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Auto-suggesting foreign keys and data model archaeology

By David Poole,

Steve Jones posted a request for an article on finding missing foreign key constraints and fixing them.  This was serendipitous timing as the capability Steve was requesting would be ideal in meeting my challenges I was about to face in a data warehouse migration.

  • Systems were unsupported
  • Documentation sparse or non-existent
  • Data models are unknown or poorly understood
  • Few (if any) people retain comprehensive technical knowledge of that system.

An understanding of the data model for a system reveals much about the system itself and how it is intended to work.  If you can derive the foreign keys then you can use your tool of choice for reverse engineering a schema diagram.  Of course, if a picture paints a thousand words then a schema diagram is pure oratory

This topic sounded like a straight forward problem however, as you will see, producing a solution took a lot of thought and hard work.

Things to consider before starting

There are a number of things to consider when beginning this type of project.

Data compliance

Given the number of published data breaches in 2015, your starting point should be to restore a copy of the database in question into an appropriately secure environment to carry out your investigation.

Always check if there are any regulatory or legal restrictions on where you restore the database in question.  If you are restoring an HR database or a financial services database you might be required to use a specific and restricted environment and not simply restore the database onto a development machine.

How big is the problem?

The first questions I want to answer are as follows:

  1. Will the diagramming/modelling tool be overwhelmed by the number of objects in the database?
  2. Will my database yield useful information to the diagramming/modelling tool?

These answers can be found by running a few basic queries on the system tables.

WARNING:  I have not used INFORMATION_SCHEMA views due the Microsoft warning shown below:

Do not use INFORMATION_SCHEMA views to determine the schema of an object. The only reliable way to find the schema of a object is to query the sys.objects catalog view.

Will the diagramming tool be overwhelmed?

The query shown below will identify how many objects could  be included in the diagram and whether we have any convenient pagination based on schemas.  There are two points to note about the query below:

  • The use of the WITH ROLLUP clause to produce an overall total number of objects
  • The use of the GROUPING function to indicate the row that is the overall total number of objects.
;WITH cte(SchemaName)
AS
(
SELECT OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(T.object_id)
FROM sys.objects AS T
WHERE T.type='U'
)

SELECT
       COALESCE(SchemaName, ' TOTAL NUMBER OF TABLES') AS SchemaName,
       COUNT(*) AS TablesInSchema,
       GROUPING(SchemaName) AS IsTotal
FROM cte
GROUP BY SchemaName
WITH ROLLUP
ORDER BY SchemaName

When run on the Adventureworks2014 database this will produce a recordset similar to the one below:-

SchemaName

TablesInSchema

IsTotal

 TOTAL NUMBER OF TABLES

72

1

dbo

4

0

HumanResources

6

0

Person

13

0

Production

25

0

Purchasing

5

0

Sales

19

0

Will the database yield useful information?

You won’t get much value from pointing a diagramming tool at a database that does not contain foreign key relationships or for which the relationships are sparse.

The query below consists of two common table expressions and a query that utilises them.

  • FKTables produces a distinct list of tables that either reference or are referenced by a foreign key relationships
  • UserTables is simply a list of user tables

;WITH FKTables (FQTableName) AS (
       SELECT        OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(fkeyid)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(fkeyid)
       FROM sys.sysreferences
              UNION
       SELECT
              OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(rkeyid)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(rkeyid)
       FROM sys.sysreferences
),
UserTables (FQTableName) AS (
       SELECT        OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(object_id)
       FROM sys.objects
       WHERE type='U'
)
SELECT COUNT(U.FQTableName) AS TotalUserTables,
       COUNT(F.FQTableName) AS TablesInARelationship  
FROM UserTables AS U
       LEFT JOIN     FKTables AS F
       ON U.FQTableName=F.FQTableName

Whereas COUNT(*) would count all records, COUNT(<fieldname>) only counts the non-null entries.  Tables that do not reference or are not referenced by a foreign key will not be in the query results for the FKTables CTE so the LEFT JOIN will give a NULL field state that will not be counted.

If we run the query against the Adventureworks2014 database then we get the following results.

TotalUserTables

TablesInARelationship

71

67

If the figure for TablesInARelationship is a small proportion of the figure for TotalUserTables then pointing a diagramming tool at the database will produce little of value.

Starting off with a high level plan

The next is to take a step back and think through a plan of action. I thought that this could be broken down into a few simple challenges.

  • Identify missing primary keys and unique constraints
  • Identify the number of fields in the key
  • Identify naming conventions for primary key fields and the equivalent in other tables
  • Identify candidate FK where a table contains the equivalent fields as those participating in a PK
  • Discount those where there is already an FK relationship
  • Test the data to precheck violations
  • Generate PK & FK scripts through automated means

The flow chart below illustrates my initial plan for identifying primary keys.

Flow chart of the primary key identification process

We need to establish whether we have the base requirements for adding candidate foreign key constraints (Primary or Unique constraints)?

As this is a copy of a production database we are free to add any foreign key constraints and enabling objects.

Identifying tables without primary or unique constraints

We know that for a foreign key relationship to be created the field(s) within the referenced table must participate in some form of unique constraint, usually a primary key. 

WARNING:  If the table has a unique index but not a unique constraint then a foreign key relationship cannot be created.

The query to find tables without the required constraints is shown below.

;WITH PK AS (
       SELECT parent_object_id
       FROM sys.objects
       WHERE type IN('PK','UQ')
)
SELECT
       OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(T.object_id)
+      '.'
+      OBJECT_NAME(T.object_id) AS FQ_TableName
FROM sys.objects AS T
       LEFT JOIN PK
       ON PK.parent_object_id = T.object_id
WHERE
       T.type='U'
AND    PK.parent_object_id IS NULL

If you are lucky there should be very few tables in the results of this query.

But what do you do if tables are listed?

Identifying candidate unique Keys

Devising an automated test can be more error prone than it would first appear from the properties of the two types of unique constraint shown below:

Type of Constraint

Nullable

Description

Primary Key

NO

Clustered unless explicitly defined otherwise

Unique constraint

YES

Where nullable can have a single null value.

The pitfalls as I see it are as follows:

Pitfall

Description

Compound keys

A legitimate and useful physical modelling technique.

Massively increases the scope of the automated tests that may have to be carried out before applying a unique constraint.  A compound key can be up to 16 fields so you have 65,535 possible combinations.

Granted that there is a 900 byte limit on any key and the most fields I have seen in a primary key is  five but in any one table that still increases the range of automated tests to carry out.

Naming conventions

Most people I know tend to stick to adopt a naming convention for fields they use as primary keys. 

A quick look at Adventureworks2014 reveals that this isn’t bomb proof. 

HumanResources.Employee has a primary key of BusinessEntityID!

Co-incidental uniqueness

Where there is a small amount of data then testing an assumption about uniqueness may give a false positive.

·         We identify a candidate unique key

·         Data testing indicates that a unique constraint can be added

·         Although the data is physically compliant with our assumptions those assumptions are incorrect.

If we limit ourselves to looking for single field candidates for unique keys then can prioritise the things we will evaluate first.

  1. Fields that use identity values
  2. Fields that have a default for a sequence
  3. A field whose name is ID
  4. A field whose name is Code
  5. A field whose name is basically the table name suffixed by ID.
  6. A field whose name is basically the table name suffixed by Code.
  7. The first field in a table.
  8. Fields that have a GUID type

Housekeeping objects

Clearly evaluating candidate unique constraints is going to be quite an involved process.  We are going to have to build up the information we need in a series of steps and store the results in tables.

As we do not want to pollute our existing schemas with the objects we need our first step is to build a couple of schemas explicitly to hold our objects.

Schema

Lifecycle

Purpose

CandidateKey

Permanent

Holds our toolkit.  This consists of tables, views and procs used to identify and evaluate potential keys.

Validate

Transient

Holds tables used to validate candidates for unique keys.

The code below creates the schemas we need.

