Press "Enter" to skip to content

Natural Keys?

Steve Jones wonders if we should give up on natural primary key constraints:

One of the things I think is important in modeling your particular entity is including a primary key (PK). In my DevOps talk I stress this, as I’d rather most attendees come away thinking a PK is important as their first takeaway from the session. There are exceptions, but they are rare, and I would prefer that most tables just have some PK included from the beginning.

A PK ought to be stable as well, and there are plenty of written words about how to pick the PK for your particular problem domain. Often I have received the advice that natural keys are preferred over surrogate keys, and it is worth the effort to try and identify a suitable column (or set of columns) that will guarantee uniqueness. I think that’s good advice, and it’s also advice I tend to ignore.

Read on for Steve’s reasoning.  I tend to use surrogate keys out of habit, though I do prefer to put unique key constraints on natural keys to help me reason through data models.