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Foreign key constraints

Learn more about using foreign key constraints in PlanetScale.

What is a foreign key constraint?

A foreign key is a logical association of rows between two tables in a parent-child relationship. A row in a “parent” table may be referenced by one or more rows in a “child” table. A foreign key typically suggests how you should JOIN tables in most queries.

A FOREIGN KEY constraint is a database construct, an implementation that forces the foreign key relationship's integrity (referential integrity). Namely, it ensures that a child table can only reference a parent table when the appropriate row exists in the parent table. A constraint also prevents the existence of “orphaned rows” in different methods.

Advantages and disadvantages of foreign key constraints

Foreign key constraints have advantages and disadvantages. While foreign key constraints can help ensure referential integrity, they will cause degraded performance in high concurrency workloads and introduce more complexity in the database. Often, foreign key constraints become problematic when operating on a large scale. You can read more why we do not recommend foreign key constraints for some applications.

We recommend weighing the advantages and disadvantages for your specific application when using foreign key constraints. If you decide to enforce referential integrity at the application level instead of at the database level, see our documentation on how to design systems that maintain referential integrity without foreign key constraints.

Foreign key constraints on PlanetScale



You must enable foreign key constraint support on your database in the PlanetScale database settings.

Before you enable foreign key constraint support, there are a few important things to know:

  • No open deploy requests: You cannot have any open deploy requests before enable foreign key constraint support.
  • Possible orphaned rows on reverts: Some deploy requests may result in orphaned rows if you revert them. You will be warned before you deploy changes.
  • Database upgrades: When you enable foreign key constraint support, we upgrade the MySQL version in some cases. You should experience no downtime during this upgrade, but it can take a few minutes to complete. Older databases may take longer.

How to enable foreign key constraints

Foreign key constraints can be enabled on a per database level, not the organization level.

  1. Navigate to the database you want to enable foreign key constraint support for, and select the “Settings” tab.
  2. Under "General", click the check box next to "Allow foreign key constraints", and click "Save database settings".
  3. After enable foreign key constraint support, PlanetScale may upgrade your database in the background, which could take several seconds. As always, database upgrades do not involve any downtime or locking and require no action on your part.

Database imports with foreign key constraints

You can import a database with foreign key constraints to PlanetScale. We will automatically detect them after successfully connecting to your external database. If we find any foreign key constraints, we automatically enable foreign key constraint support and continue the import process.

We recommend using a replica as your source when doing database imports with foreign key constraints. Read more in the database import documentation.


For most cases, foreign key constraints should work as expected in PlanetScale. There are a few cases to be aware of as they are currently unsupported or result in less ideal behavior.

Sharded versus unsharded environments

Currently, the foreign key constraints are only supported in unsharded environments. If you use PlanetScale in a sharded environment, contact your PlanetScale account manager for more information.

Deploy request limitations

Deploy requests do not validate the referential integrity of existing columns. ALTER TABLE… ADD FOREIGN KEY… does not validate existing row relations within the context of a deploy request. Unlike standard MySQL, it is possible to add the foreign key constraint to a table with orphaned rows, and they will remain orphaned. In standard MySQL, adding a foreign key is a blocking operation, and it fails if any orphaned rows are found.

Revert limitations

In some cases, a revert of a deploy request can result in orphaned rows. When you revert:

  • Dropping a foreign key constraint: Once a foreign key constraint is dropped, new data written to the table is less constrained. Reverting this change may result in data that is inconsistent with the dropped foreign key constraint.
  • Dropping a table with foreign key constraints: When a table with foreign key constraints is dropped, the parent table(s) will continue to be written to. If this change is reverted, data in the table that was dropped may no longer be consistent with its foreign key constraints.

Unsupported queries

The following queries are currently unsupported when the query leads to child table CASCADE or SET NULL:


For example:

INSERT INTO tbl (id, col) values (1, 2) ON DUPLICATE KEY UPDATE SET col = 3;

REPLACE INTO... SELECT... statement

For example:


UPDATE or DELETE with a LIMIT statement

For example:

UPDATE tbl SET col = 3 LIMIT 1;

UPDATE or DELETE with multiple tables statement

For example:


UPDATE for a foreign key column statement and referencing the column being updated in the same UPDATE statement

For example:

UPDATE tbl SET col = 5, fk_col = col + 1;

The workaround is to separate the updates for conflicting columns into separate schema changes.

Cyclic foreign keys are not allowed

While self-referencing tables are supported, cyclic foreign key references between different tables are not allowed. An example of this would be:

set foreign_key_checks=0;
create table t1 (id int primary key, t2id int, foreign key (t2id) references t2 (id));
create table t2 (id int primary key, t1id int, foreign key (t1id) references t1 (id));

Foreign key constraint names change on every deployment

This is mainly due to the MySQL limitation (compatible with ANSI SQL specification), where constraint names must be unique to the schema.

For example, in your database branch, you may run the following:

create table parent (id int primary key);
create table child (id int primary key, pid int, constraint pchild_fk foreign key (pid) references parent (id));

But after you deploy your schema changes:

show create table child \G
CREATE TABLE `child` (
`id` int NOT NULL,
`pid` int DEFAULT NULL,
KEY `pchild_fk_5vtaqz7kepok6wa91vryrkrje` (`pid`),
CONSTRAINT `pchild_fk_5vtaqz7kepok6wa91vryrkrje` FOREIGN KEY (`pid`) REFERENCES `parent` (`id`)

Need help?

Get help from the PlanetScale support team, or join our GitHub discussion board to see how others are using PlanetScale.

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