IF NOT EXISTS(SELECT * FROM sys.schemas WHERE name='CandidateKey')
       BEGIN
              EXEC('CREATE SCHEMA CandidateKey')
              PRINT 'SCHEMA CREATED: CandidateKey'
       END
ELSE
       PRINT 'SCHEMA EXISTS: CandidateKey'
GO

IF NOT EXISTS(SELECT * FROM sys.schemas WHERE name='Validate')
       BEGIN
              EXEC('CREATE SCHEMA Validate')
              PRINT 'SCHEMA CREATED: Validate'
       END
ELSE
       PRINT 'SCHEMA EXISTS: Validate'
GO

As I intend the Validate schema to hold transient objects I will also need a stored procedure that can clean out any table specific evaluation tables that might exist in that schema. 

Under normal circumstances I would parameterise my code to maximize reuse however in the case of a destructive procedure I deliberately hard code it to restrict it to my Validate schema.  

IF EXISTS(SELECT * FROM sys.objects WHERE type='P' AND name='FlushValidateSchema')
       BEGIN
              DROP PROC CandidateKey.FlushValidateSchema
              PRINT 'PROC DROPPED: CandidateKey.FlushValidateSchema'
       END
GO
CREATE PROC CandidateKey.FlushValidateSchema
AS
SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE @ValidateSchemaObjects TABLE (TableID INT NOT NULL)

INSERT INTO @ValidateSchemaObjects (TableID)
SELECT object_id
FROM sys.objects AS O
WHERE O.schema_id=SCHEMA_ID('Validate')
AND O.name LIKE 'T[0-9][0-9][0-9][0-9]%'
ORDER BY object_id

DECLARE @TableID INT
DECLARE @SQL  VARCHAR(MAX)

SET @TableID = 0

WHILE @TableID IS NOT NULL
       BEGIN
              SELECT @TableID=MIN(TableID)
              FROM @ValidateSchemaObjects
              WHERE TableID>@TableID

              IF @TableID IS NOT NULL
                     BEGIN
                           SET @SQL = 'DROP TABLE '
                                  +      QUOTENAME(OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@TableID))
                                  +      '.'
                                  +      QUOTENAME(OBJECT_NAME(@TableID)) 
                           PRINT @SQL
                           EXEC (@SQL)
                     END
       END
GO
IF @@ERROR=0
       PRINT 'PROC CREATED: CandidateKey.FlushValidateSchema'
GO

I want to store the results of the prioritisation so I will create a table in a CandidateKey schema as follows:-

IF EXISTS(SELECT * FROM sys.objects WHERE object_id=OBJECT_ID('CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints'))
       BEGIN
              DROP TABLE CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints
              PRINT 'TABLE DROPPED: CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints'
       END
GO

CREATE TABLE CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints (
       TableID INT NOT NULL,
       KeyPriority TINYINT NOT NULL,
       IsValidated BIT NOT NULL
              CONSTRAINT DF_CandidateUniqueConstraints_IsValidated DEFAULT(0),
       Is_Nullable BIT NOT NULL
       ValidationTable AS 'T'+CAST(TableId AS SYSNAME),
       ColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       CONSTRAINT PK_CandidateUniqueConstraints
              PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED (TableID, ColumnName)
)

GO

IF @@ERROR=0
       PRINT 'TABLE CREATED: CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints'
GO

Priority One - Identifying Identity columns

This is a very simple query to execute. This finds all the tables and columns with the identity property.

INSERT INTO CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints(TableID, ColumnName, KeyPriority,Is_Nullable)
SELECT
       TableId=object_id,
       ColumnName=name,
       KeyPriority=1,
       Is_Nullable
FROM sys.columns
WHERE is_identity=1
AND OBJECTPROPERTY(object_id,'IsUserTable')=1

RAISERROR('Candidate Keys with an identity property %d',10,1,@@ROWCOUNT) WITH NOWAIT

Priority Two - Identifying columns with a sequence default

This is a bit more complicated and relies on the sys.depends table. Here is the list of tables I will use.

Joining sequences to columns

INSERT INTO CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints(TableID, ColumnName, KeyPriority, Is_Nullable)
SELECT
       TableId=c.object_id,
       ColumnName=c.name,
       KeyPriority=2 ,
       C.Is_Nullable
FROM sys.sequences AS SQ
       INNER JOIN sysdepends DP
       ON SQ.object_id=DP.depid

       INNER JOIN sys.columns AS C
       ON C.default_object_id = DP.id

WHERE OBJECTPROPERTY(C.object_id,'IsUserTable')=1

RAISERROR('Candidate Keys using a SEQUENCE %d',10,1,@@ROWCOUNT) WITH NOWAIT

GO

Priorities Three To Eight

It turns out that one nested Common Table Expression query can generate the information we need.

We could have included the priority one identity criteria here however it has been excluded to avoid a situation where priority two sequence defaults lose out to lower priority items.  By running 3 separate queries this situation is avoided.

For simplicity sake we will capture this query in a view.

IF EXISTS(SELECT * FROM INFORMATION_SCHEMA.VIEWS WHERE TABLE_SCHEMA='CandidateKey' AND TABLE_NAME='CandidatePrimaryKeys')
       BEGIN
              DROP VIEW CandidateKey.CandidatePrimaryKeys
              PRINT 'VIEW DROPPED: CandidateKey.CandidatePrimaryKeys'
       END
GO

CREATE VIEW CandidateKey.CandidatePrimaryKeys
AS
WITH CleanTables AS (
       SELECT
              TableId=O.object_id,
              TableName=O.name,
              CleanTableName=CASE WHEN LEFT(O.name,3)='tbl' THEN REPLACE(SUBSTRING(O.name,4,LEN(O.name)),'_','')
              ELSE O.name
              END
       FROM sys.objects AS O
       WHERE O.type='U'
),

PriorityFields AS (
       SELECT
              O.TableId,
              ColumnName=C.name,
              Priority=CASE
                     WHEN C.name='ID' THEN 3
                     WHEN C.name='Code' THEN 4
                     WHEN CleanTableName+'ID'=REPLACE(C.name,'_','') THEN 5
                     WHEN CleanTableName+'Code'=REPLACE(C.name,'_','') THEN 6
                     WHEN C.column_id=1 THEN 7
                     WHEN C.system_type_id=36 THEN 8
                     END,
              C.Is_Nullable

       FROM sys.columns AS C

              INNER JOIN CleanTables AS O
              ON C.object_id = O.TableId

       WHERE C.column_id=1 or C.name like '%id' OR C.name like '%code' or C.system_type_id=36
)

       SELECT TableID,
              ColumnName,
              Priority,
              Is_Nullable

       FROM PriorityFields

       WHERE Priority IS NOT NULL

GO

IF @@ERROR = 0
              PRINT 'VIEW CREATED: CandidateKey.CandidatePrimaryKeys'
GO

The CleanTables CTE addresses the practise of prefixing tables with tbl or tbl_

The PriorityFields CTE assigns priorities as described in our original priority list.  The point to note is the naming convention logic will deal with any of the following combinations of table name and field name.

Table name

Field Name

Tbl_MyTable

TblMyTable

MyTable

MyTableId

MyTable_Id

MyTableCode

MyTable_Code

By wrapping up our query in a view the query to append data to our CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints table is straight forward as shown below.

INSERT INTO CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints(TableID, ColumnName, KeyPriority, Is_Nullable)
SELECT
       SRC.TableId,
       SRC.ColumnName,
       SRC.KeyPriority,
       SRC.Is_Nullable
FROM CandidateKey.CandidatePrimaryKeys AS SRC

       LEFT JOIN CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints AS TARG
       ON SRC.TableID = TARG.TableID
       AND SRC.ColumnName = TARG.ColumnName

WHERE TARG.TableID IS NULL

RAISERROR('Candidate Keys with column properties  %d',10,1,@@ROWCOUNT) WITH NOWAIT
GO

I would wrap all 3 queries up into a single stored proc called CandidateKey.GetCandidateKeys

Validating uniqueness

We now need to validate unique values in columns, which takes a bit of work.

