A constraint is a property assigned to a column or the set of columns in a table that prevents certain types of inconsistent data values from being placed in the column(s). Constraints are used to enforce the data integrity. This ensures the accuracy and reliability of the data in the database. The following categories of the data integrity exist:
- Entity Integrity
- Domain Integrity
- Referential integrity
- User-Defined Integrity
Entity Integrity ensures that there are no duplicate rows in a table.
Domain Integrity enforces valid entries for a given column by restricting the type, the format, or the range of possible values.
Referential integrity ensures that rows cannot be deleted, which are used by other records (for example, corresponding data values between tables will be vital).
User-Defined Integrity enforces some specific business rules that do not fall into entity, domain, or referential integrity categories.
Each of these categories of the data integrity can be enforced by the appropriate constraints. Microsoft SQL Server supports the following constraints:
- PRIMARY KEY
- FOREIGN KEY
- NOT NULL
A PRIMARY KEY constraint is a unique identifier for a row within a database table. Every table should have a primary key constraint to uniquely identify each row and only one primary key constraint can be created for each table. The primary key constraints are used to enforce entity integrity.
A UNIQUE constraint enforces the uniqueness of the values in a set of columns, so no duplicate values are entered. The unique key constraints are used to enforce entity integrity as the primary key constraints.
A FOREIGN KEY constraint prevents any actions that would destroy link between tables with the corresponding data values. A foreign key in one table points to a primary key in another table. Foreign keys prevent actions that would leave rows with foreign key values when there are no primary keys with that value. The foreign key constraints are used to enforce referential integrity.
A CHECK constraint is used to limit the values that can be placed in a column. The check constraints are used to enforce domain integrity.
A NOT NULL constraint enforces that the column will not accept null values. The not null constraints are used to enforce domain integrity, as the check constraints.