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Generated Columns

Warning:

This is still an experimental feature. It is recommended not to use this feature in the production environment.

TiDB supports generated columns as part of MySQL 5.7 compatibility. One of the primary use cases for generated columns is to extract data out of a JSON data type and enable it to be indexed.

Index JSON using generated column

In both MySQL 5.7 and TiDB, columns of type JSON can not be indexed directly. i.e. The following table structure is not supported:

CREATE TABLE person (
    id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY,
    name VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    address_info JSON,
    KEY (address_info)
);

To index a JSON column, you must first extract it as a generated column.

Using the city stored generated column as an example, you are then able to add an index:

CREATE TABLE person (
    id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY,
    name VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    address_info JSON,
    city VARCHAR(64) AS (JSON_UNQUOTE(JSON_EXTRACT(address_info, '$.city'))) STORED,
    KEY (city)
);

In this table, the city column is a generated column. As the name implies, the column is generated from other columns in the table, and cannot be assigned a value when inserted or updated. This column is generated based on a defined expression and is stored in the database. Thus this column can be read directly, not in a way that its dependent column address_info is read first and then the data is calculated. The index on city however is stored and uses the same structure as other indexes of the type varchar(64).

You can use the index on the stored generated column in order to speed up the following statement:

SELECT name, id FROM person WHERE city = 'Beijing';

If no data exists at path $.city, JSON_EXTRACT returns NULL. If you want to enforce a constraint that city must be NOT NULL, you can define the virtual column as follows:

CREATE TABLE person (
    id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY,
    name VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    address_info JSON,
    city VARCHAR(64) AS (JSON_UNQUOTE(JSON_EXTRACT(address_info, '$.city'))) STORED NOT NULL,
    KEY (city)
);

Both INSERT and UPDATE statements check virtual column definitions. Rows that do not pass validation return errors:

mysql> INSERT INTO person (name, address_info) VALUES ('Morgan', JSON_OBJECT('Country', 'Canada'));
ERROR 1048 (23000): Column 'city' cannot be null

Use generated virtual columns

TiDB also supports generated virtual columns. Different from generated store columns, generated virtual columns are virtual in that they are generated as needed and are not stored in the database or cached in the memory.

CREATE TABLE person (
    id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY,
    name VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    address_info JSON,
    city VARCHAR(64) AS (JSON_UNQUOTE(JSON_EXTRACT(address_info, '$.city'))) VIRTUAL
);

Limitations

The current limitations of JSON and generated columns are as follows:

  • You cannot add the generated column in the storage type of STORED through ALTER TABLE.
  • You cannot create an index on the generated column through ALTER TABLE.
  • You can neither convert a generated stored column to a normal column through the ALTER TABLE statement nor convert a normal column to a generated stored column.
  • You cannot modify the expression of a generated stored column through the ALTER TABLE statement.
  • Not all JSON functions are supported.