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Entities:

  • Lists
  • Leads

What I am trying to achieve is a scenerio where in the relationship between lists and leads the following constraint is applied: A list can have many leads, but a lead can only belong to one list.

Standard way of doing this is a simple non-identifying one-to-many relationship.

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Another way I'm doing this is to create a hybrid one-to-one and a one-to-many relationship.

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In both cases a list can contain many leads, but a lead can only exist in one list. Does anyone see any advantages or disadvantages to the second method? Any differences between the two methods? Any alternatives?

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  • 2
    What does the second design gain you? I can't see any improvement over the first design TBH. Oct 20, 2013 at 20:43
  • Your first approach is simpler, and it gets the job done. So I would go for it, unless there are additional requirements you did not describe in your post.
    – A-K
    Oct 21, 2013 at 13:31

1 Answer 1

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There are very few scenarios in which you would probably benefit from your second design:

One is if there is a sub-typing scenario where only certain a certain sub-type had the relationship (and the super-type doesn't) and the sub-type has other additional fields, besides the foreign key.

Another might be where the existence and value of the foreign key needs to be controlled for security reasons at a different level of granularity than the rest of the entity containing the foreign key. Most DBMSs can handle security per table. Most don't handle security per column.

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  • Another good reason to go with method two is if I decided to make the lists_list_id FK optional. By moving the relationship to a pivot table, then I avoid several millions of records of potential null values in that column in the lead entity.
    – Seph
    Oct 21, 2013 at 7:18
  • @SephVelut - Avoiding nulls is only important if you have a performance or space problem and your foreign key is populated only a small fraction of the time. A lot of people like to avoid sparse table, but extending that notion to an optional column is overkill.
    – Joel Brown
    Oct 21, 2013 at 10:52
  • Exactly, which is why I prefer the latter approach. Mind you multiple tables is not a bad thing. Relational Databases are at their best when broken into discrete units.
    – Seph
    Oct 21, 2013 at 11:18
  • I would also add that it creates a layer where you can separate your concerns. Say I had boolean type columns inside lead. Where very shortly it can become unwieldy with 4 or 5 flags columns. Instead normalizing to separate tables with the corresponding relationships helps keep entities organized and light.
    – Seph
    Oct 22, 2013 at 8:11
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    I just ran into such case. I have a users table and a user_types table, but only a certain user_type should also have a relationship to homes table. Where would that relationship go? I don't want a home_id column in my users table. Do I create a pivot table for this then?
    – Vic
    May 26, 2016 at 16:36

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