FOREIGN KEY Constraints

InnoDB supports foreign key constraints. The syntax for a foreign key constraint definition in InnoDB looks like this:

    [index_name] (index_col_name, ...)
    REFERENCES tbl_name (index_col_name,...)
    [ON DELETE reference_option]
    [ON UPDATE reference_option]


index_name represents a foreign key ID. If given, this is ignored if an index for the foreign key is defined explicitly. Otherwise, if InnoDB creates an index for the foreign key, it uses index_name for the index name.

Foreign keys definitions are subject to the following conditions:

  • Both tables must be InnoDB tables and they must not be TEMPORARY tables.

  • Corresponding columns in the foreign key and the referenced key must have similar internal data types inside InnoDB so that they can be compared without a type conversion. The size and sign of integer types must be the same. The length of string types need not be the same. For nonbinary (character) string columns, the character set and collation must be the same.

  • InnoDB requires indexes on foreign keys and referenced keys so that foreign key checks can be fast and not require a table scan. In the referencing table, there must be an index where the foreign key columns are listed as the first columns in the same order. Such an index is created on the referencing table automatically if it does not exist. (This is in contrast to some older versions, in which indexes had to be created explicitly or the creation of foreign key constraints would fail.) index_name, if given, is used as described previously.

  • InnoDB permits a foreign key to reference any index column or group of columns. However, in the referenced table, there must be an index where the referenced columns are listed as the first columns in the same order.

  • Index prefixes on foreign key columns are not supported. One consequence of this is that BLOB and TEXT columns cannot be included in a foreign key because indexes on those columns must always include a prefix length.

  • If the CONSTRAINT symbol clause is given, the symbol value must be unique in the database. If the clause is not given, InnoDB creates the name automatically.

InnoDB rejects any INSERT or UPDATE operation that attempts to create a foreign key value in a child table if there is no a matching candidate key value in the parent table. When an UPDATE or DELETE operation affects a key value in the parent table that has matching rows in the child table, the result depends on the referential action specified using ON UPDATE and ON DELETE subclauses of the FOREIGN KEY clause. InnoDB supports five options regarding the action to be taken. If ON DELETE or ON UPDATE are not specified, the default action is RESTRICT.

  • CASCADE: Delete or update the row from the parent table, and automatically delete or update the matching rows in the child table. Both ON DELETE CASCADE and ON UPDATE CASCADE are supported. Between two tables, do not define several ON UPDATE CASCADE clauses that act on the same column in the parent table or in the child table.


    Currently, cascaded foreign key actions do not activate triggers.

  • SET NULL: Delete or update the row from the parent table, and set the foreign key column or columns in the child table to NULL. Both ON DELETE SET NULL and ON UPDATE SET NULL clauses are supported.

    If you specify a SET NULL action, make sure that you have not declared the columns in the child table as NOT NULL.

  • RESTRICT: Rejects the delete or update operation for the parent table. Specifying RESTRICT (or NO ACTION) is the same as omitting the ON DELETE or ON UPDATE clause.

  • NO ACTION: A keyword from standard SQL. In MySQL, equivalent to RESTRICT. InnoDB rejects the delete or update operation for the parent table if there is a related foreign key value in the referenced table. Some database systems have deferred checks, and NO ACTION is a deferred check. In MySQL, foreign key constraints are checked immediately, so NO ACTION is the same as RESTRICT.

  • SET DEFAULT: This action is recognized by the parser, but InnoDB rejects table definitions containing ON DELETE SET DEFAULT or ON UPDATE SET DEFAULT clauses.

InnoDB supports foreign key references within a table. In these cases, “child table records” really refers to dependent records within the same table.