How to identify uniqueness

If COUNT(*)and COUNT(DISTINCT <fieldname>) are equal and greater than zero will tell us if the field name in question contains unique values.

What is needed is a stored proc that allows me to pass in the object_id for a table identified in the CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints table.

IF EXISTS(SELECT * FROM sys.objects WHERE type='P' AND name='AssessCandidateUniqueness')
       BEGIN
              DROP PROC CandidateKey.AssessCandidateUniqueness
              PRINT 'PROC DROPPED: CandidateKey.AssessCandidateUniqueness'
       END
GO

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.AssessCandidateUniqueness
       @TableID INT
AS

SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE @SQL VARCHAR(MAX)

SELECT @SQL=COALESCE(@SQL+',','')
+      'CAST(CASE WHEN COUNT(*)>0 AND COUNT(*)-COUNT(DISTINCT '
+      ColumnName
+      ') =0 THEN 1 ELSE 0 END AS BIT) AS '
+      ColumnName

FROM CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints

WHERE TableID=@TableID

ORDER BY KeyPriority


SET @SQL='SELECT COUNT(*) AS TotalRows,' + @SQL
+      ' INTO Validate.T'
+      CAST(@TableID AS SYSNAME)
+      ' FROM '
+      OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@TableID)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(@TableID)

PRINT @SQL
EXEC(@SQL)

GO

IF @@ERROR=0
       PRINT 'PROC CREATED: CandidateKey.AssessCandidateUniqueness'
GO

Safety Considerations when identifying uniqueness

WARNING:  Running COUNT(DISTINCT <fieldname>) across a number of fields on a large table can be extremely expensive.  For this reason it is wise to run a simple query to determine the number of records in our database tables.

SELECT OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id) AS SchemaName,
       OBJECT_NAME(object_id) AS TableName,
       SUM(rows) AS RowCountEstimate

FROM sys.partitions

WHERE index_id in(0,1)
AND OBJECTPROPERTY(object_id,'IsUserTable')=1

GROUP BY object_id

ORDER BY 3 DESC

Evaluating a database safely

I need a stored proc that will loop through the candidate tables executing the CandidateKey.AddessCandidateUniqueness procedure.  This stored procedure should have safety logic to check that any qualifying tables will have their row count checked against the specified thresholds as follows:

  • More rows than the ceiling row count will raise an error.
  • Fewer rows than the floor row count will be ignored.

IF EXISTS(SELECT * FROM sys.objects WHERE type='P' AND name='ExecuteCandidateUniqueness')
       BEGIN
              DROP PROC CandidateKey.ExecuteCandidateUniqueness
              PRINT 'PROC DROPPED: CandidateKey.ExecuteCandidateUniqueness'
       END
GO

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.ExecuteCandidateUniqueness
       @ThresholdFloorRowCount BIGINT=0, --##PARAM @ThresholdFloorRowCount The minimum number of records for which a uniqueness assessment will take place.
       @ThresholdCeilingRowCount BIGINT=10000 --##PARAM @@ThresholdCeilingRowCount The maximum number of records for which a uniqueness assessment will take place.
AS
SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE
       @TableID INT,
       @RowCount BIGINT,
       @FQTableName SYSNAME

SET @TableID=0

WHILE @TableID IS NOT NULL
       BEGIN
              SELECT @TableID=MIN(TableID)
              FROM CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints
              WHERE TableID>@TableID

              IF @TableID IS NOT NULL
                     BEGIN
                           SET @FQTableName=QUOTENAME(OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@TableID))+'.'+QUOTENAME(OBJECT_NAME(@TableID))

                           SELECT @RowCount=SUM(rows)
                           FROM sys.partitions
                           WHERE object_id = @TableID
                           AND index_id IN(0,1)
                         
                           IF @RowCount > @ThresholdCeilingRowCount
                                  BEGIN
                                         RAISERROR('THRESHOLD %I64d EXCEEDED: %s = %I64d ',10,1,@ThresholdCeilingRowCount,@FQTableName,@RowCount) WITH NOWAIT
                                  END
                           ELSE
                                  BEGIN
                                         IF @RowCount >= @ThresholdFloorRowCount
                                                exec CandidateKey.AssessCandidateUniqueness @TableID
                                  END
                     END
       END
GO

By the time we have executed our CandidateKey.ExecuteCandidateUniqueness and swept up all relevant database objects our Validate schema will look something like the following:

The structure of a Validate table

The table below recaps the naming convention of the tables in the Validate schema.

Original Table

Object_Id

Validate table

Sales.SalesOrderDetail

1154103152

T1154103152

If we look at the table the structure is as follows:

TotalRows

SalesOrderDetailID

SalesOrderID

rowguid

121317

1

0

1

This tells us that SalesOrderID is not a valid candidate for a unique key but the other two fields are based on an evaluation of all the rows in the table.

This structure of the table came about due to what we captured in our CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints table forSales.SalesOrderDetail.

TableID

KeyPriority

IsValidated

ValidationTable

ColumnName

1154103152

1

0

T1154103152

SalesOrderDetailID

1154103152

7

0

T1154103152

SalesOrderID

1154103152

8

0

T1154103152

rowguid

Our next step is to update the IsValidated field with the appropriate flag from our Validate. T1154103152 table.

We need to turn our T1154103152 table into a recordset as follows:

TableId

ColumnName

IsValidated

1154103152

SalesOrderDetailID

1

1154103152

SalesOrderID

0

1154103152

rowguid

1

Fortunately we have the T-SQL UNPIVOT clause to help us.

SELECT TableId, ColumnName, IsValidated

FROM
   (SELECT 1154103152 AS TableId, SalesOrderDetailID, SalesOrderID, rowguid
   FROM validate.T1154103152) p

UNPIVOT
   (
       IsValidated FOR ColumnName IN (SalesOrderDetailID, SalesOrderID, rowguid)

   )AS unpvt;

GO

We need to do this for all the T<object_id> tables in the Validate schema and record the results.

Table to record the results of the UNPIVOT function.

As our results will be used to update CandidateKey.  We will create a transient shadow table in the Validate schema

IF EXISTS(SELECT * FROM sys.objects WHERE object_id=OBJECT_ID('Validate.CandidateUniqueConstraints'))
       BEGIN
              DROP TABLE Validate.CandidateUniqueConstraints
              PRINT 'TABLE DROPPED: Validate.CandidateUniqueConstraints'
       END
GO

CREATE TABLE Validate.CandidateUniqueConstraints (
       TableId INT NOT NULL,
       ColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       IsValidated BIT NOT NULL,
       CONSTRAINT PK_Validate_CandidateUniqueConstraints
              PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED (TableId, ColumnName)
)

GO

IF @@ERROR=0
       PRINT 'TABLE CREATED: Validate.CandidateUniqueConstraints'
GO

Procs to generate and execute the UNPIVOT functionality.

We need two stored procedures to keep record the evaluation of our candidate keys

  • Generate and execute the required UNPIVOT query
  • Loop through the Validate.T<Object_Id> tables executing the above query.

