places a reference to the Mysql::Error exception object in e, and the body of the block prints the errno, error, and sqlstate values to provide information about the cause of the failure. To see what happens when an exception occurs, change one of the connection parameters in the real_connect call to some invalid value (such as changing the username to an invalid name), then run simple.rb again. It will display error information as follows:
   % ruby simple.rb
   Error code: 1045
   Error message: Access denied for user 'nouser'@'localhost' (using password: YES)
   Error SQLSTATE: 28000

Processing Statements

Statements such as CREATE TABLE, INSERT, DELETE, and UPDATE return no result set and are quite easy to process. Statements such as SELECT and SHOW do return rows; it takes a little more work to process them. The following discussion shows how to handle both types of statements. (The code is part of the animal.rb script available for download as described in "Resources.")

Processing Statements that Return No Result Set

To execute a statement that does not return a result set, invoke the database handle's query method to send the statement to the server. If you want to know how many rows the statement affected, invoke affected_rows to get the count. The following code demonstrates this by initializing a table named animal that contains two columns, name and category. It drops any existing version of the table, creates it anew, and then inserts some sample data into it. Each of these operations requires only an invocation of the query method to send the appropriate statement to the server. After issuing the INSERT, the script also invokes affected_rows to determine how many rows were added to the table:

   dbh.query("DROP TABLE IF EXISTS animal")
   dbh.query("CREATE TABLE animal
                name     CHAR(40),
                category CHAR(40)
   dbh.query("INSERT INTO animal (name, category)
                  ('snake', 'reptile'),
                  ('frog', 'amphibian'),
                  ('tuna', 'fish'),
                  ('racoon', 'mammal')
   puts "Number of rows inserted: #{dbh.affected_rows}"

Processing Statements that Return a Result Set

To execute a statement that returns a result set, a typical sequence of events is as follows:

The following example shows how to display the contents of the animal table by issuing a SELECT statement and looping through the rows that it returns. It also prints a row count using num_rows and releases the result set with free:
   # issue a retrieval query, perform a fetch loop, print
   # the row count, and free the result set

   res = dbh.query("SELECT name, category FROM animal")

   while row = res.fetch_row do
     printf "%s, %s\n", row[0], row[1]
   puts "Number of rows returned: #{res.num_rows}"
The example fetches the rows using a while loop and the result set's fetch_row method. Another approach is to use the each iterator directly with the result set object:
   res = dbh.query("SELECT name, category FROM animal")

   res.each do |row|
     printf "%s, %s\n", row[0], row[1]
   puts "Number of rows returned: #{res.num_rows}"
fetch_row and each return successive rows of the result, each row as an array of column values. There are hashed versions of each of these that return rows as hashes keyed by column name. The hash method, fetch_hash is used like this:
   res = dbh.query("SELECT name, category FROM animal")

   while row = res.fetch_hash do
     printf "%s, %s\n", row["name"], row["category"]
   puts "Number of rows returned: #{res.num_rows}"
The hash iterator, each_hash, works like this:
   res = dbh.query("SELECT name, category FROM animal")

   res.each_hash do |row|
     printf "%s, %s\n", row["name"], row["category"]
   puts "Number of rows returned: #{res.num_rows}"
By default, hash keys in rows returned by fetch_hash and each_hash are column names. This can result in loss of values if multiple columns have the same name. For example, the following statement produces two columns named i:
   SELECT t1.i, t2.i FROM t1, t2;
Only one of the columns will be accessible if you process rows as hashes. To disambiguate hash elements in such cases, you can supply a with_table=true argument to fetch_hash or each_hash. This causes each hash key to be qualified with the appropriate table name, in tbl_name.col_name format. It's still possible to lose values, because if you select the same value from a table multiple times, they'll both have the same qualified name--but since both columns will have the same value anyway, it hardly matters.

When you use with_table=true, remember to access column values in row hashes with key values that include the table name. For example:

   res = dbh.query("SELECT name, category FROM animal")

   res.each_hash(with_table = true) do |row|
     printf "%s, %s\n", row[""], row["animal.category"]
   puts "Number of rows returned: #{res.num_rows}"
If you use aliases in your statement, either for tables or columns, those aliases are used in the hash keys rather than the original table or column names.

With fetch_row and each, you must know the order in which column values are present in each row. This makes them unsuitable for SELECT * statements because no column order can be assumed. fetch_hash and each_hash enable column values to be accessed by column name. They're less efficient than the array versions, but more suited to processing the results of SELECT * statements because you need know nothing about order of columns within the result set.

