#database #development #laravel #mysql #php #sql

When it comes to building robust and efficient web applications, a well-structured database is crucial. Laravel simplifies database management with its elegant Object-Relational Mapping (ORM) tool called Eloquent. In this blog post, we'll delve into an advanced database optimization technique: using indexes on virtual columns in MySQL, combined with Laravel Eloquent.

Understanding virtual columns

Virtual columns, also known as generated columns, are columns in a database table that don't physically store data but instead derive their values from other columns or expressions. These columns are computed on-the-fly when queried, providing a convenient way to manipulate and transform data without altering the actual table structure.

In MySQL, you can create virtual columns using expressions, such as mathematical calculations or string manipulations, and then index these columns for improved query performance.

Benefits of virtual column indexing

Indexing virtual columns can offer several advantages:

  • Faster Query Performance: Indexes on virtual columns allow MySQL to quickly locate the relevant rows, reducing the time needed to retrieve data.

  • Simplified Data Transformation: Virtual columns enable you to perform complex data transformations within the database, reducing the need for application-level data manipulation.

Using virtual columns in laravel eloquent

Let's walk through the steps to use virtual columns and indexes in Laravel Eloquent:

Define a virtual column in a migration

To create a virtual column, you need to define it in a Laravel migration using the storedAs method. For example, let's create a virtual column that calculates the total price based on the quantity and unit price:

 1public function up()
 3    Schema::create('products', function (Blueprint $table) {
 4        $table->id();
 5        $table->string('name');
 6        $table->decimal('unit_price', 8, 2);
 7        $table->integer('quantity');
 8        $table->decimal('total_price', 8, 2)
 9            ->storedAs('unit_price * quantity') // Define the virtual column
10            ->index(); // Index the virtual column
11        $table->timestamps();
12    });

Use the virtual column in eloquent models

Once you've defined the virtual column, you can use it in your Eloquent models like any other column. Laravel Eloquent will handle the virtual column seamlessly:

1class Product extends Model
3    protected $fillable = ['name', 'unit_price', 'quantity'];
5    // You can access the virtual column as if it were a regular one
6    protected $appends = ['total_price'];

Now, you can access the total_price virtual column on your Product model instances as if it's a standard attribute:

1$product = Product::find(1);
2echo $product->total_price; // Access the virtual column

Benefit from indexing

By adding the ->index() method when defining the virtual column in your migration, you've instructed MySQL to create an index on it. This index will significantly improve query performance when filtering, sorting, or searching for records based on the virtual column.

virtualAs vs storedAs

In Laravel Eloquent, both storedAs and virtualAs are methods used to work with virtual columns, but they serve slightly different purposes. Let's explore the differences between these two methods.

The storedAs method is used to define a virtual column in a database table, and it specifies how the virtual column's values are calculated and stored within the table. Here are the key characteristics of storedAs:

  • Stored Value: When you use storedAs, the calculated value for the virtual column is physically stored in the database table. This means that the result of the expression or formula you provide in storedAs is computed when a record is inserted or updated, and the result is saved in the table.

  • Indexing: You can index virtual columns created with storedAs. Indexing can significantly improve query performance when filtering or searching based on the virtual column.

  • Data Integrity: Since the value is stored in the table, it's subject to data integrity constraints. If the formula involves other columns, changes to those columns will trigger updates to the virtual column.


1$table->decimal('total_price', 8, 2)
2    ->storedAs('unit_price * quantity')
3    ->index();

In this example, the total_price column is a virtual column, and its value is calculated as the product of unit_price and quantity. The result is stored in the total_price column in the table, and an index is created on it.

On the other hand, the virtualAs method is used to define a virtual column without physically storing its values in the table. Here are the key characteristics of virtualAs:

  • Computed On-the-Fly: When you use virtualAs, the virtual column's value is computed on-the-fly whenever you query the database. It's not physically stored in the table.

  • No Indexing: Since there's no physical storage, you can't create an index directly on a column defined with virtualAs. This can result in slower query performance when filtering or sorting by the virtual column.

  • Data Integrity: There are no data integrity constraints associated with virtualAs because no data is stored. Changes to other columns won't affect the virtual column since it's always calculated dynamically.


1$table->virtualAs('unit_price * quantity', 'total_price');

In this example, the total_price column is also a virtual column, but its value is calculated on-the-fly using the provided expression whenever you access it in a query. No physical storage or indexing is involved.

In summary, the choice between storedAs and virtualAs depends on your specific use case. If you need to frequently query and filter by the virtual column while maintaining data integrity, storedAs with indexing is a good option. If you only need the calculated value occasionally and don't require data storage or indexing, virtualAs is more appropriate.


Leveraging virtual columns with indexing in MySQL, coupled with Laravel Eloquent, can greatly enhance the efficiency and maintainability of your database-driven web applications. By offloading complex calculations to the database engine and optimizing queries with indexes, you'll be well on your way to building high-performance applications that scale with ease.

So, next time you're working on a Laravel project and need to perform calculations on your data, consider using virtual columns and indexing to boost your application's database performance. Your users will thank you for the snappy response times, and your database will appreciate the reduced workload.