The first query is as follows:

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.ExtractValidatedCandidates
       @TableName SYSNAME -- The name of the Validate.T<Object_id> table
AS

SET NOCOUNT ON

--Must be a table matching the desired pattern in the Validate schema.
IF @TableName NOT LIKE 'T[0-9][0-9][0-9]%' OR NOT EXISTS (SELECT 1 FROM sys.objects WHERE name = @TableName AND schema_id=SCHEMA_ID('Validate'))
       BEGIN
              RAISERROR('Table %s is not a validation table',16,1,@TableName) with nowait
              RETURN 1
       END

DECLARE
       @TableID VARCHAR(10),
       @ValidationTableID INT ,
       @ColumnList VARCHAR(MAX),
       @SQL VARCHAR(MAX)

SET @TableID = RIGHT(@TableName,LEN(@TableName)-1) --The numeric part of the Validate.T<Object_id> table name
SET @ValidationTableID = OBJECT_ID('Validate.'+@TableName) -- The object_id of the actual Validate.T<Object_id> table name

SELECT @ColumnList=COALESCE(@ColumnList+',','')
+      name
FROM sys.columns AS C
WHERE object_id=@ValidationTableID
AND name<>'TotalRows'
ORDER BY C.column_id

SET @SQL='INSERT INTO Validate.CandidateUniqueConstraints(TableId, ColumnName, IsValidated)
SELECT TableId, ColumnName, IsValidated
FROM (
       SELECT '
+      @TableID
+      ' AS TableId, '
+      @ColumnList
+      ' FROM Validate.'+@TableName+') p
       UNPIVOT (
              IsValidated FOR ColumnName IN ('
+      @ColumnList
+      ')     )AS unpvt'

EXEC(@SQL)

GO

IF @@ERROR=0
       PRINT 'PROC CREATED: CandidateKey.ExtractValidatedCandidates'

GO

The 2nd stored procedure is straight forward.

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.SetCandidateValidity
AS
SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE @TableName SYSNAME='',
       @SchemaID int

SET @SchemaID=SCHEMA_ID('Validate')

TRUNCATE TABLE Validate.CandidateUniqueConstraints

WHILE @TableName IS NOT NULL
       BEGIN
              SELECT @TableName = MIN(name)
              FROM sys.objects
              WHERE name>@TableName
              AND schema_id=@SchemaID
              AND type='U'
              AND name LIKE 'T[0-9][0-9][0-9][0-9]%'

              IF @TableName IS NOT NULL
                     BEGIN
                           EXEC CandidateKey.ExtractValidatedCandidates @TableName
                     END
       END

UPDATE DEST
SET DEST.IsValidated=SRC.IsValidated
FROM   Validate.CandidateUniqueConstraints AS SRC
       INNER JOIN CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints AS DEST
       ON     SRC.TableID = DEST.TableID
       AND SRC.ColumnName = DEST.ColumnName
WHERE SRC.IsValidated<>DEST.IsValidated

RAISERROR ('%d Candidate Keys Updated',10,1,@@ROWCOUNT) WITH NOWAIT

-- Discard any candidates that didn't resolve as PK Candidates
DELETE FROM CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints WHERE IsValidated=0

RAISERROR ('%d Invalid candidate Keys removed',10,1,@@ROWCOUNT) WITH NOWAIT

GO

Putting it all together

We can assemble the execution of our stored procedures into a repeatable script

-- Flush out existing tables
exec CandidateKey.FlushValidateSchema

-- Grab a list of potential candidates
exec CandidateKey.GetCandidateKeys

-- Evaluate the uniqueness of the candidate fields
exec CandidateKey.ExecuteCandidateUniqueness 0,999999

-- Unpivot the results and flag the potential candidates
exec CandidateKey.SetCandidateValidity

Looking at the recommended keys

We can also build a query to list the ALTER TABLE commands necessary to create the missing primary keys in our database.

-- List the SQL to generate the candidate keys

;WITH PotentialKeys(Likelihood,SchemaName,TableName,ColumnName,KeyPriority) AS (
       SELECT
              ROW_NUMBER() OVER(PARTITION BY TableID ORDER BY KeyPriority),
              SchemaName=OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(TableID),
              TableName=OBJECT_NAME(TableID),
              ColumnName,
              KeyPriority
       FROM CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints
)

SELECT
       'ALTER TABLE ' + SchemaName + '.' + TableName
+      ' ADD CONSTRAINT PKCandidate_' + SchemaName + '_' + TableName
+      ' PRIMARY KEY (' + ColumnName +')'

FROM PotentialKeys

WHERE Likelihood=1
ORDER BY SchemaName,TableName

GO

When I ran the entire process against the Adventureworks2014 database the process did produce credible primary key candidates.  However, as stated earlier no system is perfect and some anomalies crept in.

Anomaly

Reason

Incidents of the rowguid field

The rowguid field has a particular mechanical significance which means that it gives a false positive.

In the Adventureworks2014 schema it aligns to those tables where the true primary key would actually be a compound key.

Person.EmailAddress

An example of coincidental uniqueness.

The true primary key is a compound key of BusinessEntityID and EmailAddressID.

In this case the identity property caused the field to be chosen as a candidate and it did turn out to hold unique values.

Person.PersonPhone

Again, coincidental uniqueness.

The true primary key is a compound key of BusinessEntityId, PhoneNumber and PhoneNumberTypeId.

In this case BusinessEntityID was chosen as a candidate because it is the first field in a record.

With the knowledge that rowguid is a false positive I ran a slightly tweaked version for supplemental unique constraints.

;WITH PotentialKeys(Likelihood,SchemaName,TableName,ColumnName,KeyPriority) AS (
       SELECT
              ROW_NUMBER() OVER(PARTITION BY TableID ORDER BY KeyPriority),
              SchemaName=OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(TableID),
              TableName=OBJECT_NAME(TableID),
              ColumnName,
              KeyPriority

       FROM CandidateKey.CandidateUniqueConstraints
)
SELECT
       'ALTER TABLE ' + SchemaName + '.' + TableName
+      ' ADD CONSTRAINT UQCandidate_' + SchemaName + '_' + TableName+'_'+ColumnName
+      ' UNIQUE (' + ColumnName +')'

FROM PotentialKeys
WHERE Likelihood>1
AND ColumnName<>'rowguid'

ORDER BY SchemaName,TableName

GO

Again this picked up Person.EmailAddress and identified BusinessEntityID as a valid unique candidate.

This false positive reveals something interesting about the Person.EmailAddress table.

  • The two participants in the primary key are both unique in their own right
  • The 2nd field is an IDENTITY field which is an odd thing to have in a compound primary key

This is precisely the sort of information that is useful to a data modeller and it indicates that the modelling of the Person.EmailAddress table is something warranting deeper analysis.

Challenges in Deriving Foreign Key Relationships

As described earlier there are a number of characteristics of fields within tables that defined whether or not they are likely to participate in primary keys.

  • Naming conventions
  • Identity value
  • Use of a sequence
  • Data types
  • Position within the table structure

Any candidate can be rejected if it does not contain unique values.

With foreign key relationships, short of parsing execution plans, we are much more dependent on naming conventions.  The diagram below illustrates why even a simple schema can present serious challenges.

Let us look at what the challenges are

#

Challenge

Description

1 & 2

Field whose names have context only within the table

If we have fields such as “Id” and “Code” these only have significance within the table in which they are embedded.

PersonID has its own context, Id does not.

We can add artificial context by prefixing the fieldname with the table name.  When doing so we have to allow for prefixes such as tbl in table names.

3

Prefixing of table names

If prefixes are consistently applied then this is easy to cater for. Even when not consistently applied if a separator exists between the prefix and the table name this is reasonably straight forward.

If the prefix could be part of a legitimate word then this introduces the need for language parsing which is too advanced a topic for this article.

4

Undesired relationships

We don’t want to suggest every possible relationship between two entities.

In our example diagram the relationships with the red crosses are superfluous.  They won’t do any harm but will make any schema diagram more crowded.

Remember we are simply trying to establish relationships in a copy system.  There will be no DML activity in the copy system.

To satisfy this we need a mechanism for determining whether a child table already has a parent relationship that includes the candidate attributes.

5

1 to 0..1 relationships

NOT SHOWN ON DIAGRAM

Adventureworks2014 has a number of tables with a primary key of BusinessEntityID.

We need a rules based system for determining the correct lineage between such tables.

6

Pluralisation of object names

NOT SHOWN ON DIAGRAM

If the tbl_Hobby table was called tbl_Hobbies then standardising the Code field to HobbyCode would not be possible without introducing language parsing capabilities.  This is sophistication beyond that which we can cover in this article.

Caveats

The process of identifying foreign keys is going to depend heavily on naming conventions and establishing rules.

