Setting an EntityReference Using an EntityKey in Entity Framework

May 15, 2009

Setting an EntityReference Using an EntityKey in Entity Framework

Yesterday I got a questionSetting an EntityReference Using an EntityKey in Entity Framework
in my blog concerning the
ability to set a reference to
an entity in Entity Framework
by using a foreign key that exists
in my hand. The answer is described
in this post.

Setting an EntityReference Using an EntityKey

Sometimes you want to set an EntityReference but you don’t have 
that entity in the ObjectContext but you have its key. One solution
for this problem is to load the entity and then to set the EntityReference.
This will make an unwanted roundtrip to the database which we would
like to avoid. The second solution is to create the EntityReference
using only its EntityKey. This solution will allow to create a foreign key
for an entity without having the related data in the ObjectContext.
One drawback for this solution is that you must know the entity key or else
you’ll get an exception.

The Solution

The following example shows how to set an EntityReference using
an EntityKey:

Course course = new Course();
course.DepartmentReference.EntityKey = 
   new EntityKey(“SchoolEntities.Departments”, “DepartmentID”, 1);

In the example I create a new course and I know that the engineering
department has a DepartmentID of 1. I make a entity reference to that
department through the created DepartmentReference property using
its EntityKey.


Let sum up, in the post I showed a simple solution that enables to set a
navigation property by using an entity key. You must pay attention that
setting an un-existing EntityKey will raise an exception. This solution
can decrease roundtrips to the database and increase the performance 
for your application.

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  1. Muradov ArtemMay 15, 2009 ב 18:57

    Thanks a lot! Now i can use the EF on a server side, thank you again. Now, I have the same problem: at the server i generated EF classes, then I create ADO.NET Data Service (using this classes), public them in intranet and add service reference to my Silverlight 2.0 application. The classes, generated by designer, have NOT references on the foreign keys. I mean, I have a Course class, I have a Course.Department property, but i have NOT the DepartmentReference. Now, I think, i have two ways, to add new Course in Silverlight:
    1. use EF and get Department entity from database when i want to add new Course
    2. write specialized web metod, like
    [web metod]
    AddCourse (String courseName, Guid departmentID)
    there use EF on a server

  2. Gil FinkMay 16, 2009 ב 18:37

    Hi Muradov Artem,
    ADO.NET Data Service proxy entities don’t have EntityReference properties like EF entities. You can either use the first suggested solution, retreive the Department to the client side and set a link between the Course and the Department. Another solution is to create a service operation such as the suggested AddCourse method. You can read about service operations here:

  3. Muradov ArtemMay 16, 2009 ב 19:45

    Hi, Gil! Thanks for you explain. Now i can to make a DAL for my application 🙂

  4. Gil FinkMay 16, 2009 ב 20:30

    I’m glad I could help Muradov 🙂

  5. jamesJuly 6, 2009 ב 13:16

    Is this still the only way to create an entity reference without retrieving the referenced entity from the DB?
    It seems a bit error prone way of doing it, and I don’t like having to use stings in my code. Do you know if their is a strongly typed way of doing this in .Net 4?

  6. Gil FinkJuly 8, 2009 ב 7:29

    Hi james,
    In EF4 there will be a new FK Association which will help to use foreign keys. You can read about this solution in the following link: