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Oracle® Database Administrator's Guide
11g Release 2 (11.2)

Part Number E17120-11
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Managing Integrity Constraints

Integrity constraints are rules that restrict the values for one or more columns in a table. Constraint clauses can appear in either CREATE TABLE or ALTER TABLE statements, and identify the column or columns affected by the constraint and identify the conditions of the constraint.

This section discusses the concepts of constraints and identifies the SQL statements used to define and manage integrity constraints. The following topics are contained in this section:

Integrity Constraint States

You can specify that a constraint is enabled (ENABLE) or disabled (DISABLE). If a constraint is enabled, data is checked as it is entered or updated in the database, and data that does not conform to the constraint is prevented from being entered. If a constraint is disabled, then data that does not conform can be allowed to enter the database.

Additionally, you can specify that existing data in the table must conform to the constraint (VALIDATE). Conversely, if you specify NOVALIDATE, you are not ensured that existing data conforms.

An integrity constraint defined on a table can be in one of the following states:

  • ENABLE, VALIDATE

  • ENABLE, NOVALIDATE

  • DISABLE, VALIDATE

  • DISABLE, NOVALIDATE

For details about the meaning of these states and an understanding of their consequences, see the Oracle Database SQL Language Reference. Some of these consequences are discussed here.

Disabling Constraints

To enforce the rules defined by integrity constraints, the constraints should always be enabled. However, consider temporarily disabling the integrity constraints of a table for the following performance reasons:

  • When loading large amounts of data into a table

  • When performing batch operations that make massive changes to a table (for example, changing every employee's number by adding 1000 to the existing number)

  • When importing or exporting one table at a time

In all three cases, temporarily disabling integrity constraints can improve the performance of the operation, especially in data warehouse configurations.

It is possible to enter data that violates a constraint while that constraint is disabled. Thus, you should always enable the constraint after completing any of the operations listed in the preceding bullet list.

Enabling Constraints

While a constraint is enabled, no row violating the constraint can be inserted into the table. However, while the constraint is disabled such a row can be inserted. This row is known as an exception to the constraint. If the constraint is in the enable novalidated state, violations resulting from data entered while the constraint was disabled remain. The rows that violate the constraint must be either updated or deleted in order for the constraint to be put in the validated state.

You can identify exceptions to a specific integrity constraint while attempting to enable the constraint. See "Reporting Constraint Exceptions". All rows violating constraints are noted in an EXCEPTIONS table, which you can examine.

Enable Novalidate Constraint State

When a constraint is in the enable novalidate state, all subsequent statements are checked for conformity to the constraint. However, any existing data in the table is not checked. A table with enable novalidated constraints can contain invalid data, but it is not possible to add new invalid data to it. Enabling constraints in the novalidated state is most useful in data warehouse configurations that are uploading valid OLTP data.

Enabling a constraint does not require validation. Enabling a constraint novalidate is much faster than enabling and validating a constraint. Also, validating a constraint that is already enabled does not require any DML locks during validation (unlike validating a previously disabled constraint). Enforcement guarantees that no violations are introduced during the validation. Hence, enabling without validating enables you to reduce the downtime typically associated with enabling a constraint.

Efficient Use of Integrity Constraints: A Procedure

Using integrity constraint states in the following order can ensure the best benefits:

  1. Disable state.

  2. Perform the operation (load, export, import).

  3. Enable novalidate state.

  4. Enable state.

Some benefits of using constraints in this order are:

  • No locks are held.

  • All constraints can go to enable state concurrently.

  • Constraint enabling is done in parallel.

  • Concurrent activity on table is permitted.

Setting Integrity Constraints Upon Definition

When an integrity constraint is defined in a CREATE TABLE or ALTER TABLE statement, it can be enabled, disabled, or validated or not validated as determined by your specification of the ENABLE/DISABLE clause. If the ENABLE/DISABLE clause is not specified in a constraint definition, the database automatically enables and validates the constraint.

Disabling Constraints Upon Definition

The following CREATE TABLE and ALTER TABLE statements both define and disable integrity constraints:

CREATE TABLE emp (
    empno NUMBER(5) PRIMARY KEY DISABLE,   . . . ;

ALTER TABLE emp
   ADD PRIMARY KEY (empno) DISABLE;

An ALTER TABLE statement that defines and disables an integrity constraint never fails because of rows in the table that violate the integrity constraint. The definition of the constraint is allowed because its rule is not enforced.

