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The ALTER TABLE statement conflicted with the FOREIGN KEY constraint

  • Dec 03 / 2013
  • 0
Constraints and Keys, Data Modeling and Database Design, dbDigger, DDL, SQL Server Error messages

The ALTER TABLE statement conflicted with the FOREIGN KEY constraint

Today i was working to create foreign keys on few tables. Some of ADD CONSTRAINT statements got failed by generating the following error message.

The ALTER TABLE statement conflicted with the FOREIGN KEY constraint “%”. The conflict occurred in database “%”, table “%”, column ‘%’.

If we look closely at the descriptive message it points to the same foreign key constraint that we are just trying to create. Reason is that while creating the constraint SQL Server is trying to validate the existing data based on new constraint. There are some records with no reference in their base primary key table. Such records are cause of error here.

SOLUTION

we have couple of options. If you want to make sure that no such orphaned records be there in subject table you may just detect and delete them. Then ADD CONSTRAINT statement will work without any error. However deleting the data will hardly be a suitable option. Alternate is to use the ADD CONSTRAINT statement with NOCHECK option. It will make sure that existing data is not validated for constraint at time of creation.

WITH CHECK | WITH NOCHECK

Here is some informative text on these options from BOL.

Specifies whether the data in the table is or is not validated against a newly added or re-enabled FOREIGN KEY or CHECK constraint. If not specified, WITH CHECK is assumed for new constraints, and WITH NOCHECK is assumed for re-enabled constraints.
If you do not want to verify new CHECK or FOREIGN KEY constraints against existing data, use WITH NOCHECK. Any constraint violations that are suppressed by WITH NOCHECK when the constraint is added may cause future updates to fail if they update rows with data that does not comply with the constraint.

QUERY OPTIMIZER BEHAVIOR

The query optimizer does not consider constraints that are defined WITH NOCHECK. Such constraints are ignored until they are re-enabled by using ALTER TABLE table WITH CHECK CHECK CONSTRAINT ALL.

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