ID in SQL, Understanding the Different Types of IDs in SQL: Pros and Cons

dreamecho100

dreamecho100

Mazen Mohamed
created at: tags: sql, id, primary-key, database-structure, data-integrity, natural-keys, custom-generated-ids, uuidtime-based-ids, auto-incrementing-ids, postgresql
ID in SQL, Understanding the Different Types of IDs in SQL: Pros and Cons

In SQL, an ID is typically a unique identifier used to identify a specific record or row in a table. IDs are used as the primary key for a table and are used to create relationships between tables through foreign keys. An ID can be an integer, a string, or a combination of both, and it is unique for each record in the table. It is used to reference the specific record or row in the table.

Advantage for using ID as a primary key

There are several advantages to using an ID as a primary key:

  • Uniqueness: Each record in the table is identified by a unique ID, which prevents duplicate records from being created.
  • Indexing: ID fields are often indexed, which improves the performance of queries that use the primary key for filtering or sorting results.
  • Referential integrity: ID fields are used to establish relationships between tables, which helps to maintain the integrity of the data by ensuring that related records are not deleted or updated without updating the related records as well.
  • Simplicity: IDs are often simple integers or strings, making them easy to work with and understand.
  • Scalability: IDs can be generated by the database, allowing the application to scale without worrying about running out of unique keys.
  • Data privacy: ID fields are often used to anonymize data, making it more difficult to identify specific individuals based on the data stored in the database.

Disadvantages for using ID as a primary key

There are a few potential disadvantages of using an ID as a primary key in a SQL table.

  • One is that IDs can become large and unwieldy if the table is expected to contain numerous rows, which can make it harder to work with the table and query the data.

  • Additionally, IDs can be difficult to maintain and update, since they may need to be changed or reassigned if the data in the table is modified or restructured.

  • Another disadvantage is that, if an application is required to use a natural key as the primary key, it will require more complex join and will be less performant.

Types of IDs and Custom generated IDs

Custom generated IDs are IDs that are generated by the application or service rather than the database. They are not based on any inherent property of the data, but rather are assigned by the system based on some other criteria.

  • UUID (Universally Unique Identifier): A 128-bit identifier that is unique across space and time, with a very low probability of duplication.
  • GUID (Globally Unique Identifier): A Microsoft-specific implementation of UUID.
  • Short ID: A short, unique identifier that is often created by encoding a larger value, such as a timestamp or a UUID.
  • Random ID: A random string of characters or numbers that is generated by a program or service.
  • Sequential ID: An identifier that is generated based on a sequence or incrementing value.
  • Hash-based ID: A unique identifier generated by applying a hash function to one or more input values.
  • Auto-Incrementing: An integer ID field that is automatically incremented with each new record.
  • Time-based: Identifier generated based on time, such as timestamp
  • Snowflake: Distributed unique ID generation algorithm, where each ID is unique across all nodes.
  • External ID: ID that was generated by another system.
  • Combination of multiple fields: Identifier that is generated by combining multiple fields, such as a customer's name, address, and date of birth.

Note that we will talk about some of them with more more details

Advantages of custom generated IDs include

  • They can be easily created in a distributed system, as the same algorithm can be used to generate IDs on multiple machines.
  • They can be designed to be unique across different systems and databases, allowing for easy merging of data from different sources.
  • They can be designed to be more human-readable, making them easier to work with and debug.

Disadvantages of custom generated IDs include

  • They can be more complex to generate and manage than other types of IDs.
  • They may be less performant than other types of IDs, as the generation process can add overhead to the system.
  • They may be less secure, as it can be easier for an attacker to predict or guess the next ID if the generation algorithm is known.

An example of a custom generated ID in PostgreSQL

Could be a UUID, which can be generated using the [ "gen_random_uuid()" ] function.

But we will need to load the [ "pgcrypto" ] extension in the current database/schema first.

1CREATE EXTENSION pgcrypto; 2 3INSERT INTO users (id, name) VALUES (gen_random_uuid(), 'John Doe');

Note that, a UUID is not the only possible type of custom generated ID, it could be any value generated by an application or service.

Natural keys for IDs

Natural keys are a type of identifier that are based on the inherent properties of the data that they identify. In other words, they use a value that already exists in the data itself as the primary key, rather than generating a new unique value.

Advantages of using natural keys

  • They can be easier to understand and work with, since they are based on real-world values.
  • They can be more efficient to use, since the database doesn't need to generate a new unique value.
  • They can help enforce business rules and constraints, since the key is based on the data itself.

Disadvantages of using natural keys

  • They can be less reliable, since the data that the key is based on may change or be inconsistent.
  • They may not be unique across all instances of the data, which can lead to collisions and errors.
  • They can make it more difficult to change the data structure, since the key is closely tied to the data.

Example of using a natural key in PostgreSQL

1CREATE TABLE products ( 2 sku CHARACTER VARYING(10) NOT NULL, 3 name CHARACTER VARYING(255) NOT NULL, 4 price NUMERIC(10,2) NOT NULL, 5 PRIMARY KEY (sku) 6);

A stock-keeping unit (SKU) is a scannable bar code

In this example, the [ "sku" ] column is used as the primary key for the [ "products" ] table. Since the [ "sku" ] values are unique across all products, it makes sense to use it as the primary key.