Examples of Foreign Key Clauses

Here is a simple example that relates parent and child tables through a single-column foreign key:

                     PRIMARY KEY (id)
CREATE TABLE child (id INT, parent_id INT,
                    INDEX par_ind (parent_id),
                    FOREIGN KEY (parent_id) REFERENCES parent(id)
                      ON DELETE CASCADE

A more complex example in which a product_order table has foreign keys for two other tables. One foreign key references a two-column index in the product table. The other references a single-column index in the customer table:

                      price DECIMAL,
                      PRIMARY KEY(category, id)) ENGINE=INNODB;
                       PRIMARY KEY (id)) ENGINE=INNODB;
                            product_category INT NOT NULL,
                            product_id INT NOT NULL,
                            customer_id INT NOT NULL,
                            PRIMARY KEY(no),
                            INDEX (product_category, product_id),
                            FOREIGN KEY (product_category, product_id)
                              REFERENCES product(category, id)
                              ON UPDATE CASCADE ON DELETE RESTRICT,
                            INDEX (customer_id),
                            FOREIGN KEY (customer_id)
                              REFERENCES customer(id)) ENGINE=INNODB;

InnoDB enables you to add a new foreign key constraint to a table by using ALTER TABLE:

ALTER TABLE tbl_name
    [index_name] (index_col_name, ...)
    REFERENCES tbl_name (index_col_name,...)
    [ON DELETE reference_option]
    [ON UPDATE reference_option]

The foreign key can be self referential (referring to the same table). When you add a foreign key constraint to a table using ALTER TABLE, remember to create the required indexes first.

Foreign Keys and ALTER TABLE

InnoDB supports the use of ALTER TABLE to drop foreign keys:

ALTER TABLE tbl_name DROP FOREIGN KEY fk_symbol;

If the FOREIGN KEY clause included a CONSTRAINT name when you created the foreign key, you can refer to that name to drop the foreign key. Otherwise, the fk_symbol value is internally generated by InnoDB when the foreign key is created. To find out the symbol value when you want to drop a foreign key, use the SHOW CREATE TABLE statement. For example:

mysql> SHOW CREATE TABLE ibtest11c\G
*************************** 1. row ***************************
       Table: ibtest11c
Create Table: CREATE TABLE `ibtest11c` (
  `A` int(11) NOT NULL auto_increment,
  `D` int(11) NOT NULL default '0',
  `B` varchar(200) NOT NULL default '',
  `C` varchar(175) default NULL,
  PRIMARY KEY  (`A`,`D`,`B`),
  KEY `B` (`B`,`C`),
  KEY `C` (`C`),
  CONSTRAINT `0_38775` FOREIGN KEY (`A`, `D`)
REFERENCES `ibtest11a` (`A`, `D`)
  CONSTRAINT `0_38776` FOREIGN KEY (`B`, `C`)
REFERENCES `ibtest11a` (`B`, `C`)
1 row in set (0.01 sec)

mysql> ALTER TABLE ibtest11c DROP FOREIGN KEY `0_38775`;

You cannot add a foreign key and drop a foreign key in separate clauses of a single ALTER TABLE statement. Separate statements are required.

If ALTER TABLE for an InnoDB table results in changes to column values (for example, because a column is truncated), InnoDB's FOREIGN KEY constraint checks do not notice possible violations caused by changing the values.

How Foreign Keys Work with Other MySQL Command

The InnoDB parser permits table and column identifiers in a FOREIGN KEY ... REFERENCES ... clause to be quoted within backticks. (Alternatively, double quotation marks can be used if the ANSI_QUOTES SQL mode is enabled.) The InnoDB parser also takes into account the setting of the lower_case_table_names system variable.

InnoDB returns a table's foreign key definitions as part of the output of the SHOW CREATE TABLE statement:


mysqldump also produces correct definitions of tables in the dump file, and does not forget about the foreign keys.

To make it easier to reload dump files for tables that have foreign key relationships, mysqldump automatically includes a statement in the dump output to set foreign_key_checks to 0. This avoids problems with tables having to be reloaded in a particular order when the dump is reloaded. It is also possible to set this variable manually:

mysql> SET foreign_key_checks = 0;
mysql> SOURCE dump_file_name;
mysql> SET foreign_key_checks = 1;

This enables you to import the tables in any order if the dump file contains tables that are not correctly ordered for foreign keys. It also speeds up the import operation. Setting foreign_key_checks to 0 can also be useful for ignoring foreign key constraints during LOAD DATA and ALTER TABLE operations. However, even if foreign_key_checks = 0, InnoDB does not permit the creation of a foreign key constraint where a column references a nonmatching column type. Also, if an InnoDB table has foreign key constraints, ALTER TABLE cannot be used to change the table to use another storage engine. To alter the storage engine, drop any foreign key constraints first.

