What is Referential Integrity in databases?

By: Peter den Haan Viewed: 153236 times  Printer Friendly Format    


Take the example of the Book database as shown below.

Table

Column

Key

Book

ID

Primary key

Title

Not a key field

Price

Not a key field

Author

ID

Primary key

Author_Name

Not a key field

Contribution

ID

Primary key

Title_ID

Foreign key

Author_ID

Foreign key

What happens when you start manipulating the records in your tables? You can edit the book information at will without any ill effects, but what would happen if you needed to delete a title? The entries in the Contribution table will still link to a nonexistent book. Clearly you can't have a contribution detail without the associated book title being present. So, you must have a means in place to enforce a corresponding book title for each contribution. This is the basis of enforcing referential integrity. You can enforce the validity of the data in this situation in two ways. One is by cascading deletions through the related tables; the other is by preventing deletions when related records exist.

Note 

Referential integrity prevents inconsistent data from being created in the database by ensuring that any data shared between tables remains consistent. To put it another way, it ensures that the soundness of the relationships remains intact.

Database applications have several choices available for enforcing referential integrity, but if possible, you should let the database engine do its job and handle this for you. Database engines allow you to use declarative referential integrity. You specify a relationship between tables at design time, indicating if updates and deletes will cascade through related tables. If cascading updates are enabled, changes to the primary key in a table are propagated through related tables. If cascading deletes are enabled, deletions from a table are propagated through related tables.

Before you go ahead and enable cascading deletes on all your relationships, keep in mind that this can be a dangerous practice. If you define a relationship between the Author table and the Title table with cascading deletes enabled and then delete a record from Author, you'll delete all Title table records that come under this category. Be cautious, or you may accidentally lose important data.



Most Viewed Articles (in JDBC )

Latest Articles (in JDBC)

Comment on this tutorial

Subscribe to Tutorials

Related Tutorials

Archived Comments

1. really superb in simple english with examples. Exp
View Tutorial          By: hariharan at 2009-01-14 22:22:32

2. Good
View Tutorial          By: sirisha at 2009-09-08 23:04:22

3. hey thats a superb way of explaining in plain term
View Tutorial          By: Agastya at 2011-05-08 03:11:53

4. nicely explained tyvm a much appreciated post
View Tutorial          By: dmomo at 2011-10-18 23:27:24

5. Awsome...Example...
View Tutorial          By: sitakanta at 2011-12-05 12:22:03

6. Nice explanation. :) too easy to understand
View Tutorial          By: Sheba at 2012-02-16 05:10:26

7. Nice explanation. :) too easy to understand
View Tutorial          By: Sheba at 2012-02-16 05:11:18

8. i found this very pleasing for both my brain and m
View Tutorial          By: Matthew Redisons at 2012-10-03 14:36:32