For an attribute set up as a dropdown, is that supposed to be an int or a varchar?

I'm fixing a catalog of products that someone else imported, and I'm seeing a size attribute set up as a dropdown as an int type (backend column in eav_attributes), but the integer values are stored in the catalog_product_entity_varchar table. So, the simple products think they have no sizes assigned.

Furthermore, I thought if the varchar EAV table had dropdown values, it stored it as a string, not an integer that points to the EAV table. I've seen a dropdown attribute stored its values in the ..._varchar table as actual strings values and not a number that refered back to the eav attriute table because it was created as a varchar during an extension installation.

So, my questions are..

  1. A dropdown attribute gets a backend type of int if created in the admin, but if you create an attribute via an extension, you can install this column as a varchar. Does it really matter if a dropdown attribute is an int or a varchar type?

  2. Regarding the catalog that I'm fixing, I'm not quite sure what the original developer did. He didn't use a text file to import the products; from the scripts I have that were used in the product import, he programmatically saved the products with data he had (i.e. via $product->save()). But how did this dropdown attribute get created as an int backend but ended up in the catalog_product_entity_varchar table with numerical strings that point to eav_attribute_option. I did verified these "varchar" values point to actual entries in eav_attribute_option.

  3. IF the dropdown attribute was setup as a varchar backend type, how does Magento know to refer to the EAV options with the numerical varchar values instead of just assigning the attribute value as "1" or "2" (as in size 1, 2, etc. instead of Small, Medium, etc.)? I'm assuming this is because it was set up as a dropdown, but just wanted to check.

3 Answers 3


Let's take them one by one.

  1. You should use the int values for consistency. But (as you saw) it works with varchar also. I have a hunch it works with text too.

  2. "how did this dropdown attribute get created as an int backend but ended up in the catalog_product_entity_varchar". That's a complete mystery. Only the original developer can tell you that (maybe not even him). But I can tell you how is possible to reference the eav_attribute_option table. It's because the attribute options do not care about the type of the attribute. If the attribute has a source_model it calls getAllOptions from that source model and matches the value set on the product with what it finds in the result of getAllOptions.

  3. I think the answer to number 2 will answer number 3 also. In addition is because PHP is a loose type programming language and 3 == "3" evaluates to true.


In addition to Marius' answer, - I'm not 100% sure about this - I think if you programmatically create a dropdown attribute as type varchar and add options, but later you save the attribute through the admin (Catalog -> Attributes -> Manage Attributes), it changes the type from varchar to int. That way you end up with an attribute with type int, but with it's values actually stored in the catalog_product_entity_varchar table.

A weird side effect of this is that some things continue to work normally, but once you do addAttributeToFilter, it won't give you any results any more.

edit: I just tested this and it's like I described above. If you save an attribute with input as select through the admin area, it will change the type to int, even if it was varchar before. For some reason all labels/options still work, but filtering stops working because it's looking in the wrong table for values.

  • Interesting. I feel this like a bug in Magento. Oct 13, 2016 at 10:15

I encountered the same problem with a custom import module. The attributes were created with dropdown and backend type 'varchar'. The products were setup fine in backend but would not show up on frontend categories.

It only worked when we redid the import, with attributes having backend type 'int'. Now the products show up fine, and attribute values show up in the '_int' table.

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