Syntax Differences between MariaDB and SQL Server

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This article is meant to show a non-exhaustive list of syntax differences between MariaDB and SQL Server, and it's written for SQL Server users that are unfamiliar with MariaDB.

Compatibility Features

Some features are meant to improve syntax and semantics compatibility between MariaDB versions, between MariaDB and MySQL, and between MariaDB and other DBMSs. This section focuses on the compatibility between MariaDB and SQL Server.

sql_mode and old_mode

The SQL semantics and syntax, in MariaDB, are affected by the sql_mode variable. Its value is a comma-separated list of flags, and each of them if specified affects a different aspects of the SQL syntax and semantics.

A particularly important flag for users familiar with SQL Server is MSSQL.

sql_mode can be changed locally, in which case it only affects the current session; or globally, in which case it will affect all new connections (but not the connections already established). sql_mode must be assigned a comma-separated list of flags.

A usage example:

# check the current global and local sql_mode values
SELECT @@global.sql_mode;
SELECT @@session.sql_mode;
# empty sql_mode for all usaers
SET GLOBAL sql_mode = '';
# add MSSQL flag to the sql_mode for the current session
SET SESSION sql_mode = CONCAT(sql_mode, ',MSSQL');

old_mode is very similar to sql_mode, but its purpose is to provide compatibility with older MariaDB versions. Its flags shouldn't affect the compatibility with SQL Server (though it is theoretically possible that some of them do, as a side effect).

Executable Comments

MariaDB supports executable comments. These are designed to write generic queries that are only executed by MariaDB, and optionally only certain versions.

The following examples show how to insert SQL code that will be ignored by SQL Server but executed by MariaDB, or some of its versions.

  • Executed by MariaDB and MySQL:
SELECT * FROM tab /*! FORCE INDEX (idx_a) */ WHERE a = 1 OR b = 2;
  • Executed by MariaDB only:
SELECT * /*!M , @in_transaction */ FROM tab;
  • Executed by MariaDB starting from version 10.0.5:
DELETE FROM user WHERE id = 100 /*!M100005 RETURNING email */;

Generic Syntax

Here we discuss some differences between MariaDB and SQL Server syntax that may affect any user, as well as some hints to make queries compatible with a reasonable amount of work.


In MariaDB, most names have a maximum length of 64 characters. When migrating an SQL Server database to MariaDB, check if some names exceed this limit (SQL Server maximum length is 128).

By default, MariaDB names are case-sensitive if the operating system has case-sensitive file names (Linux), and case-insensitive if the operating system is case-insensitive (Windows). SQL Server is case-insensitive by default on all operating systems.

When migrating an SQL Server database to MariaDB on Linux, to avoid problems you may want to set the lower_case_table_names system variable to 1, making table names, database names and aliases case-insensitive.

Names can be quoted inside backtick characters (`). This character can be used in names, in which case it should be doubled. By default this is the only way to quote names.

To also enable the use of double quotes ("), modify sql_mode adding the ANSI_QUOTES flag. This is the equivalent of setting QUOTED_IDENTIFIER ON in SQL Server.

To also enable the use of SQL Server style quotes ([ and ]), modify sql_mode adding the MSSQL flag.

Quoting Strings

In SQL Server, by default strings can only be quoted with single-quotes ('), and to use a double quote in a string it should be doubled (''). This also works by default in MariaDB.

SQL Server also allows to use double quotes (") to quote strings. This works by default in MariaDB, but as mentioned before it won't work if sql_mode contains the ANSI_QUOTES flag.


The default semantics of NULL in SQL Server and MariaDB is the same, by default.

However, SQL Server allows to change it globally with SET ANSI_NULLS OFF, or at database level with ALTER DATABASE.

There is no way to achieve exactly the same result in MariaDB. To perform NULL-safe comparisons in MariaDB, one should replace the = operator with the <=> operator.

Data Definition Language

Here we discuss some DDL differences that database administrators will want to be aware of.


Most DDL statements, including ALTER TABLE, support the following syntax:

  • DROP IF EXISTS: A warning (not an error) is produced if the object does not exist.
  • OR REPLACE: If the object exists, it is dropped and recreated; otherwise it is created. This operation is atomic, so in no point in time the object does not exist.
  • CREATE IF NOT EXISTS: If the object already exists, a warning (not an error) is produced. The object will not be replaced.

These statements are functionally similar (but less verbose) than SQL Server snippets similar to the following:

IF NOT EXISTS (SELECT name FROM sysobjects WHERE name = 'my_table' AND xtype = 'U')
    CREATE TABLE my_table (

SHOW Statements

MariaDB supports SHOW statements to quickly list all objects of a certain type (tables, views, triggers...). Most SHOW statements support a LIKE clause to filter data. For example, to list the tables in the current database whose name begins with 'wp_':


This is the equivalent of this query, which would work on both MariaDB and SQL Server:


SHOW CREATE Statements

In general, for each CREATE statement MariaDB also supports a SHOW CREATE statement. For example there is a SHOW CREATE TABLE that returns the CREATE TABLE statement that can be used to recreate a table.

Though SQL Server has no way to show the DDL statement to recreate an object, SHOW CREATE statements are functionally similar to sp_helptext().

See Also


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