Importing Structure and Data Using phpMyAdmin

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Mastering phpMyAdmin 3.1 for Effective MySQL Management

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Increase your MySQL productivity and control by discovering the real power of phpMyAdmin 3.1

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by Marc Delisle | March 2009 | Open Source PHP

In this article by Marc Delisle, we will learn how to bring back exported data that we create for backup or transfer purposes. Exported data may also come from authors of other applications, and could contain the whole foundation structure of these applications and some sample data.

The current phpMyAdmin version (3.1) can import files containing MySQL statements (usually having a .sql suffix, but not necessarily so) and CSV files (comma-separated values, although the separator is not necessarily a comma) directly.

The import feature can be accessed from several panels:

  • The Import menu available from the homepage, the Database view, or the Table view
  • The Import files menu offered inside the Query window

A feature was added in version 2.11.0: an import file may contain the DELIMITER keyword. This enables phpMyAdmin to mimic the mysql command-line interpreter. The DELIMITER separator is used to delineate the part of the file containing a stored procedure, as these procedures can themselves contain semicolons.

The default values for the Import interface are defined in $cfg['Import'].

Before examining the actual import dialog, let's discuss some limits issues.

Limits for the transfer

When we import, the source file is usually on our client machine; so, it must travel to the server via HTTP. This transfer takes time and uses resources that may be limited in the web server's PHP configuration.

Instead of using HTTP, we can upload our file to the server using a protocol such as FTP, as described in the Web Server Upload Directories section. This method circumvents the web server's PHP upload limits.

Time limits

First, let's consider the time limit. In config.inc.php, the $cfg['ExecTimeLimit'] configuration directive assigns, by default, a maximum execution time of 300 seconds (five minutes) for any phpMyAdmin script, including the scripts that process data after the file has been uploaded. A value of 0 removes the limit, and in theory, gives us infinite time to complete the import operation. If the PHP server is running in safe mode, modifying $cfg['ExecTimeLimit'] will have no effect. This is because the limits set in php.ini or in user-related web server configuration file (such as .htaccess or virtual host configuration files) take precedence over this parameter.

Of course, the time it effectively takes, depends on two key factors:

  • Web server load
  • MySQL server load

The time taken by the file, as it travels between the client and the server,does not count as execution time because the PHP script starts to execute only once the file has been received on the server. Therefore, the $cfg['ExecTimeLimit'] parameter has an impact only on the time used to process data (like decompression or sending it to the MySQL server).

Other limits

The system administrator can use the php.ini file or the web server's virtual host configuration file to control uploads on the server.

The upload_max_filesize parameter specifies the upper limit or the maximum file size that can be uploaded via HTTP. This one is obvious, but another less obvious parameter is post_max_size. As HTTP uploading is done via the POST method, this parameter may limit our transfers. For more details about the POST method, please refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Http#Request_methods.

The memory_limit parameter is provided to avoid web server child processes from grabbing too much of the server memory—phpMyAdmin also runs as a child process. Thus, the handling of normal file uploads, especially compressed dumps, can be compromised by giving this parameter a small value. Here, no preferred value can be recommended; the value depends on the size of uploaded data. The memory limit can also be tuned via the $cfg['MemoryLimit'] parameter in config.inc.php.

Finally, file uploads must be allowed by setting file_uploads to On. Otherwise, phpMyAdmin won't even show the Location of the textfile dialog. It would be useless to display this dialog, as the connection would be refused later by the PHP component of the web server.

Partial imports

If the file is too big, there are ways in which we can resolve the situation. If we still have access to the original data, we could use phpMyAdmin to generate smaller CSV export files, choosing the Dump n rows starting at record # n dialog. If this were not possible, we will have to use a text editor to split the file into smaller sections. Another possibility is to use the upload directory mechanism, which accesses the directory defined in $cfg['UploadDir']. This feature is explained later in this article.

In recent phpMyAdmin versions, the Partial import feature can also solve this file size problem. By selecting the Allow interrupt… checkbox, the import process will interrupt itself if it detects that it is close to the time limit. We can also specify a number of queries to skip from the start, in case we successfully import a number of rows and wish to continue from that point.

Temporary directory

On some servers, a security feature called open_basedir can be set up in a way that impedes the upload mechanism. In this case, or for any other reason, when uploads are problematic, the $cfg['TempDir'] parameter can be set with the value of a temporary directory. This is probably a subdirectory of phpMyAdmin's main directory, into which the web server is allowed to put the uploaded file.

Importing SQL files

Any file containing MySQL statements can be imported via this mechanism. The dialog is available in the Database view or the Table view, via the Import subpage, or in the Query window.

