Difference Wiki

Char vs. Varchar: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 10, 2024
Char is a fixed-length data type for strings, while varchar is a variable-length data type allowing for more flexibility in storing strings.

Key Differences

Char stands for character data type, which allocates a fixed amount of space for storing strings in databases. It's used for data that has a consistent length, like abbreviations or codes. Varchar, short for variable character, is a flexible data type that can store strings of varying lengths, using only the necessary space plus an additional character to record the length of the string.
In char, the length of the string is set at the time of table creation and cannot be exceeded. If a string is shorter than the allocated length, the remaining space is filled with spaces, leading to potential waste of storage space. Varchar, however, dynamically adjusts the storage space based on the actual length of the string, making it more space-efficient, especially for storing text with variable length.
Char is typically faster than varchar in terms of performance due to its fixed length, which simplifies the search and retrieval process in a database. In contrast, varchar requires additional processing to handle the variable length, which can slightly reduce performance but provides greater storage efficiency.
Choosing between char and varchar depends on the specific needs of the database application. Char is ideal for storing fixed-length items, like social security numbers, where efficiency and speed are key. Varchar is better suited for text fields with variable length, like names or addresses, where space efficiency is more important.
Char is best for consistent, predictable data that will always occupy the same space, while varchar offers flexibility and efficiency for storing strings of varying lengths. The choice between the two impacts both the performance and storage utilization of a database.

Comparison Chart


Fixed length
Variable length

Storage Efficiency

Less efficient for variable data
More efficient for variable data

Use Case

Suitable for predictable data size
Suitable for unpredictable data size


Generally faster
Slightly slower due to length handling

Space Utilization

Can waste space for shorter strings
Only uses required space

Char and Varchar Definitions


Char fills unused space with blank spaces.
Storing 'abc' in char(5) will store it as 'abc '.


Varchar only uses the space necessary for the string.
Storing 'hello' in varchar(100) uses only 5 characters of space.


Char is efficient for data of known, consistent size.
Char(2) is ideal for storing US state abbreviations.


Varchar is ideal for text with unpredictable length.
Varchar(255) is suitable for storing user comments.


Char is a fixed-length data type in databases.
Char(5) will reserve exactly 5 characters for storage.


Varchar has a slight overhead for length management.
Varchar needs extra processing to handle variable lengths.


Char offers faster performance for fixed-size data.
Using char for fixed-length identifiers speeds up queries.


Varchar offers flexibility in storage size.
Varchar adapts to different lengths of customer names.


Char is less flexible than varchar.
Char(10) cannot store more than 10 characters.


Varchar is a variable-length data type in databases.
Varchar(100) can store any string up to 100 characters.


A text field of indeterminate length in a database, as opposed to the traditional fixed-length field.


Can char store more than its defined length?

No, it's limited to its defined length.

Is char space-efficient for variable data?

No, it can waste space.

Is varchar slower than char?

Slightly, due to handling variable lengths.

Is char faster than varchar for certain queries?

Yes, for fixed-length data.

Can varchar handle more data than its defined maximum?

No, it's limited to its maximum length.

How does char handle excess space?

It pads with blank spaces.

Is char suitable for storing names?

Only if they have a consistent, known length.

What's the primary use of char?

For storing fixed-length strings.

What's the primary advantage of varchar?

Its flexibility in storing variable-length data.

How does varchar handle longer strings?

It adjusts its storage size up to the defined maximum.

Can varchar store fixed-length data efficiently?

Yes, but char is more efficient for this purpose.

What is the overhead of varchar?

Additional storage to track the actual length of the data.

Is varchar suitable for zip codes?

Yes, if they vary in length.

Can I change a char to a varchar later?

Yes, but it requires altering the table schema.

Can both char and varchar store Unicode characters?

Yes, depending on the database's character set support.

Does varchar save space?

Yes, by using only the necessary space.

Does char always occupy its full defined space?

Yes, regardless of the actual data length.

What happens if data exceeds char's length?

It's truncated or results in an error.

Should I use varchar for unpredictable text?

Yes, it's the best choice for that.

Does the choice between char and varchar affect database size?

Yes, it impacts overall storage utilization.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons