Primary Keys, GUIDs and Sugar. A must-have combination?

Matthew Marum —  May 13, 2008 — 1 Comment

I have recently been asked to answer this question a few times, “Does SugarCRM require GUIDs for primary keys in the database? ”

At a high level, Sugar was designed to allow the primary keys to be replaced by any unique string. This could either be a different GUID algorithm, a key that has some meaning (such as bean type first, followed by info), an external key, and/or auto-incrementing numbers.

The GUIDs in Sugar are generally only used as unique primary keys.  They have no other special meaning.  We don’t bother to look at what is in the string and do not rely on what they contain other than the ability to match them against records in the DB and having the include/utils.php function create_guid() return a valid one. Because all of our relationship tables are typed, we link two records (such as an account record with a contact record) with a specified ID in the record type relationship table (e.g. accounts_contacts) instead of just storing the ID and searching to find out what type has that ID.

We chose GUIDs rather than auto-incrementing keys to allow for easier data synchronization across databases. This data synchronization issue comes into play when the Sugar Offline Client (part of Sugar Enterprise) syncs data between the main Sugar installation and the Offline Client or when developers use the Sugar SOAP APIs or a tool like Talend for data synchronization.

The strategy of the Offline Client using GUIDs for primary keys was very easy to implement and we don’t have to worry about data conflicts. If you change the system to use some other ID scheme and do need to accommodate data synchronization across data stores, then you would have to either partition the IDs ahead of time or work out a system similar to what we have for cases and bugs where we have a server ID that is globally unique and a incrementing case or bug number. This is a moderate customization though which would require some careful planning and implementation.

However if you don’t care about data synchronization issues, then you can certainly change the primary key format to some other unique string.

To implement a new primary key method or to import existing data with a different primary key format and then rely on the existing GUID mechanism for new records, there are a few things to look out for:

  • The system expects primary keys to be string types and will format the SQL with quotes. If you change the primary key types to an integer type, you might have SQL errors to deal with since we put all ID values in quotes in our generated SQL. The database might be able to be able to ignore this issue. MySQL running in Safe mode will have issues for instance.
  • Case-sensitivity can be an issue. IDs “abc” and “ABC” are typically treated the same in MySQL. Some other CRM systems from which people were migrating to SugarCRM were using case sensitive strings as their IDs on export. If this is the case, and you are running MySQL, you need to run an algorithm on the data to make sure all of the IDs are unique. One simple algorithm is to MD5 the ids that they provide. A quick check will let you know if there is a problem. If you imported 80,000 leads and there are only 60,000 in the system, some might have been lost due to non-unique primary keys resulting from this case-sensitivity issue.
  • Sugar only tracks the first 36 characters in the primary key. Any replacement primary key will either require changing all of the ID columns with one of an appropriate size or to make sure you don’t run into any truncation or padding issues. MySQL in some versions has had issues with Sugar where the IDs were not matching because it was adding spaces to pad the row out to the full size. MySQL’s handling of char and varchar padding have changed in some of the more recent versions. To protect against this, you will want to make sure the GUIDs are not padded with blanks in the DB.


Matthew Marum


Matt is the Lead Developer Advocate for SugarCRM Engineering. Previously he was an Engineer on Sugar 7 and a Solutions Architect for the OEM program. He is also an avid trail runner, Boston Marathon qualifier and a karaoke aficionado.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. GUID vs Auto Increment INT as Databse Primary Keys : : Veeb's Brain Dump - June 12, 2010

    […] However, it may be good for low volume databases where performance is not so much of an issue and where data synchronization is required (i.e. join disparate data sources).  Good example given by SugarCRM. […]

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