Summary: in this tutorial, you will learn how to use MySQL primary key constraint to create a primary key for the table.
Introduction to MySQL primary key
A primary key is a column or a set of columns that uniquely identifies each row in the table. You must follow the rules below when you define a primary key for a table:
- A primary key must contain unique values. If the primary key consists of multiple columns, the combination of values in these columns must be unique.
- A primary key column cannot contain
NULLvalues. It means that you have to declare the primary key column with the
NOT NULLattribute. If you don’t, MySQL will force the primary key column as
- A table has only one primary key.
Because MySQL works faster with integers, the data type of the primary key column should be the integer e.g.,
BIGINT.You can choose a smaller integer type:
SMALLINT, etc. However, you should make sure that the range of values of the integer type for the primary key is sufficient for storing all possible rows that the table may have.
A primary key column often has the
AUTO_INCREMENT attribute that generates a unique sequence for the key automatically. The primary key of the next row is greater than the previous one.
MySQL creates an index named
PRIMARY type for the primary key in a table.
Defining MySQL PRIMARY KEY Constraints
MySQL allows you to create a primary key by defining a primary key constraint when you create or modify the table.
Defining MySQL PRIMARY KEY constraints using CREATE TABLE statement
MySQL allows you to create the primary key when you create the table using the CREATE TABLE statement. To create a
PRIMARY KEY constraint for the table, you specify the
PRIMARY KEY in the primary key column’s definition.
The following example creates
users table whose primary key is
CREATE TABLE users(
user_id INT AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY,
You can also specify the
PRIMARY KEY at the end of the
CREATE TABLE statement as follows:
CREATE TABLE roles(
role_id INT AUTO_INCREMENT,
In case the primary key consists of multiple columns, you must specify them at the end of the
CREATE TABLE statement. You put a coma-separated list of primary key columns inside parentheses followed the
PRIMARY KEY keywords.
CREATE TABLE userroles(
user_id INT NOT NULL,
role_id INT NOT NULL,
FOREIGN KEY(user_id) REFERENCES users(user_id),
FOREIGN KEY(role_id) REFERENCES roles(role_id)
Besides creating the primary key that consists of
role_id columns, the statement also created two foreign key constraints.
Defining MySQL PRIMARY KEY constraints using ALTER TABLE statement
If a table, for some reasons, does not have a primary key, you can use the ALTER TABLE statement to add a column that has all necessary primary key’s characteristics to the primary key as the following statement:
ALTER TABLE table_name
ADD PRIMARY KEY(primary_key_column);
The following example adds the id column to the primary key.
First, create the
t1 table without defining the primary key.
CREATE TABLE t1(
title varchar(255) NOT NULL
Second, make the
id column as the primary key of the
ALTER TABLE t1
ADD PRIMARY KEY(id);
PRIMARY KEY vs. UNIQUE KEY vs. KEY
KEY is a synonym for
INDEX. You use the
KEY when you want to create an index for a column or a set of columns that is not the part of a primary key or unique key.
UNIQUE index creates a constraint for a column whose values must be unique. Unlike the
PRIMARY index, MySQL allows
NULL values in the
UNIQUE index. A table can also have multiple
For example, the
username of a user in the
users table must be unique. You can define
UNIQUE indexes for the
username columns as the following statement:
UNIQUE index for the
ALTER TABLE users
ADD UNIQUE INDEX username_unique (username ASC) ;
UNIQUE index for the
ALTER TABLE users
ADD UNIQUE INDEX email_unique (email ASC) ;
In this tutorial, you have learned how to create a primary key for a new table or add a primary key for an existing table.