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CHECK Constraints

CHECK constraints enforce domain integrity by limiting the values that are accepted by a column. They are similar to FOREIGN KEY constraints in that they control the values that are put in a column. The difference is in how they determine which values are valid: FOREIGN KEY constraints obtain the list of valid values from another table, and CHECK constraints determine the valid values from a logical expression that is not based on data in another column. For example, the range of values for a salary column can be limited by creating a CHECK constraint that allows for only data that ranges from $15,000 through $100,000. This prevents salaries from being entered beyond the regular salary range.

You can create a CHECK constraint with any logical (Boolean) expression that returns TRUE or FALSE based on the logical operators. For the previous example, the logical expression is: salary >= 15000 AND salary <= 100000.

You can apply multiple CHECK constraints to a single column. You can also apply a single CHECK constraint to multiple columns by creating it at the table level. For example, a multiple-column CHECK constraint can be used to confirm that any row with a country/region column value of USA also has a two-character value in the state column. This allows for multiple conditions to be checked in one location.


Constraints that include implicit or explicit data type conversion may cause certain operations to fail. For example, such constraints defined on tables that are sources of partition switching may cause an ALTER TABLE...SWITCH operation to fail. Avoid data type conversion in constraint definitions.

Limitations of CHECK Constraints

CHECK constraints reject values that evaluate to FALSE. Because null values evaluate to UNKNOWN, their presence in expressions may override a constraint. For example, suppose you place a constraint on an int column MyColumn specifying that MyColumn can contain only the value 10 (MyColumn=10). If you insert the value NULL into MyColumn, the SQL Server 2005 Database Engine inserts NULL and does not return an error.

A CHECK constraint returns TRUE when the condition it is checking is not FALSE for any row in the table. If a table that has just been created does not have any rows, any CHECK constraint on this table is considered valid. This situation can produce unexpected results, as in the following example.

CREATE TABLE CheckTbl (col1 int, col2 int);
   DECLARE @retval int
   SELECT @retval = COUNT(*) FROM CheckTbl
   RETURN @retval
ADD CONSTRAINT chkRowCount CHECK (dbo.CheckFnctn() >= 1 );

The CHECK constraint being added specifies that there must be at least one row in table CheckTbl. However, because there are no rows in the table against which to check the condition of this constraint, the ALTER TABLE statement succeeds.

CHECK constraints are not validated during DELETE statements. Therefore, executing DELETE statements on tables with certain types of check constraints may produce unexpected results. For example, consider the following statements executed on table CheckTbl.

INSERT INTO CheckTbl VALUES (10, 10)
DELETE CheckTbl WHERE col1 = 10;

The DELETE statement succeeds, even though the CHECK constraint specifies that table CheckTbl must have at least 1 row.

See Also


Creating and Modifying CHECK Constraints

Other Resources


Help and Information

Getting SQL Server 2005 Assistance