Managing MySQL Table Structure: How to Remove Columns



  • MySQL is a popular open-source relational database management system (RDBMS). It's used to store, organize, and retrieve data in a structured format. Tables are the fundamental units of data organization within a MySQL database.

DDL (Data Definition Language)

  • DDL is a subset of the SQL language specifically designed for defining the structure of a database. It includes statements for creating, modifying, and dropping database objects like tables, columns, indexes, and constraints.


  • The ALTER TABLE statement is a core DDL command in MySQL. It allows you to modify the structure of existing tables. This includes operations like adding, removing, renaming, and altering the data types of columns.

Deleting a Column

To remove a column from a MySQL table, you'll use the ALTER TABLE statement with the DROP COLUMN clause. Here's the syntax:

ALTER TABLE table_name
DROP COLUMN column_name;
  • Replace table_name with the actual name of the table you want to modify.
  • Replace column_name with the specific column you want to delete.


Suppose you have a table named customers with a column called phone_number that you no longer need. Here's the SQL statement to delete it:

ALTER TABLE customers
DROP COLUMN phone_number;

Important Considerations:

  • Once you execute this statement, the phone_number column will be permanently removed from the customers table, along with all the data it contained.
  • Make sure you have the necessary permissions to modify the table structure.
  • If the column has foreign key relationships with other tables, you might need to adjust those relationships before deleting it.

Additional Notes:

  • You can specify multiple columns to drop in a single ALTER TABLE statement by separating them with commas:
ALTER TABLE customers
DROP COLUMN phone_number, email;
  • The COLUMN keyword is optional in DROP COLUMN:
ALTER TABLE customers
DROP phone_number;  // (Same as the previous example)

Example 1: Deleting a Single Column

ALTER TABLE customers
DROP COLUMN phone_number;

This code removes the phone_number column from the customers table.

DROP COLUMN product_id, quantity;

This code removes both the product_id and quantity columns from the orders table.

Example 3: Using DROP without COLUMN keyword (optional)

ALTER TABLE products
DROP price, discount;

This code achieves the same result as Example 2, omitting the optional COLUMN keyword before the column names.

Create a New Table (More Complex):

This approach involves creating a new table with the desired structure, excluding the column you want to remove. Then, you copy the data from the original table to the new table, and finally, you can drop the original table and rename the new table to replace it.

Here's a breakdown of the steps:

  • Create a New Table: Define a new table structure that mirrors the original table but omits the unwanted column.
  • Copy Data: Use INSERT INTO or SELECT INTO statements to transfer data from the original table to the new one, excluding the dropped column.
  • Drop Original Table: Once the data is successfully copied, you can safely drop the original table using DROP TABLE.
  • Rename New Table (Optional): If the table names need to be consistent, you can rename the new table to match the original name using RENAME TABLE.


  • This method can be useful if you need to preserve specific aspects of the data or schema while removing a column.
  • It allows you to potentially clean or transform the data before copying it to the new table.
  • This approach is more complex and time-consuming compared to DROP COLUMN.
  • It requires additional steps and can be prone to errors if not carefully executed.
  • It might not be suitable for very large tables due to the overhead of copying data.

Modify Engine (Limited Use Case):

In some scenarios, if your table uses the MyISAM storage engine (not recommended for most modern workloads), you can temporarily change the engine to InnoDB (the default) using ALTER TABLE ... ENGINE = InnoDB. This allows you to use DROP COLUMN more efficiently. However, changing the engine type can be a time-consuming operation, so it's only advisable if absolutely necessary and for specific reasons.

Important Note:

It's generally recommended to stick with the DROP COLUMN method within ALTER TABLE for most cases. It's simpler, efficient, and the preferred approach for modern MySQL practices. The alternative methods mentioned here should be considered only if you have specific requirements that necessitate a different approach.

mysql ddl alter-table

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