InnoDB does not permit you to drop a table that is referenced by a FOREIGN KEY constraint, unless you do SET foreign_key_checks = 0. When you drop a table, the constraints that were defined in its create statement are also dropped.

If you re-create a table that was dropped, it must have a definition that conforms to the foreign key constraints referencing it. It must have the right column names and types, and it must have indexes on the referenced keys, as stated earlier. If these are not satisfied, MySQL returns error number 1005 and refers to error 150 in the error message.

If MySQL reports an error number 1005 from a CREATE TABLE statement, and the error message refers to error 150, table creation failed because a foreign key constraint was not correctly formed. Similarly, if an ALTER TABLE fails and it refers to error 150, that means a foreign key definition would be incorrectly formed for the altered table. You can use SHOW ENGINE INNODB STATUS to display a detailed explanation of the most recent InnoDB foreign key error in the server.


For users familiar with the ANSI/ISO SQL Standard, please note that no storage engine, including InnoDB, recognizes or enforces the MATCH clause used in referential-integrity constraint definitions. Use of an explicit MATCH clause will not have the specified effect, and also causes ON DELETE and ON UPDATE clauses to be ignored. For these reasons, specifying MATCH should be avoided.

The MATCH clause in the SQL standard controls how NULL values in a composite (multiple-column) foreign key are handled when comparing to a primary key. InnoDB essentially implements the semantics defined by MATCH SIMPLE, which permit a foreign key to be all or partially NULL. In that case, the (child table) row containing such a foreign key is permitted to be inserted, and does not match any row in the referenced (parent) table. It is possible to implement other semantics using triggers.

Additionally, MySQL and InnoDB require that the referenced columns be indexed for performance. However, the system does not enforce a requirement that the referenced columns be UNIQUE or be declared NOT NULL. The handling of foreign key references to nonunique keys or keys that contain NULL values is not well defined for operations such as UPDATE or DELETE CASCADE. You are advised to use foreign keys that reference only UNIQUE and NOT NULL keys.

Furthermore, InnoDB does not recognize or support “inline REFERENCES specifications” (as defined in the SQL standard) where the references are defined as part of the column specification. InnoDB accepts REFERENCES clauses only when specified as part of a separate FOREIGN KEY specification. For other storage engines, MySQL Server parses and ignores foreign key specifications.

Deviation from SQL standards: If there are several rows in the parent table that have the same referenced key value, InnoDB acts in foreign key checks as if the other parent rows with the same key value do not exist. For example, if you have defined a RESTRICT type constraint, and there is a child row with several parent rows, InnoDB does not permit the deletion of any of those parent rows.

InnoDB performs cascading operations through a depth-first algorithm, based on records in the indexes corresponding to the foreign key constraints.

Deviation from SQL standards: A FOREIGN KEY constraint that references a non-UNIQUE key is not standard SQL. It is an InnoDB extension to standard SQL.

Deviation from SQL standards: If ON UPDATE CASCADE or ON UPDATE SET NULL recurses to update the same table it has previously updated during the cascade, it acts like RESTRICT. This means that you cannot use self-referential ON UPDATE CASCADE or ON UPDATE SET NULL operations. This is to prevent infinite loops resulting from cascaded updates. A self-referential ON DELETE SET NULL, on the other hand, is possible, as is a self-referential ON DELETE CASCADE. Cascading operations may not be nested more than 15 levels deep.

Deviation from SQL standards: Like MySQL in general, in an SQL statement that inserts, deletes, or updates many rows, InnoDB checks UNIQUE and FOREIGN KEY constraints row-by-row. When performing foreign key checks, InnoDB sets shared row-level locks on child or parent records it has to look at. InnoDB checks foreign key constraints immediately; the check is not deferred to transaction commit. According to the SQL standard, the default behavior should be deferred checking. That is, constraints are only checked after the entire SQL statement has been processed. Until InnoDB implements deferred constraint checking, some things will be impossible, such as deleting a record that refers to itself using a foreign key.

Copyright © 2010-2023 Platon Technologies, s.r.o.           Home | Man pages | tLDP | Documents | Utilities | About
Design by styleshout