How is a query executed in MySQL?

This post is for the testers who have some basic idea about MySQL database. I want to put up few things I came across when I dove deeper into MySQL. Here’s a brief overview of the order in which a query is executed inside a MySQL server.

When you execute a SQL query, the order in which the SQL directives get executed is:

  • FROM clause
  • WHERE clause
  • GROUP BY clause
  • HAVING clause
  • SELECT clause
  • ORDER BY clause

However, HAVING and GROUP BY clauses can come after SELECT depending on the order it is specified in the query.

How are queries executed at the back-end by the database engine? Let’s take an example for each of the clauses and understand the sequence.

SELECT * FROM order_details WHERE category = 'produce';

The first clause which gets executed is the FROM clause, which is used to list the tables and any joins required for the query. It is through this clause we can narrow down possible record set sizes. The above query is straight forward without any joins.

Let’s take another example with JOIN in the query

SELECT order_details.order_id, customers.customer_name
FROM customers
INNER JOIN order_details
ON customers.customer_id = order_details.customer_id;

In the above query, JOIN condition is evaluated in the first step. The order of JOIN operation is determined dynamically by the query optimizer when it constructs its query plan. The ON condition is the criteria for deciding which rows to join from each table. The result of the FROM clause is a temporary result (like a temporary table), consisting of combined rows which satisfy all the join conditions. In the above example, MySQL would return all rows from the customers and order_details tables where there is a matching customer_id value in both the customers and order_details tables.

Next, comes the WHERE clause. If you don’t specify the WHERE clause in the statement the optimizer retrieves all the rows from the temporary result. In a query with a WHERE clause, each row in the temporary result is evaluated according to the WHERE conditions, and either discarded or retained.

Next, comes the GROUP BY clause, which is an optional part of the SELECT statement. If there’s a GROUP BY clause, the temporary result is now split into groups, one group for every combination of values in the columns in the GROUP BY clause. When you perform GROUP BY on table it will retrieve the first row in that group. The below GROUP BY example uses the COUNT function to return the product and the number of orders (for that product) that are in the produce category.

SELECT product, COUNT(*) AS "Number of orders" 
FROM order_details 
WHERE category = 'produce'
GROUP BY product;

Now comes the HAVING clause. The HAVING clause enables you to specify conditions that filter which group results appear in the final results. It operates once on each group, and all rows from groups which do not satisfy the HAVING clause are eliminated. In the below query, after having assembled an entire temporary result table, the optimizer will filter the results so that only products with more than 20 orders will be returned. After the HAVING clause has filtered the groups, a new temporary result set is produced, and in this new temporary result, there is only one row per group.

SELECT product, COUNT(*) AS "Number of orders"
FROM order_details
WHERE category = 'produce'
GROUP BY product

The MySQL HAVING clause is used in combination with the GROUP BY clause to restrict the groups of returned rows to only those whose the condition is TRUE.

Next, comes the SELECT clause. From the rows of the new temporary result produced by the GROUP BY and HAVING clauses, the SELECT now assembles the columns it needs.

Finally, the last step is the ORDER BY clause. The ORDER BY clause is used to sort the records in the result set. In queries with both a GROUP BY and ORDER BY clause, you can reference columns in the ORDER BY only if they are in the new temporary result produced by the grouping process, i.e. columns in the GROUP BY or aggregate functions.

SELECT * FROM (SELECT product, COUNT(*) AS "Number of orders"
FROM order_details
WHERE supplier_name = 'Microsoft'
GROUP BY product)
AS temp_table ORDER BY supplier_city DESC;

In the above example, GROUP BY will be executed first and then ORDER BY Clause. Using non-aggregate columns in a SELECT with a GROUP BY clause is non-standard. MySQL will generally return the values of the first row it finds and discards the rest. Any ORDER BY clauses will only apply to the returned column value, not to the discarded ones.

That’s all folks! Query execution is not that complicated. MySQL simply follows its plan, fetching rows from each table in order and joining based on the relevant columns. Along the way, it may need to create a temporary table to store the results. Once all the rows are available, it sends them to the client.

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Indira Nellutla

I am an engineer with about 10 years of experience in software development and testing. Prior to joining Qxf2, I worked with reputed companies like Dell and Infosys. They helped me gain good experience in the manufacturing and healthcare domains. My QA career started at Dell. I got exposure to various testing tools, processes and methodologies, got an opportunity to work on various platforms like JMS Hermes, SOAP UI, data integration, queues, etc. I chose Qxf2 because it allowed remote working. My interests are vegetable gardening using organic methods, listening to music and reading books.


  1. Anonymous said:


    November 24, 2018
  2. shaoibb hassan said:

    thanks you have explained very well

    December 24, 2018
  3. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for the explain. It helps a lot.

    April 6, 2019
  4. Anonymous said:

    Thank you

    April 22, 2019
  5. Max said:

    Hi, thanks you have explained very well. Very useful!! Do you know any book where these topics are explained in detail?

    June 19, 2019
    • Nilaya Indurkar Nilaya Indurkar said:


      Not sure about book. But referred to MySQ documentation only.


      June 20, 2019
  6. mohammad ismail said:

    very helpful indira maam.

    January 30, 2020
  7. mohammad ismail said:


    January 30, 2020

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