How To Troubleshoot MySQL Queries

Sometimes users run into problems once they begin issuing queries on their data. In some database systems, including MySQL, query statements in must end in a semicolon (;) for the query to complete, as in the following example:

  • SHOW * FROM table_name;

If you fail to include a semicolon at the end of your query, the prompt will continue on a new line until you complete the query by entering a semicolon and pressing ENTER.

Some users may find that their queries are exceedingly slow. One way to find which query statement is the cause of a slowdown is to enable and view MySQL's slow query log. To do this, open your mysqld.cnf file, which is used to configure options for the MySQL server. This file is typically stored within the /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/ directory:

  • sudo nano /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

Scroll through the file until you see the following lines:


. . . #slow_query_log         = 1 #slow_query_log_file    = /var/log/mysql/mysql-slow.log #long_query_time = 2 #log-queries-not-using-indexes . . . 

These commented-out directives provide MySQL's default configuration options for the slow query log. Specifically, here's what each of them do:

  • slow-query-log: Setting this to 1 enables the slow query log.
  • slow-query-log-file: This defines the file where MySQL will log any slow queries. In this case, it points to the /var/log/mysql-slow.log file.
  • long_query_time: By setting this directive to 2, it configures MySQL to log any queries that take longer than 2 seconds to complete.
  • log_queries_not_using_indexes: This tells MySQL to also log any queries that run without indexes to the /var/log/mysql-slow.log file. This setting isn't required for the slow query log to function, but it can be helpful for spotting inefficient queries.

Uncomment each of these lines by removing the leading pound signs (#). The section will now look like this:


. . . slow_query_log = 1 slow_query_log_file = /var/log/mysql-slow.log long_query_time = 2 log_queries_not_using_indexes . . . 

Note: If you're running MySQL 8+, these commented lines will not be in the mysqld.cnf file by default. In this case, add the following lines to the bottom of the file:


. . . slow_query_log = 1 slow_query_log_file = /var/log/mysql-slow.log long_query_time = 2 log_queries_not_using_indexes 

After enabling the slow query log, save and close the file. Then restart the MySQL service:

  • sudo systemctl restart mysql

With these settings in place, you can find problematic query statements by viewing the slow query log. You can do so with less, like this:

  • sudo less /var/log/mysql_slow.log

Once you've singled out the queries causing the slowdown, you may find our guide on How To Optimize Queries and Tables in MySQL and MariaDB on a VPS to be helpful with optimizing them.

Additionally, MySQL includes the EXPLAIN statement, which provides information about how MySQL executes queries. This page from the official MySQL documentation provides insight on how to use EXPLAIN to highlight inefficient queries.

For help with understanding basic query structures, see our Introduction to MySQL Queries.