MySQL – Constraints on Hierarchical Data in a Self-Referential Table

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I recently had a client who was using a table structure that utilized a self-referential structure using an ID field and Parent_ID fields. After upgrading to Innodb, his DBA was trying to utilize a foreign key constraint to perform cascading UPDATE and DELETE statements. After much heart-ache, they called me in to find out why it was not working. Unfortunately, I had to share with them the fact that MySQL does not support this type of use of constraints on self-referential tables.

This deviation from SQL standards results affects an ON UPDATE CASCADE or ON UPDATE SET NULL that recurses to update the same table it has previously updated during the cascade. Instead of cascading, it acts like RESTRICT. This means that you cannot use self-referential ON UPDATE CASCADE or ON UPDATE SET NULL operations in MySQL. According to the Innodb developers, this is to prevent infinite loops resulting from cascaded updates, although I would think this could be addressed in future versions. A self-referential ON DELETE SET NULL, on the other hand, is still possible, as is a self-referential ON DELETE CASCADE.

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