It is difficult enough defining the rules in sufficient detail to attempt to build an automated process let alone building that process.

A naming convention based ruleset will fail if the database is weak in following naming conventions.  Even with a strong naming convention it is easy to get false positives with relationships and also to relate objects that should not be related.

High level process

It helps to have mapped out the approach at a high level to act as a road map.

Prioritising the candidate foreign keys

From our table of challenges we know we need mechanisms for the following:

  • Matching on standardised names for table and field objects
  • Identifying where a suitable relationship already exists so as not to create another
  • A mechanism for determining the master in a 1 to 0..1 relationship
  • A mechanism for prioritising the order in which relationships are created.

If we started to create relationships from our tbl_Hobby table we would get a relationship to both PersonHobby and PersonHobbyAttendance.

If we started to create relationships in reverse order of the number of fields participating in a primary key then we would get the following:

  1. A relationship from PersonHobby to PersonHobbyAttendance
  2. A relationship from tbl_Hobby to PersonHobby
  3. NO RELATIONSHIP from tbl_Hobby to PersonHobbyAttendance because the first relationship already contains the HobbyCode fields in a relationship.

Clearly the order in which foreign keys are created is going to be important.

Capturing Primary Key Information

My starting point is to capture information about the primary keys in the database and standardise their field and column names.

CREATE TABLE CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems (
       Object_id INT NOT NULL ,
       ColumnId INT NOT NULL,
       DataTypeId INT NOT NULL,
       SchemaName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       OriginalObjectName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       StandardisedObjectName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       OriginalColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       StandardisedColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       CONSTRAINT PK_StandardisedPKItems PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED (Object_id,OriginalColumnName)
)

GO

The stored procedure to populate the table is shown below.

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.GetStandardisedPKItems
AS

SET NOCOUNT ON

TRUNCATE TABLE CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems

INSERT INTO CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems
SELECT
       O.Object_Id,
       C.Column_Id,
       C.system_type_id,
       OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(c.object_id),
       O.name,
       StandardisedObjectName= REPLACE(CASE WHEN LEFT(O.name,3)='tbl' THEN SUBSTRING(O.name,4,len(O.name)) ELSE O.name END,'_',''),
       OriginalColumnName=C.name,
       StandardisedColumnName=REPLACE( -- Deal with primary key fields like Id & code and the tibblers.
              CASE   WHEN C.name IN('Id','Code') AND LEFT(O.name,3)='tbl' THEN SUBSTRING(O.name,4,len(O.name))+C.name
                           WHEN C.name IN('Id','Code') AND LEFT(O.name,3)!='tbl' THEN O.name + c.name
                           ELSE C.name END,
              '_','')
FROM sys.index_columns AS IC

       INNER JOIN sys.indexes AS I
       ON IC.object_id = I.object_id
       AND IC.index_id = I.index_id

       INNER JOIN sys.columns AS C
       ON IC.object_id = C.object_id
       AND IC.index_column_id = C.column_id

       INNER JOIN sys.objects AS O
       ON O.object_id=C.object_id

WHERE  I.is_primary_key=1
AND IC.is_included_column=0
AND OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(c.object_id) NOT IN ('Validate','CandidateKey','dba','sys') -- Exclude mechanical schemas

GO

Dealing with 1 to 0..1 relationships

The first step is to identify tables that share a standardised fieldname.  The common table expression below would identify two fields as occurring across the Adventureworks2014 database

  • BusinessEntityID
  • TransactionID
;WITH MultiField AS ( -- Single field primary keys that occur more than once i.e. 1 to 0..1 relationships.
       SELECT pk.StandardisedColumnName

       FROM CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems AS PK -- Table to contain standardised names of primary key artefacts
              INNER JOIN CandidateKey.PKFieldCount AS PKC -- View to determine number of fields in a primary key.
              ON pk.Object_id = PKC.Object_id

       WHERE PKC.PKFieldCount=1

       GROUP BY PK.StandardisedColumnName

       HAVING COUNT(*)>1
)

Identifying rules for prioritising tables

We also need to define the rules that will prioritise which table is the master table.

Priority

Rule

Rationale

1

Original field name is ID

This cannot be reduced further.

2

Original field name is Code

Again this cannot be reduced further

3

Standardised table name is the beginning of the field name

We are looking at <tablename>id, <tablename>code etc.

4

Schema name is same as the standardised object name

This assumes that a table name with the same name as the schema in which it resides is of primary importance.

5

Does not fit any of the preceding rules.

Every field should have a priority value.

If we could apply these rules to tables that share a primary key then we should have some form of hierarchy for building relationships.  The prioritised list of tables will also have other uses so we will store these in a table defined as follows:

CREATE TABLE CandidateKey.PKOneToOneZero (
       Object_Id INT NOT NULL
              CONSTRAINT PK_PKOneToOneZero PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED,
       TablePriority TINYINT NOT NULL,
       SchemaName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       TableName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       StandardisedTableName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       OriginalColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL,
       StandardisedColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL
)
GO

The number of fields participating in the primary key is also important in the prioritisation and is supported by a view.

CREATE VIEW CandidateKey.PKFieldCount
AS
SELECT Object_id, PKFieldCount=COUNT(*)
FROM CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems
GROUP BY Object_id

GO

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.GetPKOneToOneZeroPriority
AS

SET NOCOUNT ON

TRUNCATE TABLE CandidateKey.PKOneToOneZero

;WITH MultiField AS ( -- Single field primary keys that occur more than once i.e. 1 to 0..1 relationships.

       SELECT pk.StandardisedColumnName

       FROM CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems AS PK -- Table to contain standardised names of primary key artefacts

              INNER JOIN CandidateKey.PKFieldCount AS PKC -- View to determine number of fields in a primary key.
              ON pk.Object_id = PKC.Object_id

       WHERE PKC.PKFieldCount=1

       GROUP BY PK.StandardisedColumnName

       HAVING COUNT(*)>1
)

INSERT INTO   CandidateKey.PKOneToOneZero(
       Object_Id,
       TablePriority,
       SchemaName,
       TableName,
       StandardisedTableName,
       OriginalColumnName,
       StandardisedColumnName
)

SELECT
       PK.Object_id,
       TablePriority=CASE
              WHEN PK.OriginalColumnName = 'ID' THEN 1
              WHEN PK.OriginalColumnName='Code' THEN 2
              WHEN PATINDEX(StandardisedObjectName+'%',PK.StandardisedColumnName)=1 THEN 3
              WHEN OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(PK.object_id) = object_name(PK.object_id) THEN 4
              ELSE 5
       END,
       SchemaName=OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(PK.object_id),
       TableName=object_name(PK.object_id),
       StandardisedObjectName,
       OriginalColumnName,
       StandardisedColumnName

FROM CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems AS PK

       INNER JOIN CandidateKey.PKFieldCount AS PKC
       ON PK.Object_id = PKC.Object_id

WHERE PK.StandardisedColumnName IN (SELECT StandardisedColumnName FROM MultiField)
AND PKC.PKFieldCount=1

ORDER BY StandardisedColumnName

GO

Function to return fields in an existing relationships

If we are proposing to create a relationship from a parent table to a child so we want to make sure that the child does not already have an existing parent relationship involving any fields that we propose to use in our relationship.

We need our function to retrieve any fields for the given child table that already participate in a relationship.  To do this we need an understanding of how the sys.sysreferences table works.  The diagram uses data within sys.objects, sys.columns and sys.sysreferences to illustrate the key mechanisms.

For a given object_id our function has to unpivot the sys.sysreferences table and return any fields that are already used in a relationship.