For result sets fetched with with_table=true, the tbl_name part of the hash key is empty for columns calculated from expressions. Suppose you issue the following statement:

   SELECT i, i+0, VERSION(), 4+2 FROM t;
Only the first column comes directly from the table t, so it's the only column for which the hash key contains a table name. The hash keys for rows of the statement are "t.i", ".i+0", ".VERSION()", and ".4+2".

Detecting NULL Values in Result Sets

NULL values in result sets are represented by the Ruby nil value. Beginning with the animal table used thus far, we can insert a row containing NULL values like this:

   dbh.query("INSERT INTO animal (name, category) VALUES (NULL, NULL)")
The following code retrieves and prints the table contents:
   res = dbh.query("SELECT name, category FROM animal")

   res.each do |row|
     printf "%s, %s\n", row[0], row[1]
The output produced by the loop is as follows. Note that NULL values show up as empty values in the last line of the output:
   snake, reptile
   frog, amphibian
   tuna, fish
   racoon, mammal
To detect NULL values and print the word "NULL" instead, the loop can look for nil values in the result:
   res.each do |row|
     row[0] = "NULL" if row[0].nil?
     row[1] = "NULL" if row[1].nil?
     printf "%s, %s\n", row[0], row[1]
Now the output becomes:
   snake, reptile
   frog, amphibian
   tuna, fish
   racoon, mammal
Of course, individual column value testing quickly becomes ugly as the number of columns increases. A more Ruby-like way to map nil to a printable "NULL" is to use collect, a technique that has the advantage of being a one-liner no matter the number of columns:
   res.each do |row|
     row = row.collect { |v| v.nil? ? "NULL" : v }
     printf "%s, %s\n", row[0], row[1]
Or, to modify the row in place, use the collect! method:
   res.each do |row|
     row.collect! { |v| v.nil? ? "NULL" : v }
     printf "%s, %s\n", row[0], row[1]

Including Special Characters in Statement Strings

Suppose we want to put a new animal into the animal table, but we don't know its category. We could use "don't know" as the category value, but a statement written as follows raises an exception:

   dbh.query("INSERT INTO animal (name, category)
              VALUES ('platypus','don't know')")
That statement contains a single quote within a single-quoted string, which is syntactically illegal. To make the statement legal, escape the quote with a backslash:
   dbh.query("INSERT INTO animal (name, category)
              VALUES ('platypus','don\'t know')")
However, for an arbitrary data value (such as a value stored in a variable), you might not know whether or not it contains any special characters. To make the value safe for insertion as a data value in a statement, use the escape_string method, or its alias, quote. These methods map onto the C mysql_real_escape_string() function if it is available and to the mysql_escape_string() function otherwise.

Using escape_string, the platypus record might be inserted as follows:

   name = dbh.escape_string("platypus")
   category = dbh.escape_string("don't know")
   dbh.query("INSERT INTO animal (name, category)
              VALUES ('" + name + "','" + category + "')")
Strictly speaking, it's unnecessary to process a name value like "platypus" with escape_string, because it contains no special characters. But it's not a bad idea to develop the habit of escaping your data values, especially if you obtain them from an external source such as a web script.

Note that escape_string does not add any surrounding quotes around data values; you'll need to do that yourself. Also, take care about using escape_string to handle nil values; it will throw an exception. If a data value is nil, you should insert the literal word "NULL" into your statement without surrounding quotes instead of invoking escape_string.

Statement Result Metadata

For a statement that doesn't return any rows (such as INSERT), the only statement metadata available is the number of rows affected. This value can be obtained by invoking the affected_rows method of your database handle.

For a statement that does return rows (such as SELECT), available metadata includes the number of rows and columns in the result set, as well as information describing the characteristics of each column, such as its name and type. All this information is available through the result set object:

Metadata cannot be obtained from a result set object after you release it by calling free.

If you know whether a statement returns rows, you can tell in advance which metadata methods are appropriate for obtaining information about the statement result. If you don't know, you can determine which methods are applicable using the result from query. If query returns nil, there is no result set. Otherwise use the value as a result set object through which the metadata can be obtained.

