So I have a table that has a little over 5 million rows. When I use SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS the query just hangs forever. When I take it out the query executes within a second withe LIMIT ,25. My question is for pagination reasons is there an alternative to getting the number of total rows?
SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS forces MySQL to scan for ALL matching rows, even if they'd never get fetched. Internally it amounts to the same query being executed without the LIMIT clause.
If the filtering you're doing via WHERE isn't too crazy, you could calculate and cache various types of filters to save the full-scan load imposed by calc_found_rows. Basically run a "select count(*) from ... where ...." for most possible where clauses.
Otherwise, you could go Google-style and just spit out some page numbers that occasionally have no relation whatsoever with reality (You know, you see "Goooooooooooogle", get to page 3, and suddenly run out of results).
Detailed talk about implementing Google-style pagination using MySQL
You should choose between COUNT(*) AND SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS depending on situation. If your query search criteria uses rows that are in index - use COUNT(*). In this case Mysql will "read" from indexes only without touching actual data in the table while SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS method will load rows from disk what can be expensive and time consuming on massive tables.
More information on this topic in this article @mysqlperformanceblog.