CREATE FUNCTION CandidateKey.GetFieldsUsedInExistingFK(
       @ChildObjectId INT
)
RETURNS @ChildFieldList TABLE (
       StandardisedColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL
)
AS
       BEGIN

              --Unpivot the table.
              ;WITH CurrentFK (PARENT_object_id,CHILD_object_id,column_id)AS (
                     SELECT DISTINCT rkeyId,fkeyid,  column_id
                     FROM
                        (SELECT rkeyid,fkeyid,
                           fkey1,fkey2,fkey3,fkey4,
                           fkey5,fkey6,fkey7,fkey8,
                           fkey9,fkey10,fkey11,fkey12,
                           fkey13,fkey14,fkey15,fkey16

                         FROM sysreferences

                         WHERE fkeyid=@ChildObjectId) p

                     UNPIVOT

                        (column_id  FOR KeyID IN
                             (fkey1,fkey2,fkey3,fkey4,
                              fkey5,fkey6,fkey7,fkey8,
                              fkey9,fkey10,fkey11,fkey12,
                              fkey13,fkey14,fkey15,fkey16)
                     )AS unpvt
              )

              INSERT INTO   @ChildFieldList(StandardisedColumnName)
              SELECT REPLACE(C.name,'_','')
              FROM CurrentFK
                     INNER JOIN sys.columns AS C
                     ON CurrentFK.CHILD_object_id = C.object_id
                     AND CurrentFK.column_id = C.column_id

              WHERE CurrentFK.column_id>0 -- Zero means no column at this position

              RETURN
       END
GO

Generating the 1 to 0..1 keys

We can create a stored procedure to generate the candidate foreign key. There are a four key features to emphasise here

  1. To perform a self-join on the prioritised 1 to 0..1 relationships to produce a hierarchy.  As the TablePriority can contain gaps in the priority range we need to create a common table expression that will generate a sequence to align the relationships correctly.
  2. To determine the master object in any schema for an attribute and build a relationship from those tables that share a primary key within the same schema but for which we haven’t got a rule
  3. We generate the candidate foreign keys using the WITH NOCHECK option.
  4. All our foreign keys being with FKCandidate so we can distinguish between the pre-existing relationships and those we generate.
CREATE PROC CandidateKey.GeneratePKOneToOneZeroHierarchy
AS

SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE @ProcName VARCHAR(256)=OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@@PROCID)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(@@PROCID)
PRINT '==============================================='
RAISERROR('PROC: %s',10,1,@ProcName) WITH NOWAIT


DECLARE @SQL VARCHAR(MAX)
DECLARE @CRLF CHAR(2)=CHAR(13)+CHAR(10)

;WITH FKHierarchy AS (
       SELECT
              FKSequence=ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY StandardisedColumnName ORDER BY SchemaName,TablePriority ),
              Object_Id, TablePriority, SchemaName, TableName, StandardisedTableName, OriginalColumnName, StandardisedColumnName
       FROM CandidateKey.PKOneToOneZero
)

SELECT @SQL = COALESCE(@SQL+';'+@CRLF,'')
+      'ALTER TABLE '
+      QUOTENAME(c.SchemaName)+'.'+QUOTENAME(C.TableName)
+      ' WITH NOCHECK ADD CONSTRAINT '
+      QUOTENAME('FKCandidate_'+c.SchemaName+'_'+C.TableName+'_'+P.schemaName+'_'+P.tablename)
+      ' FOREIGN KEY ('
+      C.originalColumnName
+      ') REFERENCES '
+      QUOTENAME(P.SchemaName)+'.'+QUOTENAME(P.TableName)
+      '('
+      p.OriginalColumnName
+      ')'

FROM FKHierarchy AS P

       INNER JOIN FKHierarchy AS C
       ON p.StandardisedColumnName = c.StandardisedColumnName
       AND P.Object_id<>c.Object_id
       AND P.SchemaName = C.SchemaName
       AND P.TablePriority<c.TablePriority
       AND P.FKSequence=C.FKSequence-1
       AND C.StandardisedColumnName NOT IN(SELECT StandardisedColumnName FROM CandidateKey.GetFieldsUsedInExistingFK( C.Object_id ))

ORDER BY P.TablePriority

PRINT @SQL
EXEC(@SQL)

GO

Dealing with other relationships

We have dealt with 1 to 0..1 hierarchies within a schema but now we have to consider the one to many relationships and cross schema relationships.

One of the challenges we have to face is that of compound primary keys and also ensuring that we do not get superfluous relationships as described earlier.

Stored procedure to generate Foreign Keys

The complexity of what we want to do suggests that a stored procedure that accepts a parent table object_id and generates the required new relationships for children of that parent.

We can capitalise on the tables we built earlier to hold information on our primary key tables.

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.GetCandidateForeignKey
       @TableID INT -- The object_id of the parent object
AS

SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE
       @PKFieldCount int,
       @SQLReferences VARCHAR(MAX)

DECLARE @FKTable AS TABLE (
       Object_id INT NOT NULL,
       ColumnId INT NOT NULL,
       StandardisedObjectName SYSNAME NOT NULL ,
       OriginalColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL ,
       StandardisedColumnName SYSNAME NOT NULL
)

-- Retrieve the number of fields in the primary key for the table.
SELECT @PKFieldCount = PKFieldCount
FROM CandidateKey.PKFieldCount
WHERE Object_ID = @TableID

-- Build a comma delimited list of fields in the primary key table.
SELECT @SQLReferences = COALESCE(@SQLReferences+',','')+ OriginalColumnName
FROM   CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems
WHERE Object_Id=@TableID
ORDER BY ColumnId --Essential for multi-field keys

SET @SQLReferences = ' REFERENCES '+OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@TableId)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(@TableId)+'('+@SQLReferences+')'

Notice that we order by ColumnId in order as we need to make sure that our FOREIGN KEY fields and REFERENCES fields are going to be in the same order as the order in the primary key.

Recording the foreign key object and fields

We are looking for tables other than the parent that contain all the fields in the parent primary key.  The comparison is done on the standardised field names rather than the actual field names in order to increase the chances of a match.

;WITH FKCandidate
AS (
       SELECT
              C.object_id,
              C.name,
              StandardisedObjectName= REPLACE(CASE WHEN LEFT(O.name,3)='tbl' THEN SUBSTRING(O.name,4,len(O.name)) ELSE O.name END,'_',''),
              StandardisedColumnName=REPLACE(C.name,'_','')
       FROM sys.columns AS C

              INNER JOIN sys.objects AS O
              ON C.object_id = O.object_id

       WHERE REPLACE(C.name,'_','') in (SELECT StandardisedColumnName FROM CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems WHERE object_id=@TableID) -- Primary key fields
       AND C.object_id<>@TableId
       AND O.type='U'
       AND OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(O.object_id) NOT IN ('dba','validate','CandidateKey','sys')
       AND O.name NOT LIKE 'sysdiagram%'
),

FKQualifier AS
(SELECT object_id
FROM FKCandidate
GROUP BY object_id
HAVING COUNT(*)=@PKFieldCount -- Identify the table objects that have all the fields in the primary key.
),

PKFieldOrder AS (
       SELECT StandardisedColumnName, ColumnID
       FROM CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems
       WHERE Object_Id = @TableID
)

INSERT INTO @FKTable(Object_Id,ColumnID,StandardisedObjectName,OriginalColumnName,StandardisedColumnName)
SELECT
       FKCandidate.object_id,
       PKFieldOrder.ColumnID,
       FKCandidate.StandardisedObjectName,
       FKCandidate.name,
       FKCandidate.StandardisedColumnName
FROM FKQualifier INNER JOIN FKCandidate
 ON FKQualifier.object_id = FKCandidate.object_id

 INNER JOIN   PKFieldOrder
 ON PKFieldOrder.StandardisedColumnName = FKCandidate.StandardisedColumnName

ORDER BY PKFieldOrder.ColumnId -- Essential for multi-field relationships

The common table expressions used are as follows:

CTE

Description

FKCandidate

Tables and fields where the fields match against any that appear in the parent primary key

FKQualifier

For those tables and fields identified in FKCandidate identify those tables that contain all the fields that appear in the parent primary key.

Generating the full ALTER TABLE statement

This is simply a case of looping the records in.

