10.4 Foreign Key Differences

MySQL's implementation of foreign keys differs from the SQL standard in the following key respects:

  • If there are several rows in the parent table that have the same referenced key value, InnoDB acts in foreign key checks as if the other parent rows with the same key value do not exist. For example, if you have defined a RESTRICT type constraint, and there is a child row with several parent rows, InnoDB does not permit the deletion of any of those parent rows.

    InnoDB performs cascading operations through a depth-first algorithm, based on records in the indexes corresponding to the foreign key constraints.

  • A FOREIGN KEY constraint that references a non-UNIQUE key is not standard SQL but rather an InnoDB extension.

  • If ON UPDATE CASCADE or ON UPDATE SET NULL recurses to update the same table it has previously updated during the same cascade, it acts like RESTRICT. This means that you cannot use self-referential ON UPDATE CASCADE or ON UPDATE SET NULL operations. This is to prevent infinite loops resulting from cascaded updates. A self-referential ON DELETE SET NULL, on the other hand, is possible, as is a self-referential ON DELETE CASCADE. Cascading operations may not be nested more than 15 levels deep.

  • In an SQL statement that inserts, deletes, or updates many rows, foreign key constraints (like unique constraints) are checked row-by-row. When performing foreign key checks, InnoDB sets shared row-level locks on child or parent records that it must examine. MySQL checks foreign key constraints immediately; the check is not deferred to transaction commit. According to the SQL standard, the default behavior should be deferred checking. That is, constraints are only checked after the entire SQL statement has been processed. This means that it is not possible to delete a row that refers to itself using a foreign key.

For information about how the InnoDB storage engine handles foreign keys, see InnoDB and FOREIGN KEY Constraints.