MySQL DISTINCT clause explained

Learn how MySQL DISTINCT clause works and when you should use it

Posted on October 08, 2021


The MySQL DISTINCT clause (or keyword) is used to remove duplicate values from the result set of your query, making sure that all rows in the result set are unique records.

To use the keyword, you just need to specify the columns next to the DISTINCT keyword as follows:

SELECT DISTINCT [column], [column] FROM [table];

You can query as many columns as you need just like a normal SELECT statement.

Let’s see an example of DISTINCT in action. Suppose you have a table called members with the following data:

+----+------------+------+
| id | first_name | age  |
+----+------------+------+
|  1 | Jessie     |   23 |
|  2 | Ann        |   25 |
|  3 | Joe        |   22 |
|  4 | Ann        |   23 |
|  5 | Peter      |   29 |
+----+------------+------+

As you can see, there are some duplicates in the first_name and age columns.

You can use the DISTINCT keyword to filter the duplicate values as shown below:

SELECT DISTINCT first_name FROM members;
--   +------------+
--   | first_name |
--   +------------+
--   | Jessie     |
--   | Ann        |
--   | Joe        |
--   | Peter      |
--   +------------+

The first_name query above returns no duplicate row. The DISTINCT keyword can be used with columns of any data type.

The keyword will also take NULL value into account when filtering your result table.

Here’s an example of filtering the age column with INT type:

+------+
| age  |
+------+
|   23 |
|   25 |
|   22 |
|   29 |
+------+

The DISTINCT keyword will make sure that each row in the result set of your query is unique.

This means that when you query more than one column, some of the columns can still be duplicates.

Consider the following example where both first_name and age are selected:

SELECT DISTINCT first_name, age FROM members;
--   +------------+------+
--   | first_name | age  |
--   +------------+------+
--   | Jessie     |   23 |
--   | Ann        |   25 |
--   | Joe        |   22 |
--   | Ann        |   23 |
--   | Peter      |   29 |
--   +------------+------+

The above example shows that some of the column values still have duplicates. There are two Ann and two 23 values.

This is because DISTINCT takes into account the whole row for filtering the result, and it considers Ann of age 25 different from Ann of age 23.

Let’s add one more row of Peter with age 29 in the table:

+----+------------+------+
| id | first_name | age  |
+----+------------+------+
|  1 | Jessie     |   23 |
|  2 | Ann        |   25 |
|  3 | Joe        |   22 |
|  4 | Ann        |   23 |
|  5 | Peter      |   29 |
|  6 | Peter      |   29 |
+----+------------+------+

The two Peter above are completely identical. Only one will be shown when you use the DISTINCT keyword without selecting the id column:

SELECT DISTINCT first_name, age FROM members;
--   +------------+------+
--   | first_name | age  |
--   +------------+------+
--   | Jessie     |   23 |
--   | Ann        |   25 |
--   | Joe        |   22 |
--   | Ann        |   23 |
--   | Peter      |   29 |
--   +------------+------+

But if you also select the id column, then there will be two Peter rows because they have different ids:

SELECT DISTINCT id,first_name, age FROM members;
--   +----+------------+------+
--   | id | first_name | age  |
--   +----+------------+------+
--   |  1 | Jessie     |   23 |
--   |  2 | Ann        |   25 |
--   |  3 | Joe        |   22 |
--   |  4 | Ann        |   23 |
--   |  5 | Peter      |   29 |
--   |  6 | Peter      |   29 |
--   +----+------------+------+

And that’s how the DISTINCT keyword works in MySQL.

Please note that the DISTINCT keyword can only be used with SELECT statements, so you can’t use it with other statements like UPDATE or DELETE statements.

But the DISTINCT statement can still be used with a SELECT subquery as follows:

SELECT first_name, age 
  FROM members 
  WHERE age IN (SELECT DISTINCT age FROM members)

The WHERE clause above will have no effect on the result set at all, but it gives you an idea of how to use the DISTINCT keyword in subqueries.

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