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The PRIMARY KEY constraint specifies that the constrained columns' values must uniquely identify each row.

Unlike other constraints which have very specific uses, the PRIMARY KEY constraint must be used for every table because it provides an intrinsic structure to the table's data.

A table's primary key should be explicitly defined in the CREATE TABLE statement. Tables can only have one primary key.

Note:

A table's primary key can only be specified in the CREATE TABLE statement. It cannot be changed later using ALTER TABLE, though it is possible to go through a process to create a new table with the new primary key you want and then migrate the data.

Syntax

PRIMARY KEY constraints can be defined at the table level. However, if you only want the constraint to apply to a single column, it can be applied at the column level.

Column level

CREATE TABLE table_name ( column_name column_type PRIMARY KEY column_constraints , column_def table_constraints ) )
Parameter Description
table_name The name of the table you're creating.
column_name The name of the Primary Key column.
column_type The Primary Key column's data type.
column_constraints Any other column-level constraints you want to apply to this column.
column_def Definitions for any other columns in the table.
table_constraints Any table-level constraints you want to apply.

Example

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> CREATE TABLE orders (
    order_id        UUID PRIMARY KEY DEFAULT gen_random_uuid(),
    order_date      TIMESTAMP NOT NULL,
    order_mode      STRING(8),
    customer_id     INT,
    order_status    INT
  );

Table level

CREATE TABLE table_name ( column_def , CONSTRAINT name PRIMARY KEY ( column_name , ) table_constraints )
Parameter Description
table_name The name of the table you're creating.
column_def Definitions for any other columns in the table.
name The name you want to use for the constraint, which must be unique to its table and follow these identifier rules.
column_name The name of the column you want to use as the PRIMARY KEY.

The order in which you list columns here affects the structure of the primary index.
table_constraints Any other table-level constraints you want to apply.

Example

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> CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS inventories (
    product_id        INT,
    warehouse_id      INT,
    quantity_on_hand  INT NOT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY (product_id, warehouse_id)
  );

Details

The columns in the PRIMARY KEY constraint are used to create its primary index, which CockroachDB uses by default to access the table's data. This index does not take up additional disk space (unlike secondary indexes, which do) because CockroachDB uses the primary index to structure the table's data in the key-value layer. For more information, see our blog post SQL in CockroachDB: Mapping Table Data to Key-Value Storage.

To ensure each row has a unique identifier, the PRIMARY KEY constraint combines the properties of both the UNIQUE and NOT NULL constraints. The properties of both constraints are necessary to make sure each row's primary key columns contain distinct sets of values. The properties of the UNIQUE constraint ensure that each value is distinct from all other values. However, because NULL values never equal other NULL values, the UNIQUE constraint is not enough (two rows can appear the same if one of the values is NULL). To prevent the appearance of duplicated values, the PRIMARY KEY constraint also enforces the properties of the NOT NULL constraint.

Performance considerations

When defining a primary key constraint, it's important to consider:

  • How the data in the primary key column(s) is distributed across a cluster.

    Non-uniform data distributions can lead to hotspots on a single range, or cause transaction contention.

  • The data type of the primary key column(s).

    A primary key column's data type can determine where its row data is stored on a cluster. For example, some data types are sequential in nature (e.g., TIMESTAMP). Defining primary keys on columns of sequential data can result in data being concentrated in a smaller number of ranges, which can negatively affect performance.

For optimal performance, we recommend that you do the following:

  • Define a primary key for every table.

    If you create a table without defining a primary key, CockroachDB will automatically create a primary key over a hidden, INT-typed column named rowid. By default, sequential, unique identifiers are generated for each row in the rowid column with the unique_rowid() function. The sequential nature of the rowid values can lead to a poor distribution of the data across a cluster, which can negatively affect performance. Furthermore, because you cannot meaningfully use the rowid column to filter table data, the primary key index on rowid does not offer any performance optimization. This means you will always have improved performance by defining a primary key for a table. For more information, see our blog post Index Selection in CockroachDB.

  • Define primary key constraints over multiple columns (i.e., use composite primary keys).

    When defining composite primary keys, make sure the data in the first column of the primary key prefix is well-distributed across the nodes in the cluster. To improve the performance of ordered queries, you can add monotonically increasing primary key columns after the first column of the primary key prefix. For an example, see Use multi-column primary keys on the SQL Performance Best Practices page.

  • For single-column primary keys, use UUID-typed columns with randomly-generated default values.

    Randomly generating UUID values ensures that the primary key values will be unique and well-distributed across a cluster.

  • Avoid defining primary keys over a single column of sequential data.

    Querying a table with a primary key on a single sequential column (e.g., an auto-incrementing INT column) can result in single-range hotspots that negatively affect performance. Instead, use a composite key with a non-sequential prefix, or use a UUID-typed column.

Example

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> CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS inventories (
    product_id        INT,
    warehouse_id      INT,
    quantity_on_hand  INT NOT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY (product_id, warehouse_id)
  );
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> INSERT INTO inventories VALUES (1, 1, 100);
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> INSERT INTO inventories VALUES (1, 1, 200);
pq: duplicate key value (product_id,warehouse_id)=(1,1) violates unique constraint "primary"
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> INSERT INTO inventories VALUES (1, NULL, 100);
pq: null value in column "warehouse_id" violates not-null constraint

See also



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