DECLARE @NextObject INT=0 -- Child table object_id
DECLARE @ForeignKeyText VARCHAR(MAX) -- Full blown ALTER TABLE ... FOREIGN KEY... REFERENCES statement.
DECLARE @ForeignKeyFields VARCHAR(MAX) -- delimited list of foreign key fields

WHILE @NextObject IS NOT NULL
       BEGIN
              SELECT @NextObject = MIN(Object_Id)
              FROM @FKTable
              WHERE Object_Id>@NextObject

              IF @NextObject IS NOT NULL
                     BEGIN
                           IF NOT EXISTS(
                                  SELECT FK.StandardisedColumnName
                                  FROM @FKTable AS FK
                                         INNER JOIN CandidateKey.GetFieldsUsedInExistingFK(@NextObject) AS CK
                                         ON FK.StandardisedColumnName = CK.StandardisedColumnName
                                  )
                                  BEGIN
                                         SET @ForeignKeyText='ALTER TABLE '
                                                + OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@NextObject)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(@NextObject)
                                                + ' WITH NOCHECK ADD CONSTRAINT FKCandidate_'+OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@NextObject)+'_'+OBJECT_NAME(@NextObject)
                                                + '_' +OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@TableId)+'_'+OBJECT_NAME(@TableId)
                                                + ' FOREIGN KEY ('



                                        -- Build concatenated list of foreign key names
                                         SELECT @ForeignKeyFields = COALESCE(@ForeignKeyFields+',','')+OriginalColumnName
                                         FROM @FKTable
                                         WHERE Object_Id=@NextObject
                                         ORDER BY ColumnID

                                         SET @ForeignKeyText=@ForeignKeyText
                                                + @ForeignKeyFields + ') '
                                                + @SQLReferences

                                         PRINT @ForeignKeyText

                                         BEGIN TRY
                                                EXEC(@ForeignKeyText)
                                         END TRY
                                         BEGIN CATCH
                                                PRINT '================================='
                                                RAISERROR('ERROR TableID=%i, SQL=%s',10,1,@TableID,@ForeignKeyText) WITH NOWAIT
                                                PRINT '================================='
                                         END CATCH
                                         SET @ForeignKeyFields = NULL
                                  END
                           END
       END
GO

Dealing with Multi-field relationships

This is simply a case of iterating through the list of objects with multiple field primary keys in reverse order of the number of fields.

For each object we simply call CandidateKey.GetCandidateForeignKey.

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.GenerateMultiFieldFK
AS
SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE @ProcName VARCHAR(256)=OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@@PROCID)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(@@PROCID)

RAISERROR('PROC: %s',10,1,@ProcName) WITH NOWAIT

DECLARE      
       @object_id INT,
       @PKFieldCount TINYINT

DECLARE csr_FK INSENSITIVE CURSOR
FOR SELECT
       Object_Id,
       PKFieldCount
FROM  CandidateKey.PKFieldCount
WHERE PKFieldCount>1
ORDER BY PKFieldCount DESC

OPEN csr_FK
FETCH NEXT FROM csr_FK INTO @object_id,@PKFieldCount

WHILE @@FETCH_STATUS = 0
       BEGIN
              EXEC CandidateKey.GetCandidateForeignKey @object_id
              FETCH NEXT FROM csr_FK INTO @object_id,@PKFieldCount
       END

CLOSE csr_FK
DEALLOCATE csr_FK

GO

Relationships constrained to a schema

We have identified a rules based hierarchy that allows us to cater for the relationship between BusinessEntity, Person and Password in the Person schema within the Adventureworks2014 database.

The puzzle we now face is where we have BusinessEntityID as the primary key in the other schemas.  What we want to achieve is have objects within a schema that contain the BusinessEntityID field to relate to the table in their schema with BusinessEntityId as the primary key field and not link back to the Person.BusinessEntity object.

We want a stored procedure that generates a foreign key based on the following rules:

  • The parent table must contain a single field primary key
  • Both parent and child must exist in the same schema
  • The child must not already have a parent relationship using the same fieldname as the primary key
  • The parent table name must be at the start of the table name for the child.  That is Sales.SalesPerson is the parent of Sales.SalesPersonQuota.

The stored procedure to achieve this is shown below.

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.GenerateSchemaSpecificFK
AS

SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE @ProcName VARCHAR(256)=OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@@PROCID)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(@@PROCID)
PRINT '==============================================='
RAISERROR('PROC: %s',10,1,@ProcName) WITH NOWAIT

DECLARE
       @SQL VARCHAR(MAX),
       @CRLF CHAR(2)=CHAR(13)+CHAR(10)

SELECT @SQL=COALESCE(@SQL+';'+@CRLF,'')
+      'ALTER TABLE '
+      QUOTENAME(c.SchemaName)+'.'+QUOTENAME(C.OriginalObjectName)
+      ' WITH NOCHECK ADD CONSTRAINT '
+       QUOTENAME('FKCandidate_'+c.SchemaName+'_'+C.OriginalObjectName+'_'+P.schemaName+'_'+P.OriginalObjectname)
+      ' FOREIGN KEY ('
+      C.originalColumnName
+      ') REFERENCES '
+      QUOTENAME(P.SchemaName)+'.'+QUOTENAME(P.OriginalObjectName)
+      '('
+      p.OriginalColumnName
+      ')'

FROM  CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems AS P
              INNER JOIN    CandidateKey.PKFieldCount AS FC
              ON P.Object_Id = FC.Object_Id
              AND FC.PKFieldCount=1

              INNER JOIN CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems AS C
              ON P.SchemaName = C.SchemaName
              AND P.Object_Id <> C.Object_Id
              AND PATINDEX(P.StandardisedObjectName+'%',C.StandardisedObjectName)=1
              AND P.StandardisedColumnName = C.StandardisedColumnName

WHERE C.StandardisedColumnName NOT IN(SELECT StandardisedColumnName FROM CandidateKey.GetFieldsUsedInExistingFK( C.Object_id ))

PRINT @SQL
EXEC(@SQL)

GO

Final sweep up of single field primary key relationships

So far we have dealt with the following items

  1. One to 0..1 hierarchies within a schema
  2. Multi-field relationships
  3. One to many relationships within a schema

We now have to deal with cross schema relationships and any other relationships not catered for by the rules applied so far.

The puzzle to solve this time is that where there are 1 to 0..1 relationships we want to exclude any but the root object in that particular hierarchy.

Once we have a list of qualifying objects then we can simply iterate through that list of objects calling our CandidateKey.GetCandidateForeignKey stored procedure. The stored procedure below illustrates how this can be achieved.

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.GenerateFinalSingleFieldFK
AS
SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE @ProcName VARCHAR(256)=OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@@PROCID)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(@@PROCID)
PRINT '==============================================='
RAISERROR('PROC: %s',10,1,@ProcName) WITH NOWAIT

DECLARE @SingleFieldPKs TABLE (Object_Id INT NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED)

DECLARE @Object_Id INT=0

;WITH MO AS ( -- For the 1 to 0..1 relationships rank the priority
       SELECT
              Object_id,
              SequenceNumber=row_number() OVER (PARTITION BY StandardisedColumnName ORDER BY StandardisedColumnName, TablePriority),
              StandardisedColumnName
       FROM CandidateKey.PKOneToOneZero
),
PriorityObject AS ( -- Choose the master table in the 1 to 0..1 relationships
       SELECT StandardisedColumnName,Object_Id
       FROM MO
       WHERE SequenceNumber=1
)

-- Exclude tables if they participate in a 1 to 0..1 relationship and are not the master.
INSERT INTO  @SingleFieldPKs(Object_Id)
SELECT FC.Object_Id
FROM CandidateKey.PKFieldCount FC
       INNER JOIN CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItemS AS SPK
       ON FC.Object_Id = SPK.Object_Id

       LEFT JOIN PriorityObject
       ON SPK.StandardisedColumnName =  PriorityObject.StandardisedColumnName

WHERE FC.PKFieldCount=1
AND FC.Object_Id = ISNULL(PriorityObject.Object_Id,FC.Object_ID)

WHILE @Object_Id IS NOT NULL
       BEGIN
              SELECT @Object_Id = MIN(Object_Id)
              FROM @SingleFieldPKs
              WHERE Object_Id>@Object_Id

              IF @Object_Id IS NOT NULL
                     EXEC CandidateKey.GetCandidateForeignKey @object_id
       END

GO

Putting the foreign key procs together

Running the process

This is as simple as running the following:-

exec CandidateKey.GetStandardisedPKItems;
exec CandidateKey.GetPKOneToOneZeroPriority;
exec CandidateKey.GeneratePKOneToOneZeroHierarchy;
exec CandidateKey.GenerateMultiFieldFK;
exec CandidateKey.GenerateSchemaSpecificFK;
exec CandidateKey.GenerateFinalSingleFieldFK;

Examining the results

My starting point was my copy of AdventureWorks2014.  From this I took a backup and restored a copy into a database called AW2014.

