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5.13. Dependency Tracking

When you create complex database structures involving many tables with foreign key constraints, views, triggers, functions, etc. you implicitly create a net of dependencies between the objects. For instance, a table with a foreign key constraint depends on the table it references.

To ensure the integrity of the entire database structure, PostgreSQL makes sure that you cannot drop objects that other objects still depend on. For example, attempting to drop the products table we considered in Section 5.3.5, with the orders table depending on it, would result in an error message like this:

DROP TABLE products;

ERROR:  cannot drop table products because other objects depend on it
DETAIL:  constraint orders_product_no_fkey on table orders depends on table products
HINT:  Use DROP ... CASCADE to drop the dependent objects too.

The error message contains a useful hint: if you do not want to bother deleting all the dependent objects individually, you can run:


and all the dependent objects will be removed, as will any objects that depend on them, recursively. In this case, it doesn't remove the orders table, it only removes the foreign key constraint. It stops there because nothing depends on the foreign key constraint. (If you want to check what DROP ... CASCADE will do, run DROP without CASCADE and read the DETAIL output.)

Almost all DROP commands in PostgreSQL support specifying CASCADE. Of course, the nature of the possible dependencies varies with the type of the object. You can also write RESTRICT instead of CASCADE to get the default behavior, which is to prevent dropping objects that any other objects depend on.

Note: According to the SQL standard, specifying either RESTRICT or CASCADE is required in a DROP command. No database system actually enforces that rule, but whether the default behavior is RESTRICT or CASCADE varies across systems.

If a DROP command lists multiple objects, CASCADE is only required when there are dependencies outside the specified group. For example, when saying DROP TABLE tab1, tab2 the existence of a foreign key referencing tab1 from tab2 would not mean that CASCADE is needed to succeed.

For user-defined functions, PostgreSQL tracks dependencies associated with a function's externally-visible properties, such as its argument and result types, but not dependencies that could only be known by examining the function body. As an example, consider this situation:

CREATE TYPE rainbow AS ENUM ('red', 'orange', 'yellow',
                             'green', 'blue', 'purple');

CREATE TABLE my_colors (color rainbow, note text);

CREATE FUNCTION get_color_note (rainbow) RETURNS text AS
  'SELECT note FROM my_colors WHERE color = $1'

(See Section 36.4 for an explanation of SQL-language functions.) PostgreSQL will be aware that the get_color_note function depends on the rainbow type: dropping the type would force dropping the function, because its argument type would no longer be defined. But PostgreSQL will not consider get_color_note to depend on the my_colors table, and so will not drop the function if the table is dropped. While there are disadvantages to this approach, there are also benefits. The function is still valid in some sense if the table is missing, though executing it would cause an error; creating a new table of the same name would allow the function to work again.

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