Composite PRIMARY KEY enforces NOT NULL constraints on involved columns

If you need to allow NULL values, use a UNIQUE constraint (or index) instead of a PRIMARY KEY (and add a surrogate PK column – I suggest a serial or IDENTITY column in Postgres 10 or later).

  • Auto increment table column

A UNIQUE constraint allows columns to be NULL:

CREATE TABLE distributor (
, m_id integer
, x_id integer
, UNIQUE(m_id, x_id)  -- !
-- , CONSTRAINT distributor_my_name_uni UNIQUE (m_id, x_id)  -- verbose form

The manual:

For the purpose of a unique constraint, null values are not considered equal, unless NULLS NOT DISTINCT is specified.

In your case, you could enter something like (1, NULL) for (m_id, x_id) any number of times without violating the constraint. Postgres never considers two NULL values equal – as per definition in the SQL standard.

If you need to treat NULL values as equal (i.e. “not distinct”) to disallow such “duplicates”, I see two three (since Postgres 15) options:


This option was added with Postgres 15 and allows to treat NULL values as “not distinct”, so two of them conflict in a unique constraint or index. This is the most convenient option, going forward. The manual:

That means even in the presence of a unique constraint it is possible
to store duplicate rows that contain a null value in at least one of
the constrained columns. This behavior can be changed by adding the

Detailed instructions:

  • Create unique constraint with null columns

1. Two partial indexes

In addition to the UNIQUE constraint above:

CREATE UNIQUE INDEX dist_m_uni_idx ON distributor (m_id) WHERE x_id IS NULL;
CREATE UNIQUE INDEX dist_x_uni_idx ON distributor (x_id) WHERE m_id IS NULL;

But this gets out of hands quickly with more than two columns that can be NULL. See:

  • Create unique constraint with null columns

2. A multi-column UNIQUE index on expressions

Instead of the UNIQUE constraint. We need a free default value that is never present in involved columns, like -1. Add CHECK constraints to disallow it:

CREATE TABLE distributor (
   distributor serial PRIMARY KEY
 , m_id integer
 , x_id integer
 , CHECK (m_id &lt> -1)
 , CHECK (x_id &lt> -1)
CREATE UNIQUE INDEX distributor_uni_idx
ON distributor (COALESCE(m_id, -1), COALESCE(x_id, -1));

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