I destroyed all foreign keys in AW2014 and ran my process.

A straight count of the sysreferences table in both databases produced the following results

DatabaseName

NumberOfRelationships

Adventureworks2014

92

Aw2014

79

The numbers do not reveal the full story.  The following query highlights 37 different table to table relationships.

SELECT DISTINCT
       OriginalParentName=Original.ParentName,
       OriginalChildName=Original.ChildName,
       NewParentName=NewR.ParentName,
       NewChildName=NewR.ChildName

FROM
 (
       SELECT
              ParentName=PS.name+'.'+P.name,
              ChildName=CS.name+'.'+C.name
       FROM Adventureworks2014..sysreferences AS R

              INNER JOIN Adventureworks2014.sys.objects AS P
              ON R.rkeyId = P.object_id

              INNER JOIN Adventureworks2014.sys.schemas AS PS
              ON P.schema_id = PS.schema_id

              INNER JOIN Adventureworks2014.sys.objects AS C
              ON R.fkeyId = C.object_id

              INNER JOIN Adventureworks2014.sys.schemas AS CS
              ON C.schema_id = CS.schema_id

) AS Original

       FULL OUTER JOIN(

       SELECCT
              ParentName=PS.name+'.'+P.name,
              ChildName=CS.name+'.'+C.name

       FROM AW2014..sysreferences AS R

              INNER JOIN AW2014.sys.objects AS P
              ON R.rkeyId = P.object_id

              INNER JOIN AW2014.sys.schemas AS PS
              ON P.schema_id = PS.schema_id

              INNER JOIN AW2014.sys.objects AS C
              ON R.fkeyId = C.object_id

              INNER JOIN AW2014.sys.schemas AS CS
              ON C.schema_id = CS.schema_id

)  NewR

ON Original.ParentName = NewR.ParentName
AND Original.ChildName = NewR.ChildName

WHERE Original.ParentName IS NULL
OR NewR.ParentName IS NULL

One example of the gap is in the Sales.CurrencyRate table.  In Adventureworks2014 this is related to the Sales.Currency table with two relationships neither of which have been detected by our process.

  • FromCurrencyCode
  • ToCurrencyCode

The stored procedure below caters for this occurence:

CREATE PROC CandidateKey.PartialKeyNameFKs
AS
SET NOCOUNT ON

DECLARE @ProcName VARCHAR(256)=OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(@@PROCID)+'.'+OBJECT_NAME(@@PROCID)
PRINT '==============================================='
RAISERROR('PROC: %s',10,1,@ProcName) WITH NOWAIT

DECLARE @SQL VARCHAR(MAX)
DECLARE @CRLF CHAR(2)=CHAR(13)+CHAR(10)

;WITH PKFields AS (
       SELECT 
              SPK.Object_id,
              SPK.ColumnId,
              SPK.StandardisedColumnName,
              SPK.OriginalColumnName,
              SPK.DataTypeID,
              SPK.SchemaName,
              SPK.OriginalObjectName
       FROM  CandidateKey.StandardisedPKItems   AS SPK

              INNER JOIN CandidateKey.PKFieldCount AS PKFC
       ON SPK.Object_id = PKFC.Object_id
       AND PKFC.PKFieldCount=1    -- We are only interested in single field PKs

       WHERE StandardisedColumnName NOT IN ('ID','Code') -- Exclude these as they generate huge numbers of false positives
       AND DataTypeID NOT IN (SELECT system_type_id FROM sys.types WHERE name LIKE 'date%' OR name LIKE '%time%')
)

SELECT @SQL = COALESCE(@SQL+';'+@CRLF,'')
+      'ALTER TABLE '
+      QUOTENAME(OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(O.object_id))+'.'+QUOTENAME(O.name)
+      ' ADD CONSTRAINT '
+       QUOTENAME('FKCandidate_'+OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(O.object_id)+'_'+O.name+'_'+PKFields.SchemaName+'_'+PKFields.OriginalObjectName+'_'+C.Name)
+      ' FOREIGN KEY ('
+      C.Name
+      ') REFERENCES '
+      QUOTENAME(PKFields.SchemaName)+'.'+QUOTENAME(PKFields.OriginalObjectName)
+      '('
+      PKFields.OriginalColumnName
+      ')'

FROM sys.columns AS C

       INNER JOIN sys.objects AS O
       ON C.object_id = O.object_id

       INNER JOIN    CandidateKey.PKFieldCount AS PKFC
       ON O.object_id = PKFC.Object_id
       AND PKFC.PKFieldCount=1

       INNER JOIN PKFields
       ON C.system_type_id = PKFields.DataTypeID -- A FK must share the same data type from parent to child.
       AND (
                     REPLACE(C.name,'_','') LIKE PKFields.StandardisedColumnName+'%'
              OR     REPLACE(C.name,'_','') LIKE '%'+PKFields.StandardisedColumnName
       )

       LEFT JOIN sys.sysreferences AS REF
       ON REF.rkeyid = PKFields.Object_id
       AND REF.rkey1 = PKFields.ColumnId
       AND REF.fkey1 = C.column_id
       AND REF.fkeyid = O.object_id

WHERE O.type='U'
AND REPLACE(C.name,'_','') <>PKFields.StandardisedColumnName
AND REF.rkeyid IS NULL

PRINT @SQL
EXEC(@SQL)

GO

However an example we cannot cater for is in the Production.BillOfMaterials table. In Adventureworks2014 this has three relationships of which AW2014 has one.  The two missing ones are as follows:

  • BillOfMaterials.ProductAssemblyID = Product.ProductID
  • BillOfMaterials.ComponentID = Product.ProductID

Neither of the above could be detected without some form a thesaurus capability. 

An example of a false positive is that our process defined a relationship between ProductListPriceHistory and ProductCostHistory.  Both have a primary key of ProductID and StartDate.

Further differences involves the 1 to 0..1 relationship for the BusinessEntityId field.  To take an example of Sales.SalesPerson

  • Adventureworks2014 the parent is HumanResources.Employee
  • AW2014 the parent is Person.BusinessEntity

In all the cases mentioned above the reasons for the discrepancy can be explained by the limitations of a naming convention.

Concluding thoughts

The problem of auto-suggesting foreign key relationships is far more difficult than it would first appear.

Strong naming conventions help but are by no means a panacea.  If a database has strong naming conventions that suggests discipline and I would question whether a database produced using disciplined approaches would be likely to omit foreign key constraints.

I did consider a solution that involves parsing views, functions and stored procedures and even execution plans but rejected for the following reasons:

  • There is no guarantee of views, functions and procs being present in the database
  • A quick look at the objects within Adventureworks2014 suggests that parsing such objects is even more complicated that the naming convention solution.

I should be interested to hear how well the techniques and code described here work with real world examples.

 

Resources:

ForeignKeyInvestigation.zip
Total article views: 2839 | Views in the last 30 days: 8
 
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