Finding System-Generated Constraint Names

Michael J. Swart has a script which helps you find system-generated constraint names:

Names for constraints are optional meaning that if you don’t provide a name when it’s created or cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you by the system.
These system provided names are messy things and I don’t think I have to discourage you from using them. Kenneth Fisher has already done that in Constraint names, Say NO to the default.

But how do you know whether you have any?

Check out the informative comments as well.

Unique Indexes Versus Unique Constraints

Greg Low argues that you should create unique constraints instead of unique indexes whenever possible:

The CREATE INDEX statement is used to do exactly what its name says, it creates an index. But when you say CREATE UNIQUE INDEX, you are doing more than that; you are enforcing a business rule that involves uniqueness.

I have a simple rule on this. Wherever possible business rules like uniqueness, check values, etc. should be part of the design of the table, and not enforced in an external object like an index.

So, rather than a unique index, I’d rather see a unique constraint on the underlying table.

But that’s where real life steps in. I see two scenarios that lead me to occasionally use CREATE UNIQUE INDEX.

Here’s a third:  creating constraints can cause blocking issues.  If you already have a large table and Enterprise Edition, creating a unique index can be an online operation (unless you have a clustered columnstore index on the table), but a unique constraint is always a blocking activity.

Check Constraints To Block Leading And Trailing Spaces

Louis Davidson shows how to use check constraints to block people from inserting records with leading or trailing spaces:

Then, let’s say the requirements are as follows:

1. No values that are either empty or only spaces
2. No leading spaces
3. No trailing spaces
4. Allow NULL if column allows NULL

Let’s look at how we could implement all of these independently, as there certainly are cases where you may wish to allow any or all of the situations in a column.

Click through for the scripts, as well as a time comparison to see how much overhead you’re adding.

Discovering Composite Keys

John Morehouse shares some good information on composite keys, including a few scripts:

As I started to work on this, my first thought was that it would be helpful to know how many tables had a composite primary key.  This would give me an idea on how many tables I was dealing with.  Thankfully, SQL Server has this information by using system DMVs (dynamic management views) along with the COL_NAME function.

Note: the COL_NAME function will only work with SQL Server 2008 and newer.  

All of this time, I’d never known about COL_NAME.

Cleaning Up Foreign Keys

Adrian Buckman looks at how to clean up untrusted foreign key constraints:

SQL Server tracks untrusted Foreign keys in sys.Foreign keys with a column called is_not_trusted, there may be a number of reasons why a Foreign key may have become untrusted below are a couple of examples:

  • Foreign key was disabled using the ‘NOCHECK’ option then re-enabled using ‘CHECK’ (not to be confused with ‘WITH CHECK’)
  • Foreign key was disabled using the ‘NOCHECK’ option , Primary key data was Deleted and the Foreign key was Enabled only using ‘CHECK’ (Again not to be confused with ‘WITH CHECK’)

So what happens when you try and enable a Foreign key ‘WITH CHECK’ (Check existing data for referential integrity), if the data is consistent then this is going to succeed however if Rows have been deleted and the Primary key data no longer exists but the Foreign key data does for example then this is going to fail miserably.

What I like about this post is that he does more than just saying “hey, here’s how you get the key constraint to be trusted again;” he goes further and shows you how to figure out if it will work beforehand.

Using Regular Expressions In Check Constraints

Denis Gobo shows that SQL Server check constraints support limited regular expression capabilities:

While SQL server does not support a full implementation of regular expression, you can do what the person asked for without a problem in T-SQL. Here is what the regular expression looks like

[DMOPT][0-9][0-9]

A constraint like that will allow allow the following alphabetic characters (D, M, O, P or T) followed by 2 numeric characters. Enough talking let’s look at some code, first create this table

Read on to see how this constraint works and for implementation code.

Renaming Default Constraints

Bill Fellows has a script to standardize default constraint names:

This week I’m dealing with synchronizing tables between environments and it seems that regardless of what tool I’m using for schema compare, it still gets hung up on the differences in default names for constraints. Rather than fight that battle, I figured it’d greatly simplify my life to systematically rename all my constraints to non default names. The naming convention I went with is DF__schema name_table name_column name. I know that my schemas/tables/columns don’t have spaces or “weird” characters in them so this works for me. Use this as your own risk and if you are using pre-2012 the CONCAT call will need to be adjusted to classic string concatenation, a.k.a. +

Click through for the script and be sure to check out Robert’s comment.  You can also revise this script to “rename” (i.e., drop and re-create) foreign key or check constraints, though those might take a while depending upon how much data you’ve got.

Performance Effects Of Constraints

Shane O’Neill discusses how constraints can in some cases improve database performance:

David Morrison ( blog | twitter ) followed up with his presentation on “Query Plan Deep Dives” (I had seen this at SQL Bits, but it’s a great session so I had no problems watching it again) and, as an aside, through his presentation he showed us the compound effects that can happen from not specifying a columns NULLABILITY(it’s got letters so it’s word-like…)

Now his slides and scripts are up on his blog and they do a great job of walking you through them so check them out and you’ll see the compound effects they create!

Shane’s overview of two presentations was interesting, but despite all his rage, he is still just a Nicholas Cage.

Foreign Key Batch Drop And Re-Create

Louis Davidson has a utility to batch drop and re-create foreign key constraints:

I was working on a database a few weeks back (maybe longer, I am kind of busy with several projects right now), and I wanted to truncate a set of tables. There was one central table, and 8 tables related by a FOREIGN KEY constraint. The central table had 6 million rows, and a few of the other tables 20+ million. TRUNCATE is amazingly fast,and when I tried to just use DELETE, it took almost as long as it took me to load the tables. (Exaggeration? A little bit, but not as much as you might imagine, since I use SSIS to BULK LOAD these tables, and the source data is very simple.)

I could just get rid of the constraints, but as a relational db lover, I love constraints. When enforced, they protect me. When not enforced (like when SSIS disables them for a BULK LOAD operation), they are still good documentation. So as any good nerd programmer type would, I started coding a tool to deal with the constraints for me. And as a decent blogger, as soon as it started to get interesting, I realized I could blog about it and upload the code to my website. This in the end makes the code better, because I have to test more, and I learn stuff from readers reminding me things (like a FK script needs to honor CASCADE and NOT FOR REPLICATION, oops.)

Read on for a link to the utility, as well as an example.

Scripting Foreign Key Constraints

Louis Davidson has a process to script out foreign key constraints and includes an example which loads those constraints into a utility table:

As noted in my previous post, I am in the middle of building a utility (for work, and for my next SQLBLOG post), that will help when you need to drop the foreign key constraints on a table, but then replace them without having to save off the script manually. In that post, I showed how to manually create a foreign key constraint in three possible states.

Next, in order to create the utility to script the FOREIGN KEY constraints before dropping them, I need a way to script the constraint. In this post I present a user defined function that will generate a script that does the scripting of a foreign key constraint. The code is largely based on some code from Aaron Bertrand in this blog (with his permission naturally!) with a few edits to script constraints as enabled, disabled or untrusted if the source constraint was in that condition (or you can force the constraints to a certain way if you so desire as well.)

This could be particularly useful for ETL jobs.

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