Mastering phpMyAdmin 3.1 for Effective MySQL Management

There is no relation between the currently selected table (here author) and the actual contents of the SQL file that will be imported. All the contents of the SQL file will be imported, and it is those contents that determine which tables or databases are affected. However, if the imported file does not contain any SQL statements to select a database, all statements in the imported file will be executed on the currently selected database.

Let's try an import exercise. First, we make sure that we have a current SQL export of the book table. This export file must contain the structure and the data. Then we drop the book table—yes, really! We could also simply rename it.

Now it is time to import the file back. We should be on the Import subpage, where we can see the Location of the text file dialog. We just have to hit the Browse button and choose our file.

phpMyAdmin is able to detect which compression method (if any) has been applied to the file. Depending on the phpMyAdmin version, and the extensions that are available in the PHP component of the web server, there is variation in the formats that the program can decompress.

However, to import successfully, phpMyAdmin must be informed of the character set of the file to be imported. The default value is utf8. However, if we know that the import file was created with another character set, we should specify it here.

An SQL compatibility mode selector is available at import time. This mode should be adjusted to match the actual data that we are about to import, according to the type of the server where the data was previously exported.

To start the import, we click Go. The import procedure continues and we receive a message: Import has been successfully finished, 2 queries executed. We can browse our newly-created tables to confirm the success of the import operation.

The file could be imported for testing in a different database or even in a MySQL server.

Importing CSV files

In this section, we will examine how to import CSV files. There are two possible methods—CSV and CSV using LOAD DATA. The first method is implemented internally by phpMyAdmin and is the recommended one for its simplicity. With the second method, phpMyAdmin receives the file to be loaded, and passes it to MySQL. In theory, this method should be faster. However, it has more requirements due to MySQL itself (see the Requirements sub-section of the CSV using LOAD DATA section).

Differences between SQL and CSV formats

There are some differences between these two formats. The CSV file format contains data only, so we must already have an existing table in place. This table does not need to have the same structure as the original table (from which the data comes); the Column names dialog enables us to choose which columns are affected in the target table.

Because the table must exist prior to the import, the CSV import dialog is available only from the Import subpage in the Table view, and not in the Database view.

 

Exporting a test file

Before trying an import, let's generate an author.csv export file from the author table. We use the default values in the CSV export options. We can then Empty the author table—we should avoid dropping this table because we still need the table structure.

CSV

From the author table menu, we select Import and then CSV.

Mastering phpMyAdmin 3.1 for Effective MySQL Management

We can influence the behavior of the import in a number of ways. By default, importing does not modify existing data (based on primary or unique keys). However, the Replace table data with file option instructs phpMyAdmin to use REPLACE statement instead of INSERT statement, so that existing rows are replaced with the imported data.

Using Ignore duplicate rows, INSERT IGNORE statements are generated. These cause MySQL to ignore any duplicate key problems during insertion. A duplicate key from the import file does not replace existing data, and the procedure continues for the next line of CSV data.

We can then specify the character that terminates each field, the character that encloses data, and the character that escapes the enclosing character. Usually this is . For example, for a double quote enclosing character, if the data field contains a double quote, it must be expressed as "some data " some other data".

For Lines terminated by, recent versions of phpMyAdmin offer the auto choice, which should be tried first as it detects the end-of-line character automatically. We can also specify manually which characters terminate the lines. The usual choice is n for UNIX-based systems, rn for DOS or Windows systems, and r for Mac-based system (up to Mac OS 9). If in doubt, we can use a hexadecimal file editor on our client computer (not part of phpMyAdmin) to examine the exact codes.

By default, phpMyAdmin expects a CSV file with the same number of fields and the same field order as the target table. But this can be changed by entering a comma-separated list of column names in Column names, respecting the source file format. For example, let's say our source file contains only the author ID and the author name information:

"1","John Smith"

"2","Maria Sunshine"

We'd have to put id, name in Column names to match the source file.

When we click Go, the import is executed and we get a confirmation. We might also see the actual INSERT queries generated if the total size of the file is not too big.

Import has been successfully finished, 2 queries executed.
INSERT INTO `author` VALUES ('1', 'John Smith', '+01 445 789-1234')
# 1 row(s) affected.

