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PK or not PK

From: John Carlson <>
Date: Wed, 07 May 2003 11:07:01 -0800
Message-ID: <>

I am searching for arguments for NOT having a primary key. All I seem to find are discussions about how to use artificial or surrogate keys but nothing about not needing them at all.

For example, a one to many relationship. Parent table has a primary key but the child table does not have any natural unique key. You create a foreign key with a non-unique index on the child table and that is all you really need. Now, the application queries the parent child relationship and lists rows for a given parent. The user then selects one of the rows and the program needs to select that record for update. This can easily be accomplished with rowid; however, our developers use a tool which ( in an effort to be a generic tool ) cannot handle oracle's rowid and insists on having a primary key on the child table.

My argument is that this is a total waste of resources. It takes overhead to maintain an index and it also consumes disk space and serves no useful purpose. Their argument is that they want their code to be independent of the database so we could switch from oracle to any other database without changing any code. I say that is ridiculous because you always have to 'tune' your code to work efficiently and each one has their own unique requirements. Another argument is that in a true relational database, all tables must have a primary key. I don't know anyone who has a 'true' relational database just like you are supposed to use third normal form. But, in order to help queries be more efficient, we often back off to second normal form. It just isn't realistic or practical in the real world to conform to all the 'rules'.

Can anyone help me out or am I fighting a loosing battle?

John Carlson
Santa Barbara, CA. USA

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Author: John Carlson

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