bender bender - 2 months ago 22
MySQL Question

Can table columns with a foreign key be null?

For example, I have a table which has several ID columns to other tables. I want a foreign key to force integrity only if I do put data in there. If I do an update at a later time to populate that column then it will still check the constraint (this is likely database server dependant, i'm using MySQL & InnoDB table type). I believe this is a reasonable expectation, but correct me if I am wrong.

Answer Source

Yes, you can enforce the constraint only when the value is not NULL. This can be easily tested with the following example:

CREATE DATABASE t;
USE t;

CREATE TABLE parent (id INT NULL,
                     PRIMARY KEY (id)
) ENGINE=INNODB;

CREATE TABLE child (id INT NULL, 
                    parent_id INT NULL,
                    FOREIGN KEY (parent_id) REFERENCES parent(id)
) ENGINE=INNODB;


INSERT INTO child (id, parent_id) VALUES (1, NULL);
-- Query OK, 1 row affected (0.01 sec)


INSERT INTO child (id, parent_id) VALUES (2, 1);

-- ERROR 1452 (23000): Cannot add or update a child row: a foreign key 
-- constraint fails (`t/child`, CONSTRAINT `child_ibfk_1` FOREIGN KEY
-- (`parent_id`) REFERENCES `parent` (`id`))

The first insert will pass because we insert a NULL in the parent_id. The second insert fails because of the foreign key constraint, since we tried to insert a value that does not exist in the parent table.