INSERT INTO `author` VALUES ('2', 'Maria Sunshine', '333-3333')
# 1 row(s) affected.
Mastering phpMyAdmin 3.1 for Effective MySQL Management Increase your MySQL productivity and control by discovering the real power of phpMyAdmin 3.1
Published: March 2009
eBook Price: $20.99
Book Price: $34.99
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CSV using LOAD DATA

With this method, phpMyAdmin relies on the server's LOAD DATA INFILE or LOAD DATA LOCAL INFILE mechanisms to do the actual import, instead of processing the data internally. These statements are the fastest way for importing text in MySQL. They cause MySQL to start a read operation either from a file located on the MySQL server (LOAD DATA INFILE) or from another place (LOAD DATA LOCAL INFILE), which in this context, is always the web server's file system. If the MySQL server is located on a computer other than the web server, we won't be able to use the LOAD DATA INFILE mechanism.

Requirements

Relying on the MySQL server has some consequences. Using LOAD DATA INFILE requires that the logged-in user possess a global FILE privilege. Also, the file itself must be readable by the MySQL server's process.

Usage of the LOCAL modifier in LOAD DATA LOCAL INFILE must be allowed by the MySQL server and MySQL's client library used by PHP.

Both the LOAD methods are available from the phpMyAdmin LOAD interface, which tries to choose the best possible default option.

Using the LOAD DATA interface

We select Import from the author table menu. Choosing CSV using LOAD DATA brings up the following dialog:

Mastering phpMyAdmin 3.1 for Effective MySQL Management

The available options have already been covered in the CSV section.

In the familiar Location of the text file question, we choose our author.csv file.

Finally, we can choose the LOAD method, as discussed earlier, by selecting the Use LOCAL keyword option. We then click Go.

If all goes well, we can see the confirmation screen as follows:

Mastering phpMyAdmin 3.1 for Effective MySQL Management

This screen shows the exact LOAD DATA LOCAL INFILE statement used. Here is what has happened:

  • We chose author.csv.
  • The contents of this file were transferred over HTTP and received by the web server.
  • The PHP component inside the web server saved this file in a work directory (here /opt/php-upload-tmp/) and gave it a temporary name.
  • phpMyAdmin informed of the location of this working file, built a LOAD DATA LOCAL INFILE command, and sent it to MySQL. Note that just one query was executed, which loaded many rows.
  • The MySQL server read and loaded the contents of the file into our target table. It then returned the number of affected rows (2), which phpMyAdmin displayed in the results page.

Web server upload directories

To get around cases where uploads are completely disabled by a web server's PHP configuration, or where upload limits are too small, phpMyAdmin can read upload files from a special directory located on the web server's file system. This mechanism is applicable for SQL and CSV imports.

We first specify the directory name of our choice in the $cfg['UploadDir'] parameter, for example, './upload'. We can also use the %u string, to represent the user's name.

Now, let's go back to the Import subpage. We get an error message:

The directory you set for upload work cannot be reached.

This error message is expected, as the directory does not exist. It is supposed to have been created inside the current phpMyAdmin installation directory. The message might also indicate that the directory exists, but can't be read by the web server. (In PHP safe mode, the owner of the directory and the owner of the phpMyAdmin-installed scripts must be the same.)

Using an SFTP or FTP client, we create the necessary directory, and can now upload a file there (for example book.sql) bypassing any PHP timeouts or upload maximum limits. Note that the file itself must have permissions that allow the web server to read it. In most cases, the easiest way is to allow everyone to read the file.

Refreshing the Import subpage brings up the following:

Mastering phpMyAdmin 3.1 for Effective MySQL Management

Clicking Go should execute the file.

Automatic decompression is also available for the files located in the upload directory. The file names should have extensions such as .bz2, .gz, .sql.bz2, or .sql.gz.

Using the double extensions (.sql.bz2) is a better way to indicate that a .sql file was produced and then compressed, as we see all the steps used to generate this file.

Summary

The article provides an overview of the various options available in phpMyAdmin to import data, and different mechanisms involved in importing SQL and CSV files. Finally, it covers the limitations that may be faced while importing files, and the ways to overcome them.

Mastering phpMyAdmin 3.1 for Effective MySQL Management Increase your MySQL productivity and control by discovering the real power of phpMyAdmin 3.1
Published: March 2009
eBook Price: $20.99
Book Price: $34.99
See more
Select your format and quantity:

About the Author :


Marc Delisle

Marc Delisle was awarded "MySQL Community Member of the year 2009" because of his involvement with phpMyAdmin. He started to contribute to the project in December 1998, when he made the multi-language version. He is still involved with phpMyAdmin as a developer and project administrator.

Marc is a system administrator at Cegep de Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada. He has been teaching networking, security, and web application development. In one of his classes, he was pleased to meet a phpMyAdmin user from Argentina. Marc lives in Sherbrooke with his wife and they enjoy spending time with their four children.

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CSV Import by
Nice Buddy This one is really working fine. But what will be the solution if we have to import the CSV file in a normalized database. :) Ankush India

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