conditional unique constraint

I have a situation where i need to enforce a unique constraint on a set of columns, but only for one value of a column.

So for example I have a table like Table(ID, Name, RecordStatus).

RecordStatus can only have a value 1 or 2 (active or deleted), and I want to create a unique constraint on (ID, RecordStatus) only when RecordStatus = 1, since I don’t care if there are multiple deleted records with the same ID.

Apart from writing triggers, can I do that?

I am using SQL Server 2005.

Add a check constraint like this. The difference is, you’ll return false if Status = 1 and Count > 0.

CREATE TABLE CheckConstraint
  Name VARCHAR(50),
  RecordStatus TINYINT

  @Id INT

  SELECT @ret = COUNT(*) FROM CheckConstraint WHERE Id = @Id AND RecordStatus = 1;
  RETURN @ret;


ALTER TABLE CheckConstraint
  ADD CONSTRAINT CheckActiveCountConstraint CHECK (NOT (dbo.CheckActiveCount(Id) > 1 AND RecordStatus = 1));

INSERT INTO CheckConstraint VALUES (1, 'No Problems', 2);
INSERT INTO CheckConstraint VALUES (1, 'No Problems', 2);
INSERT INTO CheckConstraint VALUES (1, 'No Problems', 2);
INSERT INTO CheckConstraint VALUES (1, 'No Problems', 1);

INSERT INTO CheckConstraint VALUES (2, 'Oh no!', 1);
INSERT INTO CheckConstraint VALUES (2, 'Oh no!', 2);
-- Msg 547, Level 16, State 0, Line 14
-- The INSERT statement conflicted with the CHECK constraint "CheckActiveCountConstraint". The conflict occurred in database "TestSchema", table "dbo.CheckConstraint".
INSERT INTO CheckConstraint VALUES (2, 'Oh no!', 1);

SELECT * FROM CheckConstraint;
-- Id   Name         RecordStatus
-- ---- ------------ ------------
-- 1    No Problems  2
-- 1    No Problems  2
-- 1    No Problems  2
-- 1    No Problems  1
-- 2    Oh no!       1
-- 2    Oh no!       2

ALTER TABLE CheckConstraint
  DROP CONSTRAINT CheckActiveCountConstraint;

DROP FUNCTION CheckActiveCount;
DROP TABLE CheckConstraint;

Behold, the filtered index. From the documentation (emphasis mine):

A filtered index is an optimized nonclustered index especially suited to cover queries that select from a well-defined subset of data. It uses a filter predicate to index a portion of rows in the table. A well-designed filtered index can improve query performance as well as reduce index maintenance and storage costs compared with full-table indexes.

And here’s an example combining a unique index with a filter predicate:

create unique index MyIndex
on MyTable(ID)
where RecordStatus = 1;

This essentially enforces uniqueness of ID when RecordStatus is 1.

Following the creation of that index, a uniqueness violation will raise an arror:

Msg 2601, Level 14, State 1, Line 13
Cannot insert duplicate key row in object ‘dbo.MyTable’ with unique index ‘MyIndex’. The duplicate key value is (9999).

Note: the filtered index was introduced in SQL Server 2008. For earlier versions of SQL Server, please see this answer.

You could move the deleted records to a table that lacks the constraint, and perhaps use a view with UNION of the two tables to preserve the appearance of a single table.

You can do this in a really hacky way…

Create an schemabound view on your table.

WHERE RecordStatus = 1

Now create a unique constraint on the view with the fields you want.

One note about schemabound views though, if you change the underlying tables you will have to recreate the view. Plenty of gotchas because of that.

Because, you are going to allow duplicates, a unique constraint will not work. You can create a check constraint for RecordStatus column and a stored procedure for INSERT that checks the existing active records before inserting duplicate IDs.

If you can’t use NULL as a RecordStatus as Bill’s suggested, you could combine his idea with a function-based index. Create a function that returns NULL if the RecordStatus is not one of the values you want to consider in your constraint (and the RecordStatus otherwise) and create an index over that.

That’ll have the advantage that you don’t have to explicitly examine other rows in the table in your constraint, which could cause you performance issues.

I should say I don’t know SQL server at all, but I have successfully used this approach in Oracle.

For those still searching for a solution, I came accross a nice answer, to a similar question and I think this can be still useful for many. While moving deleted records to another table may be a better solution, for those who don’t want to move the record can use the idea in the linked answer which is as follows.

  • Set deleted=0 when the record is available/active.
  • Set deleted=<row_id or some other unique value> when marking the row
    as deleted.

Leave a Comment