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What is CouchDB?

CouchDB is a web-oriented NoSQL storage platform which uses MapReduce, Key-Value Pairs, but has a heavy emphasis for supporting JavaScript, centering data management around JSON documents.

About CouchDB

While many NoSQL technologies allow for the creation of vastly scalable applications, most of them exist at a deep level of server control — using programming languages which are either compiled or rely on very deep rooted computing cluster control.

CouchDB has that functionality but is more focused on making the data extremely accessible — allowing for direct manipulation of JSON objects, and use of an exposed URI for sending encapsulated JSON data over a RESTful API. This lets CouchDB offer one of the best solutions for quickly putting together applications that have strong communication between a web server and a web client.

The CouchDB project started in 2005 by Damien Katz, a former developer from IBM. Couch itself stands for "cluster of unreliable commodity hardware" — the idea behind this is that is that traditionally — servers on the web using commodity hardware might fail or experience communication bottlenecks from heavy traffic. CouchDB is setup in such a way that HTTP requests will cause CouchDB to react and scale up resources to meet demand — and after a spike is done, CouchDB will resume regular speed again.

Damien Katz went on to create Couchbase Server — which was a similar commercial level technology — but which isn't centered around HTTP requests, and has much more emphasis of controlling computer memory in a computing cluster. So where CouchDB uses JSON document information for running CRUD (create, read, update, delete) operations — Couchbase instead uses a memcached protocol.

The two systems share a lot of similarities, but mainly — CouchDB has an emphasis on controlling traffic at the HTTP level rather than at a deeper networking level — it's good for applications which want to run well natively on the web without focusing on building infrastructure.

When starting CouchDB, the console will amusingly print — "Apache CouchDB has started. Time to relax." Following cues from popular frameworks like Ruby on Rails, CouchDB can be infinitely complex, but is still very simple to get started. CouchDB, just like Rails, should feel natural to learn for anyone who has done any work on the web, and can serve as a great starting point for anyone new to web concepts too.

Features of CouchDB

CouchDB has just a few core concepts that drive the functioning of the technology, which are can be easily understood by operation teams, and have easy to trace error logging.

  • Creative Data Modeling — by combining features of an intuitive document storage model with a powerful query engine, CouchDB has the resources, methods, and representations to query, map, combine and filter data. With added fault tolerance, scalability and smart replication — the data model can manage web documents natively.
  • Self-Contained Data — CouchDB can handle common applications like contacts, invoices and documents in an easy way which abstracts the data into self contained documents. Rather than dealing with a heirarchy of relational ties — a Couch JSON object has all of the self-contained attributes to build a document with only a single self contained file.
  • Syntax and Semantics — Real world documents have a familiar template, but are not always the same. For example, a business card will always have most of the same information, but not every business card will have a "Fax" number. With schema-free storage, documents contain only the aspects of information needed. Rather than declaring "Fax Number: None" — a CouchDB object simply will not have a "Fax" identifier.
  • Base Layer for Larger Systems — as applications scale in size, CouchDB has deeper reaching components which can solve storage problems and deal with latency and reliability in an intelligent way. While it may be impossible to optimize for both data storage and read speed at the same time, or to balance latency against concurrency — CouchDB has tools to leave this balance up to the developer — and to make a system responsive based on application states.
  • Replication of Data — The concept of replication means a syncronization of two or more CouchDB databases — which is possible and encouraged in architecture for CouchDB. Many of the problems in replicating over a network will still happen with CouchDB — but many tools exist to deal with inconstencies, and when things to go wrong, they will be logged in a meaningful way which can be addressed quickly.
  • Localization of Data — Since CouchDB uses JSON over RESTful HTTP — the delivery of data to a web client device is very simple. This means that syncronization can be handled in such a way that data can be cached offline and web applications which use CouchDB can even run without a network connection so long as all the relevant document information has been transported. Erlang, the language behind CouchDB — is very efficient on small devices.

Installation of CouchDB

CouchDB can be compiled from source or installed from Binaries — and is available on all platforms. Depending on the platform installed on — you can either run from command line or use the interface called "Futon." Some dependencies exist, including the Erland OTP, Python, OpenSSL, and a variety of other small tools.

Once setup, CouchDB can be accessed over command line curl requests, and is instantly ready to run CRUD commands over any network to which it's IP is available, although starting on localhost is recommended. For production level hosting, any server with sufficient privileges will work. Linux servers might be the easiest to setup. Any provider which supports machine images is sure to have one that offers CouchDB — Joylent is known to have decent support.

CouchDB Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who should use CouchDB and why?

    Just take a look at who is already using it in a production environment — which includes Ubuntu and BBC. Many other projects using Couch are technical project sites, or websites which have some powerful document processing aspect.

    There are many different mobile applications which also use Erland and CouchDB successfully.

  • Why use CouchDB over Couchbase, Hadoop, or other NoSQL solution?

    Each project needs to have its own technical justification.

    CouchDB, while amazing for fast production and powerful document control — doesn't natively have the deep hardware layer that Couchbase or Hbase+Hadoop might offer.

    CouchDB works well in any environment which has a data-heavy client and needs to be responsive to user volume.

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