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  • MongoDB

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.


  • 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


  • 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

  • What is MongoDB?

    MongoDB is a non-relational (NoSQL), document-oriented database management system.

  • What is a non-relational database system?

    Most database management systems (MySQL, PostgreSQL, etc.) are relational database systems. This means that the data is stored in a number of related tables, according to a complex data scheme which has to be designed before the system is used. The data for any one actual record (for example, the record of a single user) is usually spread across several tables and has to be queried and assembled when accessed. Non-relational databases do not follow this pattern and, instead, information concerning a single record is usually stored in a single place. MongoDB is a document-oriented database, which means that information about a specific record is stored in a single block of serialized data called a “document.”

  • What data format does MongoDB use?

    Data in a MongoDB document is stored in BSON. BSON is an extension of JSON, which can help make certain types of development faster, as JSON can be consumed directly by a JavaScript powered applications.

  • What operating systems support MongoDB?

    MongoDB is cross-platform and will work on Linux, Windows, and Mac OSX.

  • What programming languages can I use with MongoDB?

    MongoDB is controlled from application code by drivers written for a specific language. There are currently drivers for a large number of popular languages and platforms including C, C++, C#, Java, Node.js, Perl, PHP, Python, and Ruby.

  • What about data normalization?

    MongoDB does not enforce a strict data schema, nor does it conform to other data normalization requirements common to SQL-based relational database systems. Typically in MongoDB, data normalization, and the overall schema are enforced by the application layer, instead of the data layer. However, a high degree of formal data integrity is not the point of MongoDB, and if this is a requirement for a system (such as a banking or payments system) it may not be a good choice.

  • What is sharding?

    MongoDB provides scalability by being able to shard a database across several computers. This simply means that the data is broken up and a bit of it stored on each of several machines.

  • Why can’t I do a join in MongoDB?

    Joins are not supported in MongoDB because the data model doesn’t support the notion that information about a single object should be spread across multiple tables. Hence, there is no need to join several tables together in order to assemble the information on a single type of record.

  • Does MongoDB use tables?

    No. A single record in MongoDB is stored in a document, rather than in a row of a table. Documents of a similar type are stored together in collections.

  • Can MongoDB handle multi-dimensional data?

    Yes, and potentially better than an RDBMS. Mongo documents can be nested inside of other documents, creating data with the structure of multi-dimensional arrays.

  • What are the advantages of using MongoDB?

    Since the data model does not need to be predetermined, MongoDB allows for the model to evolve over time. This can help with rapid prototyping or in continuous development environments where the data model simply isn’t knowable ahead of time. Additionally, the document model of MongoDB is more directly analogous to the way we think about many data domains, and the way objects are used in applications. This similarity can make programming more intuitive and lead to easier-to-understand application logic.

  • What are the disadvantages of using MongoDB?

    MongoDB’s non-relational document model does not make it particularly good for highly normalized and structured data sets. Certain types of updates may take a long time and can create problems of inconsistency. For example, if a collection of blog posts store the author’s name as an attribute, and a separate collection of authors contains bio information, changing the name of the author will break the connection or require updating all the documents that mention the authors name. This is precisely the kind of problem that relational database systems were built to avoid, and NoSQL systems reintroduce it.

  • What types of applications are a good fit for MongoDB?

    MongoDB does particularly well with applications that have a large number of discreet records that do not rely on relationships to other types of records. Library catalogs, content management systems, and personnel files are all reasonable use cases for MongoDB.

  • What types of applications are not a good fit for MongoDB?

    Any type of application where data consistency is highly valued or required, or where a strict data model needs to be maintained. Financial systems are a particularly bad use for MongoDB.

  • Can I use MongoDB on shared hosting?

    Yes, but not “out of the box.” In order to use MongoDB on shared hosting, you will need a dedicated IP address, and you will also need to request specific ports be opened. Also, you will need SSH access, which you may have to request. MongoDB is not nearly as standardized and mature as the types of software usually run on shared hosting servers, so you may run into configuration problems which you won’t be able to deal with easily. Some shared hosting providers may restrict you from using MongoDB because of the way it consumes resources.

  • What are some alternatives to MongoDB?

    Relational databases as a whole category are an alternative to MongoDB. These include MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite. CouchDB is a very popular document-oriented database similar to MongoDB. Other non-document-oriented NoSQL databases include Cassandra and BigTable.

  • MongoDB vs. MySQL. Which is better?

    That depends on what type of application you are building.

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