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How to change character sets in InnoDB as fast as possible

Hi there,

I am looking for a way to convert about 40GB of InnoDB tables from latin1 character set to utf8. As true conversion will take ages, I had the idea of just changing the character sets (and preferably collation, too) of the tables without actually converting the data. Conversion could be done manually later. From my side it is ok that the data is wrongly encoded in the tables for the time of manual conversion. The goal is to have the tables up and running as soon as possible.

I tried to set the character sets with CHANGE, MODIFY, ALTER, but mysql always seems to convert the tables’ data. I read that character sets will be ignored if you convert to binary character sets, but still changing to this set takes ages.

So my question is: Is there a way of changing an InnoDB table's character set and collation without letting mysql converting the data? What is the fastest way of changing the character sets, regardless of the method?

If converting the data is the only way to go, I thought about converting several tables at the same time, but still this would require a down time of several hours, which is basically unacceptable. Is there no faster way to go? 

Thanks a lot for your ideas!

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