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2.3. Keys and Superkeys

A set of attributes that uniquely identifies any entity from among all possible entities in the entity class that may appear in the database is called a superkey for the entity class. Thus, the set {ISBN} is a superkey for the Books entity class and the sets {PubID} and {PubName, PubPhone} are both superkeys for the Publishers entity class.

Note that there is a bit of subjectivity in this definition of superkey, since it depends ultimately on our decision about which entities may ever appear in the database, and this is probably something of which we cannot be absolutely certain. Consider, for instance, the Books entity class. There is no law that says all books must have an ISBN (and many books do not). Also, there is no law that says that two books cannot have the same ISBN. (The ISBN is assigned, at least in part, by the publisher of the book.) Thus, the set {ISBN} is a superkey only if we are willing to accept the fact that all books that the library purchases have distinct ISBNs, or that the librarian will assign a unique ersatz ISBN to any books that do not have a real ISBN.


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