Do yourself a favor today. For a fast, short and easy read of what character sets and collations really means, head over to mysql official documentation (I always like to say that MySQL has the best documentation among database vendors, unlike Oracle and SQL Server)

From MySQL:

Suppose that we have an alphabet with four letters: “A”, “B”, “a”, “b”. We give each letter a number: “A” = 0, “B” = 1, “a” = 2, “b” = 3. The letter “A” is a symbol, the number 0 is the encoding for “A”, and the combination of all four letters and their encodings is a character set.

Suppose that we want to compare two string values, “A” and “B”. The simplest way to do this is to look at the encodings: 0 for “A” and 1 for “B”. Because 0 is less than 1, we say “A” is less than “B”. What we’ve just done is apply a collation to our character set. The collation is a set of rules (only one rule in this case): “compare the encodings.” We call this simplest of all possible collations a binary collation.

But what if we want to say that the lowercase and uppercase letters are equivalent? Then we would have at least two rules: (1) treat the lowercase letters “a” and “b” as equivalent to “A” and “B”; (2) then compare the encodings. We call this a case-insensitive collation. It’s a little more complex than a binary collation.

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