Different Types of SQL Keys

Shailendra Chauhan  Print   3 min read  
27 Jan 2011
13 Mar 2019
Beginner
491K

A key is a single or combination of multiple fields in a table. It is used to fetch or retrieve records/data-rows from data table according to the condition/requirement. Keys are also used to create a relationship among different database tables or views.

Types of SQL Keys

We have following types of keys in SQL which are used to fetch records from tables and to make relationship among tables or views.

  1. Super Key

    Super key is a set of one or more than one keys that can be used to identify a record uniquely in a table. Example: Primary key, Unique key, Alternate key are a subset of Super Keys.

  2. Candidate Key

    A Candidate Key is a set of one or more fields/columns that can identify a record uniquely in a table. There can be multiple Candidate Keys in one table. Each Candidate Key can work as Primary Key.

    Example: In the below diagram ID, RollNo and EnrollNo are Candidate Keys since all these three fields can be work as Primary Key.

  3. Primary Key

    Primary key is a set of one or more fields/columns of a table that uniquely identify a record in a database table. It can not accept null, duplicate values. Only one Candidate Key can be Primary Key.

  4. Alternate key

    An Alternate key is a key that can be work as a primary key. Basically, it is a candidate key that currently is not a primary key.

    Example: In the below diagram RollNo and EnrollNo become Alternate Keys when we define ID as Primary Key.

  5. Composite/Compound Key

    Composite Key is a combination of more than one fields/columns of a table. It can be a Candidate key, Primary key.

  6. Unique Key

    A unique key is a set of one or more fields/columns of a table that uniquely identify a record in a database table. It is like Primary key but it can accept only one null value and it can not have duplicate values. For more help refer to the article Difference between primary key and unique key.

  7. Foreign Key

    Foreign Key is a field in a database table that is Primary key in another table. It can accept multiple null, duplicate values. For more help refer to the article Difference between primary key and foreign key.

    Example: We can have a DeptID column in the Employee table which is pointing to a DeptID column in a department table where it a primary key.

Defining Keys in SQL Server

--Department Table
 CREATE TABLE Department 
(
 DeptID int PRIMARY KEY, --primary key
 Name varchar (50) NOT NULL,
 Address varchar (200) NOT NULL
 ) 
--Student Table
CREATE TABLE Student 
(
 ID int PRIMARY KEY, --primary key
 RollNo varchar(10) NOT NULL,
 Name varchar(50) NOT NULL,
 EnrollNo varchar(50) UNIQUE, --unique key
 Address varchar(200) NOT NULL,
 DeptID int FOREIGN KEY REFERENCES Department(DeptID) --foreign key
) 

Important Note

Practically in the database, we have only three types of keys Primary Key, Unique Key and Foreign Key. Other types of keys are only concepts of RDBMS which you should know.

Read More Articles Related to SQL Server
What do you think?

In this article, I try to explain the types of keys in SQL Server with an example. I hope after reading this article you will be aware of keys in SQL Server. I would like to have feedback from my blog readers. Please post your feedback, question, or comments about this article.

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