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The Blog > Introducing Virtual Foreign Keys

The Propel Team – 16 February 2011

Starting with version 1.6, Propel models can now share relationships even though the underlying tables aren't linked by a foreign key. This ability may be of great use when using Propel on top of a legacy database.

For example, a review table designed for a MyISAM database engine is linked to a book table by a simple book_id column:

<table name="review">
  <column name="review_id" type="INTEGER" primaryKey="true" required="true"/>
  <column name="reviewer" type="VARCHAR" size="50" required="true"/>
  <column name="book_id" required="true" type="INTEGER"/>
</table>

To enable a model-only relationship, add a <foreign-key> tag using the skipSql attribute, as follows:

<table name="review">
  <column name="review_id" type="INTEGER" primaryKey="true" required="true"/>
  <column name="reviewer" type="VARCHAR" size="50" required="true"/>
  <column name="book_id" required="true" type="INTEGER"/>
  <!-- Model-only relationship -->
  <foreign-key foreignTable="book" onDelete="CASCADE" skipSql="true">
    <reference local="book_id" foreign="id"/>
  </foreign-key>
</table>

Such a foreign key is not translated into SQL when Propel builds the table creation or table migration code. It can be seen as a "virtual foreign key". However, on the PHP side, the Book model actually has a one-to-many relationship with the Review model. The generated ActiveRecord and ActiveQuery classes take advantage of this relationship to offer smart getters and filters.

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