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Enforcing Referential Integrity with Constraints

About Nulls and Foreign Keys

Foreign keys allow key values that are all NULL, even if there are no matching

PRIMARY or UNIQUE keys.

By default (without any NOT NULL or CHECK clauses), the FOREIGN KEY constraint enforces the "match none" rule for composite foreign keys in the ANSI/ISO standard.

To enforce the match full rule for NULL values in composite foreign keys, which requires that all components of the key be NULL or all be non-NULL, define a CHECK constraint that allows only all nulls or all non-nulls in the composite foreign key. For example, with a composite key comprised of columns A, B, and

C:

CHECK ((A IS NULL AND B IS NULL AND C IS NULL) OR

(A IS NOT NULL AND B IS NOT NULL AND C IS NOT NULL))

In general, it is not possible to use declarative referential integrity to enforce the match partial rule for NULL values in composite foreign keys, which requires the non-NULL portions of the key to appear in the corresponding portions in the primary or unique key of a single row in the referenced table. You can often use triggers to handle this case, as described in Chapter 9, "Using Triggers".

Defining Relationships Between Parent and Child Tables

Several relationships between parent and child tables can be determined by the other types of integrity constraints defined on the foreign key in the child table.

No Constraints on the Foreign Key When no other constraints are defined on the foreign key, any number of rows in the child table can reference the same parent key value. This model allows nulls in the foreign key.

This model establishes a one-to-many relationship between the parent and foreign keys that allows undetermined values (nulls) in the foreign key. An example of such a relationship is shown in Figure 4–3 on page 8 between the employee and department tables. Each department (parent key) has many employees (foreign key), and some employees might not be in a department (nulls in the foreign key).

NOT NULL Constraint on the Foreign Key When nulls are not allowed in a foreign key, each row in the child table must explicitly reference a value in the parent key because nulls are not allowed in the foreign key.

3-10 Oracle Database Application Developer's Guide - Fundamentals

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