I copied the following here for my convenience. Original source: https://www.taogenjia.com/2020/06/08/mysql-explain/

The type Column

The MySQL manual says this column shows the “join type”, but it’s more accurate to say the access type. In other words, how MySQL has decided to find rows in the table. Here are the most important access methods, from worst to best:

  • ALL. This means a table scan. MySQL must scan through the table from beginning to end to find the row. (There are exceptions, such as queries with LIMIT or queries that display “Using distinct/not exist” in the Extra column.)
  • index. This means an index scan. The main advantage is that this avoids sorting. The biggest disadvantage is the cost of reading an entire table in index order. This usually means accessing the rows in random order, which is very expensive. If you also see “Using index” in the Extra column, it means MySQL is using a covering index. This is much less expensive than scanning the table in index order.
  • range. A range scan is a limited index scan. It begins at some point in the index and returns rows that match a range of values. This is better than a full index scan because it doesn’t go through the entire index. Obvious range scans are queries with a BETWEEN or > in the WHERE clause.
  • ref. This is an index access (or index lookup) that returns rows that match a single value. The ref_or_null access type is a variation on ref. It means MySQL must do a second lookup to find NULL entries after doing the initial lookup.
  • eq_ref. This is an index lookup that MySQL knows will return at most a single value. You will see this access method when MySQL decides to use a primary key or unique index to satisfy the query by comparing it to some reference value.
  • const, system. MySQL uses these access types when it can optimize away some part of the query and turn it into a constant. The table has at most one matching row, which is read at the start of the query. For example, if you select a row’s primary key by placing it primary key into then where clause. e.g SELECT * FROM <table_name> WHERE <primary_key_column>=1;
  • NULL. This access method means MySQL can resolve the query during the optimization phase and will not even access the table or index during the execution stage. For example, selecting the minimum value from an indexed column can be done by looking at the index alone and requires no table access during execution.
MySQL Explain Type Column