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3.6.6 Using Foreign Keys

In MySQL, InnoDB tables support checking of foreign key constraints. See Section 14.2, “The InnoDB Storage Engine”, and Section 1.8.2.4, “Foreign Key Differences”.

A foreign key constraint is not required merely to join two tables. For storage engines other than InnoDB, it is possible when defining a column to use a REFERENCES tbl_name(col_name) clause, which has no actual effect, and serves only as a memo or comment to you that the column which you are currently defining is intended to refer to a column in another table. It is extremely important to realize when using this syntax that:

You can use a column so created as a join column, as shown here:

CREATE TABLE person (
    id SMALLINT UNSIGNED NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
    name CHAR(60) NOT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY (id)
);

CREATE TABLE shirt (
    id SMALLINT UNSIGNED NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
    style ENUM('t-shirt', 'polo', 'dress') NOT NULL,
    color ENUM('red', 'blue', 'orange', 'white', 'black') NOT NULL,
    owner SMALLINT UNSIGNED NOT NULL REFERENCES person(id),
    PRIMARY KEY (id)
);

INSERT INTO person VALUES (NULL, 'Antonio Paz');

SELECT @last := LAST_INSERT_ID();

INSERT INTO shirt VALUES
(NULL, 'polo', 'blue', @last),
(NULL, 'dress', 'white', @last),
(NULL, 't-shirt', 'blue', @last);

INSERT INTO person VALUES (NULL, 'Lilliana Angelovska');

SELECT @last := LAST_INSERT_ID();

INSERT INTO shirt VALUES
(NULL, 'dress', 'orange', @last),
(NULL, 'polo', 'red', @last),
(NULL, 'dress', 'blue', @last),
(NULL, 't-shirt', 'white', @last);

SELECT * FROM person;
+----+---------------------+
| id | name                |
+----+---------------------+
|  1 | Antonio Paz         |
|  2 | Lilliana Angelovska |
+----+---------------------+

SELECT * FROM shirt;
+----+---------+--------+-------+
| id | style   | color  | owner |
+----+---------+--------+-------+
|  1 | polo    | blue   |     1 |
|  2 | dress   | white  |     1 |
|  3 | t-shirt | blue   |     1 |
|  4 | dress   | orange |     2 |
|  5 | polo    | red    |     2 |
|  6 | dress   | blue   |     2 |
|  7 | t-shirt | white  |     2 |
+----+---------+--------+-------+


SELECT s.* FROM person p INNER JOIN shirt s
   ON s.owner = p.id
 WHERE p.name LIKE 'Lilliana%'
   AND s.color <> 'white';

+----+-------+--------+-------+
| id | style | color  | owner |
+----+-------+--------+-------+
|  4 | dress | orange |     2 |
|  5 | polo  | red    |     2 |
|  6 | dress | blue   |     2 |
+----+-------+--------+-------+

When used in this fashion, the REFERENCES clause is not displayed in the output of SHOW CREATE TABLE or DESCRIBE:

SHOW CREATE TABLE shirt\G
*************************** 1. row ***************************
Table: shirt
Create Table: CREATE TABLE `shirt` (
`id` smallint(5) unsigned NOT NULL auto_increment,
`style` enum('t-shirt','polo','dress') NOT NULL,
`color` enum('red','blue','orange','white','black') NOT NULL,
`owner` smallint(5) unsigned NOT NULL,
PRIMARY KEY  (`id`)
) ENGINE=MyISAM DEFAULT CHARSET=latin1

The use of REFERENCES in this way as a comment or reminder in a column definition works with both MyISAM and BerkeleyDB tables.