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Quick Fix: DELETE statement conflicted with the REFERENCE constraint

17 February,2020 by Tom Collins

Question: In the application error logs there is a message - The DELETE statement conflicted with the REFERENCE constraint FK_xxxxxxxxx

What is causing this error ? How can I troubleshoot?

Answer:  The error is occuring because there is an attempt to delete a parent table data before the referenced child table data is deleted

When a database uses a FOREIGN KEY , its purpose is  to create a link between two tables. The foreign key is one or more columns in the a table referencing another table's PRIMARY KEY.

A  child table is the table hosting the FOREIGN KEYS.A parent table is the table hosting the PRIMARY KEY.

The main idea underlying  the FOREIGN KEY is to maintain referential integrity - via blocking deletion of data being referred elsewhere 

There are 2 main patterns for managing PARENT - CHILD DATA

1)Delete the rows from child table  first, then the rows from the parent table.
2)ON DELETE CASCADE.  but is potentially a dangerous practise . Mainly because the application is disassociating the DELETE logic from other logic that may be encapsulated in queries , stored in ad-hoc queries or stored procedures.     This point is up for debate


Read more on foreign key constraints

How to drop a SQL column and find foreign keys with sp_fkeys

List Foreign Key Constraints -MS SQL

How to list constraints of a table (SQL Server DBA)

SQL Server – Optimize delete from table


Author: Tom Collins (


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