database – Whats the difference between identifying and non-identifying relationships?

database – Whats the difference between identifying and non-identifying relationships?

  • An identifying relationship is when the existence of a row in a child table depends on a row in a parent table. This may be confusing because its common practice these days to create a pseudokey for a child table, but not make the foreign key to the parent part of the childs primary key. Formally, the right way to do this is to make the foreign key part of the childs primary key. But the logical relationship is that the child cannot exist without the parent.

    Example: A Person has one or more phone numbers. If they had just one phone number, we could simply store it in a column of Person. Since we want to support multiple phone numbers, we make a second table PhoneNumbers, whose primary key includes the person_id referencing the Person table.

    We may think of the phone number(s) as belonging to a person, even though they are modeled as attributes of a separate table. This is a strong clue that this is an identifying relationship (even if we dont literally include person_id in the primary key of PhoneNumbers).

  • A non-identifying relationship is when the primary key attributes of the parent must not become primary key attributes of the child. A good example of this is a lookup table, such as a foreign key on Person.state referencing the primary key of States.state. Person is a child table with respect to States. But a row in Person is not identified by its state attribute. I.e. state is not part of the primary key of Person.

    A non-identifying relationship can be optional or mandatory, which means the foreign key column allows NULL or disallows NULL, respectively.

See also my answer to Still Confused About Identifying vs. Non-Identifying Relationships

There is another explanation from the real world:

A book belongs to an owner, and an owner can own multiple books. But, the book can exist also without the owner, and ownership of it can change from one owner to another. The relationship between a book and an owner is a non-identifying relationship.

A book, however, is written by an author, and the author could have written multiple books. But, the book needs to be written by an author – it cannot exist without an author. Therefore, the relationship between the book and the author is an identifying relationship.

database – Whats the difference between identifying and non-identifying relationships?

Bills answer is correct,
but it is shocking to see that among all the other answers no one points out the most significant aspect.

It has been said over and over again, that in an identifying relationship the child can not exist without the parent. (e.g. user287724). This is true, but completely misses the point. It would be enough for the foreign key to be non-null to achieve this. It does not need to be part of the primary key.

So here is the real reason:

The purpose of an identifying relationship is that the foreign key can NEVER CHANGE, because it is part of the primary key… therefore identifying!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.