How do I disable ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY in MySQL?


In this extensive guide, we will walk you through the step-by-step process of disabling the “ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY” SQL mode in MySQL. This mode, while enforcing strict SQL standards, can sometimes lead to unexpected results when querying data. By the end of this tutorial, you will have a clear understanding of how to disable ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY, its implications, and when it is appropriate to do so.

Before we proceed, make sure you have the following prerequisites:

  • A MySQL database server installed and running.
  • Administrative privileges or access to modify the MySQL server’s configuration.
  • A basic understanding of SQL queries and MySQL concepts.

With these prerequisites in place, let’s delve into the topic.

  1. What is ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY?

“ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY” is one of the SQL modes in MySQL that enforces strict SQL standards when using the GROUP BY clause in queries. According to SQL standards, when you use GROUP BY, each column in your SELECT statement should either be an aggregated column (e.g., using functions like SUM(), COUNT(), or AVG()) or appear in the GROUP BY clause.

In simpler terms, this means that if you query a table with GROUP BY, you should only select columns that are part of the grouping or are being aggregated. Any attempt to select columns that don’t meet these criteria will result in an error, preventing potentially ambiguous or unintended query results.

  1. Why Disable ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY?

While enforcing strict SQL standards is generally a good practice, there are situations where disabling ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY can be beneficial:

a. Legacy Code Compatibility: If you’re working with legacy applications or code that relies on non-standard behavior, disabling this mode can ensure your queries continue to function as expected.

b. Query Simplification: Some queries can become overly complex when adhering to ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY, requiring extensive modification. Disabling it can simplify query construction.

c. Performance Optimization: In certain cases, disabling ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY may improve query performance by allowing the database engine to optimize queries more effectively.

d. Migration Flexibility: When migrating from other database systems to MySQL, disabling this mode temporarily can ease the transition by accommodating queries that might not adhere strictly to MySQL’s standards.

  1. Checking the Current SQL Mode:

Before you decide to disable ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY, it’s essential to understand your MySQL server’s current SQL mode configuration. To do this, follow these steps:

Step 1: Log into MySQL

Open a terminal or command prompt and log into your MySQL server using the following command, replacing <username> and <password> with your MySQL credentials:

mysql -u <username> -p

You will be prompted to enter your password.

Step 2: Check the Current SQL Mode

Once you’re logged in, run the following SQL query to view the current SQL mode:

SELECT @@sql_mode;

This query will display a list of enabled SQL modes. Make a note of the existing modes; you may want to revert to them later if necessary.

  1. Modifying SQL Mode Temporarily:

Disabling ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY temporarily can be done within an active MySQL session. Keep in mind that this change will apply only for the duration of that session and will not persist after MySQL server restarts. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Log into MySQL

Log into your MySQL server as described in the previous section.

Step 2: Disable ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY

To temporarily disable ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY, use the following SQL query:

SET sql_mode = 'modes_to_enable';

Replace 'modes_to_enable' with the desired SQL modes you want to enable, excluding ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY. For example, if you want to enable modes like ‘STRICT_TRANS_TABLES’ and ‘NO_ENGINE_SUBSTITUTION,’ your query would look like this:


This change will take effect immediately but will not persist beyond the current session.

  1. Modifying SQL Mode Permanently:

If you want to disable ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY permanently, you can modify the MySQL server’s configuration file. This change will apply every time the server starts. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Locate the MySQL Configuration File

The MySQL configuration file is typically named my.cnf or my.ini and is located in different places depending on your operating system. You can use the following command to find the location of the configuration file:

mysql --help | grep "Default options"

This command will display a line like “Default options are read from the following files,” followed by the file paths. Make a note of the paths.

Step 2: Edit the Configuration File

Open the MySQL configuration file using a text editor with administrative privileges. For example, you can use the “nano” text editor:

sudo nano /path/to/your/mysql/config/file

Replace /path/to/your/mysql/config/file with the actual path to your MySQL configuration file.

Step 3: Modify the SQL Mode

Within the configuration file, locate the [mysqld] section (if it doesn’t exist, create it), and add the following line to disable ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY:

sql_mode = "modes_to_enable"

Replace "modes_to_enable" with the desired SQL modes you want to enable, excluding ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY. For example:


Step 4: Save and Exit

Save your changes in the text editor (in “nano,” press Ctrl + O, then press Enter). Exit the text editor (in “nano,” press Ctrl + X).

Step 5: Restart MySQL

Restart the MySQL server to apply the changes:

sudo systemctl restart mysql

Your MySQL server will now start with the modified SQL mode, and ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY will be disabled permanently.

  1. Common Pitfalls:

When modifying the SQL mode, especially when disabling ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY, be aware of potential pitfalls:

a. Compatibility: Disabling ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY may cause queries that rely on non-standard behavior to produce different results or errors. Carefully review and test your existing queries.

b. Security: Disabling SQL modes can potentially introduce security risks if not done thoughtfully. Ensure that your changes do not compromise data integrity or open security vulnerabilities.

c. Version Compatibility: SQL mode options and behavior may vary between MySQL versions. Be aware of any version-specific considerations when modifying SQL modes.

d. Backup: Before making any permanent changes, ensure you have a backup of your MySQL data in case something goes wrong during the modification process.

  1. Conclusion:

In this comprehensive guide, we have walked you through the process of disabling the “ONLY_FULL_GROUP_BY” SQL mode in MySQL. While enforcing strict SQL standards is generally advisable, there are situations where temporarily or permanently disabling this mode can be beneficial. Remember to carefully review your queries

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