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Adding and deleting data are fairly foundational operations that allow you to control what data is maintained by the database. To insert, you specify items that fulfill each of the column requirements of the table for each new row. To remove, you provide the match criteria for rows in the table you wish to delete.

In this article, we'll take a look at how to use the INSERT and DELETE commands to add or remove data from MySQL tables. We will cover the syntax as well as slightly more advanced variations like operating on multiple rows in a single statement.

Reviewing the table's structure

Before using the INSERT command, you must know the table's structure so that you can accommodate the requirements imposed by the table's columns, data types, and constraints.

To find the structure of a table called employee, you can use the MySQL DESCRIBE command:

DESCRIBE employee;
Field | Type | Null | Key | Default | Extra |
employee_id | bigint unsigned | NO | PRI | NULL | auto_increment |
first_name | varchar(45) | NO | | NULL | |
last_name | varchar(45) | NO | | NULL | |
last_update | timestamp | NO | | CURRENT_TIMESTAMP | DEFAULT_GENERATED |
4 rows in set (0.00 sec)

The output displays the table's column names, data types, and default values, among other information.

An alternative is to show the information that could be used to recreate the table. You can find this information with the SHOW CREATE TABLE command:

*************************** 1. row ***************************
Table: employee
Create Table: CREATE TABLE `employee` (
`employee_id` bigint unsigned NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
`first_name` varchar(45) NOT NULL,
`last_name` varchar(45) NOT NULL,
UNIQUE KEY `employee_id` (`employee_id`)
) ENGINE=InnoDB DEFAULT CHARSET=utf8mb4 COLLATE=utf8mb4_0900_ai_ci
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

Here, we use the \G terminator to display the output vertically for better readability. Along with the properties manually set during table creation, the output shows any of the values that were set due to MySQL defaults.

These should give you a good idea of the table's structure so that you can insert values correctly.

Using INSERT to add new records to tables

The SQL INSERT command is used to add rows of data to an existing table. Once you know the table's structure, you can construct a command that matches the table's columns with the corresponding values you wish to insert for the new record.

The basic syntax of the command looks like this:

INSERT INTO my_table(column1, column2)
VALUES ('value1', 'value2');

The columns in the column list correspond directly to the values provided within the value list.

As an example, to insert a new employee into the employee table listed above, we could type:

INSERT INTO employee(first_name, last_name)
VALUES ('Bob', 'Smith');

Here, we provide values for the first_name and last_name columns while leaving the other columns to be populated by their default values. If you query the table, you can see that the new record has been added:

SELECT * FROM employee;
employee_id | first_name | last_name | last_update |
1 | Bob | Smith | 2021-01-26 09:56:42 |
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

Using INSERT to add multiple rows at once

Inserting records one statement at a time is more time consuming and less efficient than inserting multiple rows at once. MySQL allows you to specify multiple rows to add to the same table. Each new row is encapsulated in parentheses, with each set of parentheses separated by commas.

The basic syntax for multi-record insertion looks like this:

INSERT INTO my_table(column_name, column_name_2)
('value', 'value2'),
('value3', 'value4'),
('value5', 'value6');

For the employee table we've been referencing, you could add four new employees in a single statement by typing:

INSERT INTO employee(first_name, last_name)
('Abigail', 'Spencer'),
('Tamal', 'Wayne'),
('Katie', 'Singh'),
('Felipe', 'Espinosa');
Query OK, 4 rows affected (0.01 sec)
Records: 4 Duplicates: 0 Warnings: 0

Using DELETE to remove rows from tables

The SQL DELETE command is used to remove rows from tables, functioning as the complementary action to INSERT. In order to remove rows from a table, you must identify the rows you wish to target by providing match criteria within a WHERE clause.

The basic syntax looks like this:

WHERE <condition>;

For instance, to remove every row in our employee table that has its first_name set to Abigail, we could type this:

DELETE FROM employee
WHERE first_name = 'Abigail';
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.01 sec)

The return value here indicates that the DELETE command was processed with a single row being removed.

Using DELETE to remove multiple rows at once

You can remove multiple items at once with DELETE by manipulating the selection criteria specified in the WHERE clause.

For instance, to remove multiple rows by ID, you could type something like this:

DELETE FROM employee
WHERE employee_id in (3,4);
Query OK, 2 rows affected (0.00 sec)

You can even leave out the WHERE clause to remove all of the rows from a given table:

DELETE FROM employee;
Query OK, 2 rows affected (0.00 sec)

Be aware, however, that using DELETE to empty a table of data may not be as efficient as the TRUNCATE command, which can remove data without scanning the table, with some caveats.


In this article, we discussed how to insert and remove data from MySQL tables. First, we covered how to find the table's structure to help construct valid data insertion queries. Then we inserted data one at a time and in batches using the INSERT command. Finally, we covered the DELETE command to remove records from the table according to query conditions.

While fairly basic, the INSERT and DELETE commands are some of the most useful commands for managing what data your tables actually maintain. Understanding their basic syntax and operation will allow you to add or remove records from your database structures quickly and efficiently.

About the Author(s)
Justin Ellingwood

Justin Ellingwood

Justin has been writing about databases, Linux, infrastructure, and developer tools since 2013. He currently lives in Berlin with his wife and two rabbits. He doesn't usually have to write in the third person, which is a relief for all parties involved.