The following example shows how to use this technique to display metadata for any arbitrary statement, assumed here to be stored as a string in the stmt variable. The script issues the statement and examines the result set to determine which types of metadata are available:

   res = dbh.query(stmt)

   puts "Statement: #{stmt}"
   if res.nil? then
     puts "Statement has no result set"
     printf "Number of rows affected: %d\n", dbh.affected_rows
     puts "Statement has a result set"
     printf "Number of rows: %d\n", res.num_rows
     printf "Number of columns: %d\n", res.num_fields
     res.fetch_fields.each_with_index do |info, i|
       printf "--- Column %d (%s) ---\n", i,
       printf "table:            %s\n", info.table
       printf "def:              %s\n", info.def
       printf "type:             %s\n", info.type
       printf "length:           %s\n", info.length
       printf "max_length:       %s\n", info.max_length
       printf "flags:            %s\n", info.flags
       printf "decimals:         %s\n", info.decimals

Deferring Result Set Generation

When using the MySQL C client library, you typically process a statement by calling mysql_query() or mysql_real_query() to send the statement string to the server, mysql_store_result() to generate the result set, a row-fetching function to get the rows of the result set, and mysql_free_result() to release the result set.

By default, the Ruby query method handles the first two parts of that process. That is, it sends the statement string to the server and then automatically invokes store_result to generate the result set, which it returns as a Mysql::Result object.

If you want to suppress automatic result set generation by query, set your database handle's query_with_result variable to false:

   dbh.query_with_result = false
The effect of this is that after invoking query, you must generate the result set yourself before fetching its rows. To do so, invoke either store_result or use_result explicitly to obtain the result set object. This in fact the approach you must use if you want to retrieve rows with use_result:
   dbh.query("SELECT name, category FROM animal")
   res = dbh.use_result

   while row = res.fetch_row do
     printf "%s, %s\n", row[0], row[1]
   puts "Number of rows returned: #{res.num_rows}"
Note that if you fetch rows with use_result, the row count will not be correct until after you have fetched all the rows. (With store_result, the row count is correct as soon as you generate the result set.)

More on Establishing Connections

As shown earlier, you connect to the server by invoking real_connect as a class method to obtain a database handle object:

   dbh = Mysql.real_connect("localhost", "testuser", "testpass", "test")
It's also possible to connect by first invoking the init class method to obtain a database handle object, and then invoking real_connect as a method of that object:
   dbh = Mysql.init
   dbh.real_connect("localhost", "testuser", "testpass", "test")
In itself, this approach doesn't gain you anything over invoking real_connect as a class method. Its advantage is that it enables you to specify options that afford more specific control over the connection. To do this, invoke the object's options method one or more times before invoking real_connect. options takes two arguments indicating an option type and its value. The names correspond to the symbolic constants used for the C mysql_options() function. For example, if you want to connect using parameters listed in the [client] group in the standard option files, rather than specifying them in the real_connect call, do this:
   dbh = Mysql.init
   dbh.options(Mysql::READ_DEFAULT_GROUP, "client")
The real_connect method takes up to seven parameters. The full invocation syntax is:
The host, user, password, and db parameters have already been discussed.

The port and socket parameters indicate the port number (for TCP/IP connections) and the Unix domain socket file pathname (for connections to localhost). They can be used to override the defaults (which typically are 3306 and /tmp/mysql.sock).

The flags argument can be used to specify additional connection flags. The allowable flag names correspond to the symbolic constants used for the C mysql_real_connect() function. The flag values are bit values and can be OR-ed or added together. For example, if you want to connect using the compressed client/server protocol and to tell the server to use the interactive-client timeout value, specify the flags value like this:

Or like this:

Deprecated Methods

The Ruby MySQL module mirrors the C API fairly closely and provides bindings to most of the C client functions. Several of the C API functions are deprecated and to be avoided, which means that you should also try to avoid the corresponding Ruby methods. You can do this without any loss of functionality in your Ruby scripts; the reason functions in the C API become deprecated is that they are superceded by other ways to achieve the same effect. For example, the mysql_create_db() function now is deprecated because you can issue a CREATE DATABASE SQL statement with mysql_query() or mysql_real_query(). Correspondingly, instead of using the Ruby create_db method to create a database, do this:

   dbh.query("CREATE DATABASE db_name")


The scripts that are used for examples in this document can be downloaded from the following location:

Another document at that location discusses database programming using the database interface provided by the Ruby DBI module.

The following references might be helpful as sources of information about Ruby, the Ruby MySQL module, and the C API on which the module is built:

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