What is the difference between a primary key and a surrogate key?
A primary key is a special constraint on a column or set of columns. A primary key constraint ensures that the column(s) so designated have no NULL values, and that every value is unique. Physically, a primary key is implemented by the database system using a unique index, and all the columns in the primary key must have been declared NOT NULL. A table may have only one primary key, but it may be composite (consist of more than one column).
A surrogate key is any column or set of columns that can be declared as the primary key instead of a "real" or natural key. Sometimes there can be several natural keys that could be declared as the primary key, and these are all called candidate keys. So a surrogate is a candidate key. A table could actually have more than one surrogate key, although this would be unusual. The most common type of surrogate key is an incrementing integer, such as an auto_increment column in MySQL, or a sequence in Oracle, or an identity column in SQL Server.
Related Q&A from Rudy Limeback
Read SQL expert Rudy Limeback's advice for counting combinations in a table with SQL's GROUP BY clausecontinue reading
Read an example of an SQL case expression from our SQL expert Rudy Limeback.continue reading
Read about the Mimer Validator, a tool used to verify your SQL code, in this tip from SQL expert Rudy Limeback.continue reading
Have a question for an expert?
Please add a title for your question
Get answers from a TechTarget expert on whatever's puzzling you.