Functional Dependency

by Arifullah Jan

A functional dependency in databases is a dependency which satisfies the properties of a function.

A dependency exists in a database table when an attribute value is dependent on the value of a single or a group of attributes. The dependency is functional when it satisfies the properties of a function and the main property of a function is that it gives a single value for some input. In other words, if the value of dependent attribute/s is same for some value of the determinant attribute/s in all the tuples then it is a functional dependency.


A functional dependency is denoted by ‘→’

e.g. A → B
Where A is the determinant attribute and B is the dependent attribute. A → B can be read as A determines B.

Types of functional dependencies

Trivial dependency: If the dependent is a subset of the determinant. As the name suggests trivial dependency is something which does exist but is of no importance.
e.g. AB → B

Non-Trivial dependency: In non-trivial dependency the dependent part is not a subset of the determinant part.

Transitive dependency: If a functional dependency is achieved through two functional dependencies indirectly then the dependency is called transitive dependency.
e.g. A → B and B → C suggests A → C


To find out if a dependency is functional check whether the dependent attribute is same for some value of the determinant attribute through out the table.

Consider the following table

Col1 Col2 Col3
A 3 5
B 5 4
A 3 8
B 5 4

Col1 → Col2 is valid since the value is same for both As and both Bs. Col1 → Col3 is invalid since for the second A the value of Col3 is 8 which should’ve been 5.