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MongoDB is a database that works a bit differently than most other databases. It is a non-relational (or “NoSQL”), document-based database. Much of the speed and scalability benefits are only achieved if the database is set up correctly, in an environment optimized to take advantage of its strengths.

Relational Databases

The most common type of database is a relational database in the SQL (Structured Query Language) family.

MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, and many other commonly used databases are relational databases and, though they are implemented differently “under the hood,” they are very similar in how a developer or user interacts with them.

If you have worked with WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, you have have used a relational, SQL database.

Typical SQL-style databases store data in a series of tables, with each row of the table representing a single entry. Entries in tables can be related to entries in other tables, allowing complex data structures to be designed (hence the term “relational”).

Relational databases are excellent tools for storing structured data about a large number of fairly similar things, especially if you know ahead of time (when you are developing the application) what types of items you will be keeping records on, and what information you will need to know about them.

Non-relational databases, or NoSQL

Unfortunately, in real life, we do not always know ahead of time what information we might need to store, or even sometimes what sorts of things we may need to keep track of. Also, some real-world domains simply aren't structured enough to fit well into the way SQL databases organize data.

MongoDB is a document-based database, one of many new “NoSQL” or non-relational databases. Rather than storing records in a series of inter-related table rows, where the information on a single item might be spread across multiple tables, MongoDB stores all the information about a particular item in a single document.

The database then allows for documents of various types to be group together and indexed.

This is a much looser, less structured way of organizing data, and there are both benefits and downsides.

Pros

  • Less upfront development time spent designing a data architecture
  • Ability for a data-model to evolve over time
  • Flexibility for exceptions, for the small handful of records which have one or two “oddball” pieces of data that don't fit the overall model
  • Faster writing to the database
  • Infinitely scalable
  • No cascading deletes

Cons

  • Data may be not be normalized (for example: multiple spellings of the same reference, contradictory data)
  • Less strict data modeling may encourage lazy approach to data design
  • No checks for data consistency at the database layer

Why should use choose MongoDB

It is worth noting that you might not have any choice with what database to use. If you are planning to use an existing Content Management System or Blogging platform, those applications are built with a specific database already.

The question of what type of database to use is a question for developers of new applications.

MongoDB is often a better choice for very large datasets with a very high write load, in a situation where you will need to shard the database. It also is the right choice if your data model, or schema, is unstable and needs to evolve over time.

Why should I NOT choose MongoDB?

Do not use MongoDB if you are building an application which will require SQL joins or transactions, or where data normalization is needed.

What web hosting platforms support MongoDB?

Shared hosting accounts and “discount” web hosting providers where your site or application shares an IP address with other accounts are totally unsuitable for hosting MongoDB.

On top of that: if you are building an application that requires the use of a NoSQL database like MongoDB, you probably have a lot of other needs that are not going to be adequately provided for in a low-cost shared-hosting environment.

Beyond that, almost any serious web server would work fine, as long as you have a dedicated IP address and can gain access to Ports 27017 and 28017 (in many standard web hosts, you will have to request these ports be opened). MongoDB can be deployed in most operating systems, and on most standard production-level hardware.

What web hosting platform is best for MongoDB?

Just because you can run Mongo on almost any web server doesn't mean you should run Mongo on any web server.

MongoDB can be a bit tricky to set up, especially for developers unfamiliar with all of its ins and outs. Much of the speed and scalability benefits are only achieved if the database is set up correctly, in an environment optimized to take advantage of its strengths.

For this reason, we recommend deploying your MongoDB database on a web host experienced with MongoDB. The makers of MongoDB have a cloud-managed MongoDB solution that works in conjunction with “the cloud infrastructure of your choice,” and there a number of other Mongo-optimized web hosting providers available.

MongoDB Frequently Asked Questions

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