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Upgrading our systems to code igniter 3.  First we want to roll out the db upgrade to mysql 8 and CI 2 gives an error  Server sent charset unknown to the client.  It seems not to occur in CI 3.   Any idea if its possible to run MySQL 8 in CI 2?

CI2 is no longer maintained therefore if MySQL8 doesn't work with it now it never will (unless you go under the hood and fix it yourself which I don't recommend). I would upgrade to CI3 and move forward from there.