Sometimes, just occasionally, you find yourself as a DBA on a site where, for some strange and unknown reason, you don’t have an Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD) for the database that you are working on. You could use a tool such as Toad, or SQL*Plus (or even, SQL Developer – if you must) to generate a list of referential integrity constraints. There has to be a better way.

The problem with lists is, they are just words. And they do say that a picture is worth a thousands words, so lets do pictures.


Graphviz is a set of tools for visualising graphs (that’s directed or undirected graphs as opposed to Cartesian graphs by the way) and the source files for the utility are simple text files. So, can we generate an ERD in text format and have graphviz convert it to an image? Of course we can. But first, get thee hence to and download the utility for your particular system – it runs cross platform and is free.

Generating Source

The following query will generate a list of parent -> child lines in the output, that show the relationship between any pair of tables, given a suitable starting owner and table_name.

-- Generate a simple "dot" file to be processed with GraphViz
-- to create an image showing the referential integrity
-- around a single table.
-- Norman Dunbar
set lines 2000 trimspool on trimout on
set pages 2000
set echo off
set feed off
set verify off
set timing off
set head off

accept owner_name prompt "Enter owner: "
accept table_name prompt "Enter table name: "


select '// dot -Tpdf -o this_file.pdf' || chr(10) || chr(10) ||
'digraph refInt {' || chr(10) ||
' splines=ortho' || chr(10) ||
' size=8.25' || chr(10) ||
' label="Referential Integrity around &&TABLE_NAME table.";' || chr(10) ||
' rankdir=LR;' || chr(10) ||
' edge [color=blue4, arrowhead=crow];' || chr(10) || chr(10) ||
' // &&TABLE_NAME is the starting table.' || chr(10) ||
' "&&TABLE_NAME" [shape=box, style=filled, color=blue4 fillcolor=cornflowerblue];' || chr(10) || chr(10) ||
' // The remaining nodes are this style.' || chr(10) ||
' node [shape=box, style=filled, color=dodgerblue2, fillcolor=aliceblue];' || chr(10) || chr(10) ||
' // These are the parent -> child edges.' || chr(10)
from dual;

with refint as (
    select constraint_name, table_name, r_constraint_name
    from dba_constraints
    where constraint_type = 'R'
    and owner = upper('&&owner_name')
primekey as (
    select constraint_name, table_name
    from dba_constraints
    where constraint_type in ( 'P', 'U')
    and owner = upper('&&owner_name')
links (child_table, f_key, parent_table, p_key) as (
    select refint.table_name, refint.constraint_name, primekey.table_name, refint.r_constraint_name
    from primekey join refint on primekey.constraint_name = refint.r_constraint_name
select distinct chr(9) || '"' || links.parent_table || '" -> "' || links.child_table || '";' as dot
--select distinct level, links.*
from links
start with links.parent_table = upper('&&TABLE_NAME')
connect by nocycle links.child_table = prior links.parent_table
order by 1
--order by parent_table, child_table, f_key

select '}' from dual;

spool off

The output looks remarkably similar to the following example:

// dot -Tpdf -o this_file.pdf

digraph refInt {
    label="Referential Integrity around ORDER_ITEM table.";
    edge [color=blue4, arrowhead=crow];

    // ORDER_ITEM is the starting table.
    "ORDER_ITEM" [shape=box, style=filled, color=blue4 fillcolor=cornflowerblue];

    // The remaining nodes are this style.
    node [shape=box, style=filled, color=dodgerblue2, fillcolor=aliceblue];

    // These are the parent -> child edges.

Generating the Image

The first line of the output file,, shows the command line required to create a PDF version of the ERD. You can specify PNG, JPG, etc as desired. SVG is good for images that need to be scalable (and is usually the better quality output). To generate an SVG image, run the following command line:

dot -Tsvg -o refint.svg

A file by the name of refint.svg will be created. And it looks like the following, for this particular example.

Referential Integrity Diagram

(OK, that’s actually a PNG file as WordPress tells me that I cannot upload SVG files, for security reasons.)


The diagram is only as good as the referential integrity in your target database. This much should be obvious – if there are no referential integrity constraints, then all you will get is a single entity. If that’s the case, I’d be looking for another job as I suspect that all the required checking is being done in the application, rather than in the database – best avoided!

And finally, you will not generate a full schema ERD with this code, but it’s handy for stuff around and about a particular table.


About the Author

Norm TeamT

I'm getting on in years now, having been in IT for around 30 plus years. I've been in support for most of them too as well as being a developer.

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