Enabling Constraints Upon Definition

The following CREATE TABLE and ALTER TABLE statements both define and enable integrity constraints:

CREATE TABLE emp (
    empno NUMBER(5) CONSTRAINT emp.pk PRIMARY KEY,   . . . ;

ALTER TABLE emp
    ADD CONSTRAINT emp.pk PRIMARY KEY (empno);

An ALTER TABLE statement that defines and attempts to enable an integrity constraint can fail because rows of the table violate the integrity constraint. If this case, the statement is rolled back and the constraint definition is not stored and not enabled.

When you enable a UNIQUE or PRIMARY KEY constraint an associated index is created.

Note:

An efficient procedure for enabling a constraint that can make use of parallelism is described in "Efficient Use of Integrity Constraints: A Procedure".

Modifying, Renaming, or Dropping Existing Integrity Constraints

You can use the ALTER TABLE statement to enable, disable, modify, or drop a constraint. When the database is using a UNIQUE or PRIMARY KEY index to enforce a constraint, and constraints associated with that index are dropped or disabled, the index is dropped, unless you specify otherwise.

While enabled foreign keys reference a PRIMARY or UNIQUE key, you cannot disable or drop the PRIMARY or UNIQUE key constraint or the index.

Disabling Enabled Constraints

The following statements disable integrity constraints. The second statement specifies that the associated indexes are to be kept.

ALTER TABLE dept
    DISABLE CONSTRAINT dname_ukey;

ALTER TABLE dept
    DISABLE PRIMARY KEY KEEP INDEX,
    DISABLE UNIQUE (dname, loc) KEEP INDEX;

The following statements enable novalidate disabled integrity constraints:

ALTER TABLE dept
    ENABLE NOVALIDATE CONSTRAINT dname_ukey;

ALTER TABLE dept
    ENABLE NOVALIDATE PRIMARY KEY,
    ENABLE NOVALIDATE UNIQUE (dname, loc);

The following statements enable or validate disabled integrity constraints:

ALTER TABLE dept
    MODIFY CONSTRAINT dname_key VALIDATE;

ALTER TABLE dept
    MODIFY PRIMARY KEY ENABLE NOVALIDATE;

The following statements enable disabled integrity constraints:

ALTER TABLE dept
    ENABLE CONSTRAINT dname_ukey;

ALTER TABLE dept
    ENABLE PRIMARY KEY,
    ENABLE UNIQUE (dname, loc);

To disable or drop a UNIQUE key or PRIMARY KEY constraint and all dependent FOREIGN KEY constraints in a single step, use the CASCADE option of the DISABLE or DROP clauses. For example, the following statement disables a PRIMARY KEY constraint and any FOREIGN KEY constraints that depend on it:

ALTER TABLE dept
    DISABLE PRIMARY KEY CASCADE;

Renaming Constraints

The ALTER TABLE...RENAME CONSTRAINT statement enables you to rename any currently existing constraint for a table. The new constraint name must not conflict with any existing constraint names for a user.

The following statement renames the dname_ukey constraint for table dept:

ALTER TABLE dept
    RENAME CONSTRAINT dname_ukey TO dname_unikey;

When you rename a constraint, all dependencies on the base table remain valid.

The RENAME CONSTRAINT clause provides a means of renaming system generated constraint names.

Dropping Constraints

You can drop an integrity constraint if the rule that it enforces is no longer true, or if the constraint is no longer needed. You can drop the constraint using the ALTER TABLE statement with one of the following clauses:

  • DROP PRIMARY KEY

  • DROP UNIQUE

  • DROP CONSTRAINT

The following two statements drop integrity constraints. The second statement keeps the index associated with the PRIMARY KEY constraint:

ALTER TABLE dept
    DROP UNIQUE (dname, loc);

ALTER TABLE emp
    DROP PRIMARY KEY KEEP INDEX,
    DROP CONSTRAINT dept_fkey;

If FOREIGN KEYs reference a UNIQUE or PRIMARY KEY, you must include the CASCADE CONSTRAINTS clause in the DROP statement, or you cannot drop the constraint.

Deferring Constraint Checks

When the database checks a constraint, it signals an error if the constraint is not satisfied. You can defer checking the validity of constraints until the end of a transaction.

When you issue the SET CONSTRAINTS statement, the SET CONSTRAINTS mode lasts for the duration of the transaction, or until another SET CONSTRAINTS statement resets the mode.

Notes:

  • You cannot issue a SET CONSTRAINT statement inside a trigger.

  • Deferrable unique and primary keys must use nonunique indexes.

