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8.4: Establish referential integrity using SQL

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    Referential integrity is the accuracy and consistency of data in a relationship. Referential integrity is a subset of data integrity, which is concerned with the accuracy and consistency of data as whole in a database. When relationships occur, data is linked between two or more tables. A primary key is the key or specific column in a parent table, and a foreign key is the key in a child table that references the primary key. Referential integrity requires that a foreign key references a primary key (Ian, 2016). 

    The tables below will show how referential integrity works within a database management system: 

    Screenshot 2023-04-01 at 3.06.28 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Parent / Child Tables. (Copyright; author via source)

    As you can see in the tables above, Employee is the parent table and Department is the child table. The primary key is the Employee ID and is referenced in the child table, therefore making it a foreign key in this table. The relationship is denoted by a curved line connecting the columns in the two different tables. As a result of this relationship a user will be prevented from: 

    • Adding information in the child table if the same information is not also in the parent table 
    • Changing data in the primary table that result in parentless keys in the child table (orphaned) 
    • Deleting records from the parent table if they exist in the child table 

    A lack of Referential integrity can result in records being lost and/or inaccurate or confusing. This can have serious and negative effects for entities that make use of database systems (Ian, 2016). 

    To ensure or establish referential integrity within SQL (Microsoft SQL Servers), it is necessary to establish variables (columns) as a primary key when creating tables. After creating the child table, expand the database in project explorer and look at “table.” After finding the table tree, expand it and right click on “keys.” After right clicking, it will provide options, one of them being a “new foreign key.” Click “new foreign key” and expand “Tables and columns specification.” After expanding, click on the 3 dots on the right side of the box. This will allow the user to enter a primary or parent able for foreign keys along with the specific column. After doing this, the tables will be linked to one another. The user will only be able to perform tasks that are within the constraints of referential integrity. 


    8.4: Establish referential integrity using SQL is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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