Is there a way to define a table that has a sequence column counting from 1 for every different corresponding foreign key column?

I want a "local" serial for every foreign key - sorry for the inaccurate language, but by this I really mean:

Table: book_to_paragraph

book_id paragraph_id content
1001 1 "first paragraph..."
1001 2 "second paragraph..."
... ... ...
1002 1 "the next book, first paragraph..."
... ... ...

Table: book_to_info

book_id name author
... ... ...
1001 Book A Adam Smith
1002 Book B Bob C. Smith
... ... ...

Data definition language: book_to_info

CREATE TABLE book_to_info (

   bookName VARCHAR(32) NOT NULL,
   authorName TEXT[],
   pubDate DATE

Data definition language: book_to_paragraph

CREATE TABLE book_to_paragraph (
   book_id INTEGER REFERENCES book_to_info(book_id),

   paragraph_id ???, <- This is my question!!!

   content TEXT,
   UNIQUE(book_id, paragraph_id)

Any help would be appreciated!

  • Hi, and welcome to dba.se! Is there a maximum number of chapters? Do authors ever rearrange their works - or are these historical?
    – Vérace
    Commented Jun 29 at 19:49
  • you make the column an integer and think of a way to enter the chapter number, so you could insert chapter 23 and then 13 as your program defines the order
    – nbk
    Commented Jun 29 at 22:48
  • This question is similar to: Create unique sequence per set of rows sharing the same foreign key value. If you believe it’s different, please edit the question, make it clear how it’s different and/or how the answers on that question are not helpful for your problem.
    – nbk
    Commented Jun 29 at 23:11

1 Answer 1


A serial (or IDENTITY) column is not the right tool for your purpose. Those are meant to handle concurrent write access gracefully, and expressly not to produce a gapless sequence of row numbers, much less one per foreign key. They typically produce strictly monotonically increasing numbers in insert order, but even that isn't guaranteed. The only guarantee: unique numbers per row.

The best solution for you depends on the (undisclosed) exact definition of the use case. Concurrency? Cardinalities? Postgres version? What is immutable, what can change? Inserts/Updates/Deletes? Write patterns? Order criteria? Precise objectives?


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