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3.3. Foreign Keys

Recall the weather and cities tables from Chapter 2. Consider the following problem: You want to make sure that no one can insert rows in the weather table that do not have a matching entry in the cities table. This is called maintaining the referential integrity of your data. In simplistic database systems this would be implemented (if at all) by first looking at the cities table to check if a matching record exists, and then inserting or rejecting the new weather records. This approach has a number of problems and is very inconvenient, so PostgreSQL can do this for you.

The new declaration of the tables would look like this:

CREATE TABLE cities (
        city            varchar(80) primary key,
        location        point
);

CREATE TABLE weather (
        city            varchar(80) references cities,
        temp_lo         int,
        temp_hi         int,
        prcp            real,
        date            date
);

Now try inserting an invalid record:

INSERT INTO weather VALUES ('Berkeley', 45, 53, 0.0, '1994-11-28');
ERROR:  <unnamed> referential integrity violation - key referenced from weather not found in cities

The behavior of foreign keys can be finely tuned to your application. We will not go beyond this simple example in this tutorial, but just refer you to the Reference Manual for more information. Making correct use of foreign keys will definitely improve the quality of your database applications, so you are strongly encouraged to learn about them.

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