The Shift Towards Object Identifiers (OIDs):Why Compound Keys in Database Tables Are No Longer Valid

The Shift Towards Object Identifiers (OIDs):Why Compound Keys in Database Tables Are No Longer Valid

Why Compound Keys in Database Tables Are No Longer Valid




In the realm of database design, compound keys were once a staple, largely driven by the need to adhere to normalization forms. However, the evolving landscape of technology and data management calls into question the continued relevance of these multi-attribute keys. This article explores the reasons why compound keys may no longer be the best choice and suggests a shift towards simpler, more maintainable alternatives like object identifiers (OIDs).


The Case Against Compound Keys


Complexity in Database Design


  • Normalization Overhead: Historically, compound keys were used to satisfy normalization requirements, ensuring minimal redundancy and dependency. While normalization is still important, the rigidity it imposes can lead to overly complex database schemas.
  • Business Logic Encapsulation: When compound keys include business logic, they can create dependencies that complicate data integrity and maintenance. Changes in business rules often necessitate schema alterations, which can be cumbersome.

Maintenance Challenges


  • Data Integrity Issues: Compound keys can introduce challenges in maintaining data integrity, especially in large and complex databases. Ensuring the uniqueness and consistency of multi-attribute keys can be error-prone.
  • Performance Concerns: Queries involving compound keys can become less efficient, as indexing and searching across multiple columns can be more resource-intensive compared to single-column keys.


The Shift Towards Object Identifiers (OIDs)


Simplified Design


  • Single Attribute Keys: Using OIDs as primary keys simplifies the schema. Each row can be uniquely identified by a single attribute, making the design more straightforward and easier to understand.
  • Decoupling Business Logic: OIDs help in decoupling the business logic from the database schema. Changes in business rules do not necessitate changes in the primary key structure, enhancing flexibility.


Easier Maintenance


  • Improved Data Integrity: With a single attribute as the primary key, maintaining data integrity becomes more manageable. The likelihood of key conflicts is reduced, simplifying the validation process.
  • Performance Optimization: OIDs allow for more efficient indexing and query performance. Searching and sorting operations are faster and less resource-intensive, improving overall database performance.


Revisiting Normalization


Historical Context


  • Storage Constraints: Normalization rules were developed when data storage was expensive and limited. Reducing redundancy and optimizing storage was paramount.
  • Modern Storage Solutions: Today, storage is relatively cheap and abundant. The strict adherence to normalization may not be as critical as it once was.

Balancing Act


  • De-normalization for Performance: In modern databases, a balance between normalization and de-normalization can be beneficial. De-normalization can improve performance and simplify query design without significantly increasing storage costs.
  • Practical Normalization: Applying normalization principles should be driven by practical needs rather than strict adherence to theoretical models. The goal is to achieve a design that is both efficient and maintainable.

ORM Design Preferences


Object-Relational Mappers (ORMs)


  • Design with OIDs in Mind: Many ORMs, such as XPO from DevExpress, were originally designed to work with OIDs rather than compound keys. This preference simplifies database interaction and enhances compatibility with object-oriented programming paradigms.
  • Support for Compound Keys: Although these ORMs support compound keys, their architecture and default behavior often favor the use of single-column OIDs, highlighting the practical advantages of simpler key structures in modern application development.



The use of compound keys in database tables, driven by the need to fulfill normalization forms, may no longer be the best practice in modern database design. Simplifying schemas with object identifiers can enhance maintainability, improve performance, and decouple business logic from the database structure. As storage becomes less of a constraint, a pragmatic approach to normalization, balancing performance and data integrity, becomes increasingly important. Embracing these changes, along with leveraging ORM tools designed with OIDs in mind, can lead to more robust, flexible, and efficient database systems.