Set All Constraints Deferred

Within the application being used to manipulate the data, you must set all constraints deferred before you actually begin processing any data. Use the following DML statement to set all deferrable constraints deferred:

SET CONSTRAINTS ALL DEFERRED; 

Note:

The SET CONSTRAINTS statement applies only to the current transaction. The defaults specified when you create a constraint remain as long as the constraint exists. The ALTER SESSION SET CONSTRAINTS statement applies for the current session only.

Check the Commit (Optional)

You can check for constraint violations before committing by issuing the SET CONSTRAINTS ALL IMMEDIATE statement just before issuing the COMMIT. If there are any problems with a constraint, this statement fails and the constraint causing the error is identified. If you commit while constraints are violated, the transaction is rolled back and you receive an error message.

Reporting Constraint Exceptions

If exceptions exist when a constraint is validated, an error is returned and the integrity constraint remains novalidated. When a statement is not successfully executed because integrity constraint exceptions exist, the statement is rolled back. If exceptions exist, you cannot validate the constraint until all exceptions to the constraint are either updated or deleted.

To determine which rows violate the integrity constraint, issue the ALTER TABLE statement with the EXCEPTIONS option in the ENABLE clause. The EXCEPTIONS option places the rowid, table owner, table name, and constraint name of all exception rows into a specified table.

You must create an appropriate exceptions report table to accept information from the EXCEPTIONS option of the ENABLE clause before enabling the constraint. You can create an exception table by executing the UTLEXCPT.SQL script or the UTLEXPT1.SQL script.

Note:

Your choice of script to execute for creating the EXCEPTIONS table depends on the type of table you are analyzing. See the Oracle Database SQL Language Reference for more information.

Both of these scripts create a table named EXCEPTIONS. You can create additional exceptions tables with different names by modifying and resubmitting the script.

The following statement attempts to validate the PRIMARY KEY of the dept table, and if exceptions exist, information is inserted into a table named EXCEPTIONS:

ALTER TABLE dept ENABLE PRIMARY KEY EXCEPTIONS INTO EXCEPTIONS;

If duplicate primary key values exist in the dept table and the name of the PRIMARY KEY constraint on dept is sys_c00610, then the following query will display those exceptions:

SELECT * FROM EXCEPTIONS;

The following exceptions are shown:

fROWID               OWNER      TABLE_NAME      CONSTRAINT
------------------  ---------  --------------  -----------
AAAAZ9AABAAABvqAAB  SCOTT      DEPT            SYS_C00610 
AAAAZ9AABAAABvqAAG  SCOTT      DEPT            SYS_C00610 

A more informative query would be to join the rows in an exception report table and the master table to list the actual rows that violate a specific constraint, as shown in the following statement and results:

SELECT deptno, dname, loc FROM dept, EXCEPTIONS
    WHERE EXCEPTIONS.constraint = 'SYS_C00610'
    AND dept.rowid = EXCEPTIONS.row_id;

DEPTNO     DNAME             LOC
---------- --------------    -----------
10         ACCOUNTING        NEW YORK
10         RESEARCH          DALLAS

All rows that violate a constraint must be either updated or deleted from the table containing the constraint. When updating exceptions, you must change the value violating the constraint to a value consistent with the constraint or to a null. After the row in the master table is updated or deleted, the corresponding rows for the exception in the exception report table should be deleted to avoid confusion with later exception reports. The statements that update the master table and the exception report table should be in the same transaction to ensure transaction consistency.

To correct the exceptions in the previous examples, you might issue the following transaction:

UPDATE dept SET deptno = 20 WHERE dname = 'RESEARCH';
DELETE FROM EXCEPTIONS WHERE constraint = 'SYS_C00610';
COMMIT;

When managing exceptions, the goal is to eliminate all exceptions in your exception report table.

Note:

While you are correcting current exceptions for a table with the constraint disabled, it is possible for other users to issue statements creating new exceptions. You can avoid this by marking the constraint ENABLE NOVALIDATE before you start eliminating exceptions.

See Also:

Oracle Database Reference for a description of the EXCEPTIONS table

Viewing Constraint Information

Oracle Database provides the following views that enable you to see constraint definitions on tables and to identify columns that are specified in constraints:

View Description
DBA_CONSTRAINTS

ALL_CONSTRAINTS

USER_CONSTRAINTS

DBA view describes all constraint definitions in the database. ALL view describes constraint definitions accessible to current user. USER view describes constraint definitions owned by the current user.
DBA_CONS_COLUMNS

ALL_CONS_COLUMNS

USER_CONS_COLUMNS

DBA view describes all columns in the database that are specified in constraints. ALL view describes only those columns accessible to current user that are specified in constraints. USER view describes only those columns owned by the current user that are specified in constraints.

See Also:

Oracle Database Reference contains descriptions of the columns in these views