Auto-incrementing integers IDs

Auto-incrementing integers IDs, also known as serial or auto-increment IDs, are a common way of generating unique identifiers for rows in a database table. The advantages of this approach include:

Advantages of using Auto-incrementing integers

  • Ease of use: Auto-incrementing integers are easy to generate and use, as the database management system (DBMS) handles the process of incrementing the value automatically.
  • Predictability: Since auto-increment IDs are generated in a predictable sequence, they can be useful for certain types of queries and data organization.
  • Space efficiency: Integer IDs are typically smaller than other types of IDs, such as UUIDs, which can save space in the database.

Disadvantages of Auto-incrementing integers

However, there are also some disadvantages to using auto-incrementing integers as IDs:

  • Collision risk: If multiple systems are generating auto-incrementing IDs independently, there is a risk of collision if the same ID is generated by both systems.
  • Difficulty in merging data: If data from multiple systems needs to be merged, it can be difficult to ensure that the auto-incrementing IDs are unique across all systems.
  • Limited scalability: Auto-incrementing IDs can become a bottleneck in high-throughput systems, as the DBMS must lock the table to increment the ID.

Example of using Auto-incrementing integers in PostgreSQL

Here's an example of how to create a table with an auto-incrementing ID in PostgreSQL:

1CREATE TABLE users ( 2 id SERIAL PRIMARY KEY, 3 name TEXT NOT NULL, 4 email TEXT NOT NULL 5);

In this example, the column [ "id" ] is defined as [ "SERIAL" ] which is a shorthand for [ "INTEGER" ] with the [ "AUTO_INCREMENT" ] property. The PRIMARY KEY constraint ensures that the values in the [ "id" ] column are unique and not null.

Time-based IDs

Time-based IDs are IDs that are generated based on the current time. The most common example of a time-based ID is a timestamp. The advantage of using a time-based ID is that it is guaranteed to be unique, as it is based on the current time and can be generated quickly and easily. Additionally, it is easy to sort records based on the time-based ID.

Advantages of Time-based IDs

  • Easy to generate: They can be generated by simply reading the current time from a clock.
  • Guaranteed to be unique: Since the IDs are based on the current time, it is highly unlikely that two IDs will be generated at exactly the same time.
  • Sorted by time: By including a timestamp in the ID, you can sort the data by time.

Disadvantages of Time-based IDs

  • Clock drift: If the clocks on different machines become out of sync, then it's possible for the same timestamp to be generated on two different machines, leading to duplicate IDs.
  • Limited scalability: As the number of IDs generated per unit time increases, the likelihood of ID collisions increases, potentially requiring the use of a larger ID space or a more complex ID generation scheme.
  • Limited privacy: Time-based IDs may reveal information about when an entity was created, which could be sensitive information.
  • Limited durability: Timestamps can be affected by changes in timezones, daylight savings, leap seconds and other factors.

Example of a time-based ID in PostgreSQL

An example of a time-based ID in PostgreSQL would be using a timestamp as the primary key for a table:

1CREATE TABLE example ( 2 id TIMESTAMP DEFAULT now() PRIMARY KEY, 3 name TEXT NOT NULL 4);

In this example, the [ "id" ] column is set as the primary key and is set to a timestamp with the default value of the current time.

Combination of multiple fields (composite key) for an ID

Using a combination of multiple fields as an ID, also known as a composite key, can be useful in certain situations where a single field is not unique enough to identify a record. This approach can be particularly useful in cases where you want to ensure that each record has a unique identifier across multiple tables.

Advantages of using combination of multiple fields (composite key) for an ID

  • They can provide a unique identifier for a record across multiple tables.
  • They can help to enforce data integrity.
  • They can be used to create more meaningful keys for users.
  • They can help to improve query performance by creating indexes on multiple fields.

Disadvantages of using combination of multiple fields (composite key) for an ID

  • They can make it harder to change the structure of a table, as any dependent tables will also need to be updated.
  • They can make it harder to understand the data model and relationships between tables.
  • They can be harder to generate and manage than other forms of ID.

Example of using combination of multiple fields (composite key) for an ID

1CREATE TABLE student ( 2 student_id varchar(255) NOT NULL, 3 school_id varchar(255) NOT NULL, 4 first_name varchar(255) NOT NULL, 5 last_name varchar(255) NOT NULL, 6 grade int NOT NULL, 7 PRIMARY KEY (student_id, school_id) 8);

In this example, the composite primary key is made up of the [ "student_id" ] and [ "school_id" ] fields, which together uniquely identify each student. This approach has the advantage of ensuring that each student has a unique ID within the context of their respective school, but the disadvantage is that it may make queries and join operations more complex since it requires referencing multiple columns in the primary key.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the choice of ID type for a SQL table depends on the specific requirements and constraints of the application. It's important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each ID type and choose the one that best fits the needs of the project. IDs are typically used as the primary key for a table, and are used to create relationships between tables through foreign keys. ID can be an integer, a string, or a combination of both. Natural keys are based on inherent properties of the data and are guaranteed to be unique, but they can be difficult to maintain and update. Custom generated IDs, on the other hand, are generated by the application or service rather than the database, and can be designed to be more human-readable and unique across different systems and databases. However, they can be more complex to generate and might not be suitable for all use cases. Ultimately, it's crucial to evaluate the specific requirements of the application and to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of ID before making a decision.