Named constraints: two sides to the story!


Constraints in SQL Server are of the following types:

  • CHECK constraints
  • DEFAULT constraints
  • Foreign key constraints
  • NULLable constraint
  • UNIQUE constraint
  • PRIMARY KEY constraint

BTW, if you are wondering what a NULLable constraint is, it is the formal representation of a NULL / NOT NULL definition for a field. We don’t normally think of NULL definitions in that way but in the parser that is how it is represented Smile

Anyways, constraints such as CHECK, DEFAULT, UNIQUE, PRIMARY KEY, FOREIGN KEY can be named, for example:

CREATE TABLE #TableWithNamedConstraints
    i int not null constraint PK_TableWithNamedConstraints primary key,
    j int constraint DF_j default 100,
    k int constraint CK_k check (k > 0)

The issue

While this is generally considered to be a good practice for base tables, for a temp table such as the above, it can be a real problem if you have multiple connections executing the above CREATE TABLE code at the same time. The problem arises from the fact that while the temp table name is uniquified, the constraint names are not. In such cases of concurrent execution, you typically receive an error such as the below:

Msg 2714, Level 16, State 5, Line 1
There is already an object named 'PK_TableWithNamedConstraints' in the database.
Msg 1750, Level 16, State 0, Line 1
Could not create constraint. See previous errors.

You can see the evidence of this in sys.objects:

select name from sys.objects
where parent_object_id = object_id('#TableWithNamedConstraints')
or object_id = object_id('#TableWithNamedConstraints')

The output shows that the table name is uniquified but the constraint names are not:



This issue is described in this Connect bug as well. The workaround is therefore to not name constraints in the case of temporary tables. So for the example shown above, the more ‘robust’ version (for the temp table case) would look like this:

CREATE TABLE #TableWithNamedConstraints
    i int not null primary key,
    j int default 100,
    k int check (k > 0)


So the next time you have a CREATE TABLE with constraints, consider the two cases:

  • For base tables, you almost ALWAYS want to name them
  • For temporary tables, you almost NEVER want to name them

Hope this helps!

Comments (3)

  1. Starsky51 says:

    I had this exact problem in the week! Worth pointing out that if you need an unnamed primary key that spans multiple columns, you can use ALTER TABLE ADD CONSTRAINT without specifying a name too.

  2. GPO says:

    Could this be a problem of your stored proc creates indexes on temp tables too?

  3. @GPO – the good news is that index names do not have to be unique within a database. See…/ms188783.aspx for the reference. So this issue described in my blog entry is not applicable to indexes, even if those indexes were marked as UNIQUE.

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