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PostgreSQL Many-to-Many Relationships

This info is a continuation of where I left off in the Foreign Keys notes.

The ingredients table discussed below was created in the notes on Database Tables and filled with records in the notes on Database CRUD Commands.

Intermediary table

A many-to-many relationship could be thought of as two one-to-many relationships, linked by an intermediary table.

An intermediary table is typically referred to as a “junction table” (also as a “cross-reference table”). This table is used to link the other two tables together. It does this by having two fields that reference the primary key of each of the other two tables.

In this example the many-to-many relationship would be:

  • Each recipe has many ingredients.
  • Each ingredient can belong to many recipes.

So, you have two tables that represent the two distinct concepts (ingredients and recipes) and then you use another table to describe the relationships between them.

Let's create a recipe_ingredients table (our intermediary table):

CREATE TABLE recipe_ingredients (
  recipe_id INT REFERENCES recipes(recipe_id) ON DELETE NO ACTION,
  ingredient_id INT REFERENCES ingredients(id) ON DELETE NO ACTION,
  CONSTRAINT recipe_ingredients_pk PRIMARY KEY (recipe_id, ingredient_id)
recipe_idintegernot null
ingredient_idintegernot null
    "recipe_ingredients_pk" PRIMARY KEY, btree (recipe_id, ingredient_id)
Foreign-key constraints:
    "recipe_ingredients_ingredient_id_fkey" FOREIGN KEY (ingredient_id) REFERENCES ingredients(id)
    "recipe_ingredients_recipe_id_fkey" FOREIGN KEY (recipe_id) REFERENCES recipes(recipe_id)

ON DELETE NO ACTION sets this to error because we should clear out connections before we let developers delete recipes or ingredients. We don't want to cascade deletes because that could delete recipes and ingredients unintentionally and we don't want to set to null because then we'd have a bunch of half-null connections left over.

CONSTRAINT is basically saying "the combination of recipe_id and ingredient_id must be unique" and we're setting that as the primary key instead of an incrementing ID.

The table describes the many-to-many relationship with two foreign keys between ingredients and recipes.

Now, insert some records into the table to connect recipes and ingredients:

INSERT INTO recipe_ingredients
  (recipe_id, ingredient_id)
  (1, 10),
  (1, 11),
  (1, 13),
  (2, 5),
  (2, 13);

Using joins

Let's say you want to view the ingredients associated with a specific recipe (based on the recipe's ID):

  i.title AS ingredient_title,
  i.image AS ingredient_image,
  i.type AS ingredient_type
  recipe_ingredients ri
  ingredients i
ON = ri.ingredient_id
  ri.recipe_id = 1;

AS is simply used to rename a column for your own convenience.

This results in:


If you want to include the recipe information as well you'll need to include a second inner join:

  i.title AS ingredient_title,
  i.image AS ingredient_image,
  i.type AS ingredient_type,
  r.title AS recipe_title,
  r.body AS recipe_body,
  r.recipe_id AS rid, AS iid
  recipe_ingredients ri
  ingredients i
ON = ri.ingredient_id
  recipes r
  r.recipe_id = ri.recipe_id
  ri.recipe_id = 1;
chickenchicken.jpgmeatcookiesvery yummy110
corncorn.jpgvegetablecookiesvery yummy111
eggplanteggplant.jpgvegetablecookiesvery yummy113

If you want to select and return all recipe/ingredient combinations from the recipe_ingredients table then simply leave off the final WHERE ri.recipe_id = 1 clause.