I'm new to MongoDB--coming from a relational database background. I want to design a question structure with some comments, but I don't know which relationship to use for comments: embed or reference?

A question with some comments, like stackoverflow, would have a structure like this:

    title = 'aaa'
    content = bbb'
    comments = ???

At first, I want to use embeded comments (I think embed is recommended in MongoDB), like this:

    title = 'aaa'
    content = 'bbb'
    comments = [ { content = 'xxx', createdAt = 'yyy'}, 
                 { content = 'xxx', createdAt = 'yyy'}, 
                 { content = 'xxx', createdAt = 'yyy'} ]

It clear, but I'm worried about this case: If I want to edit a specified comment, how do I get its content and its question? There is no _id to let me find one, nor question_ref to let me find its question. (I'm so newbie, that I don't know if there's any way to do this without _id and question_ref.)

Do I have to use ref not embed? Then I have to create a new collection for comments?

Solution 1

This is more an art than a science. The Mongo Documentation on Schemas is a good reference, but here are some things to consider:

  • Put as much in as possible

    The joy of a Document database is that it eliminates lots of Joins. Your first instinct should be to place as much in a single document as you can. Because MongoDB documents have structure, and because you can efficiently query within that structure (this means that you can take the part of the document that you need, so document size shouldn't worry you much) there is no immediate need to normalize data like you would in SQL. In particular any data that is not useful apart from its parent document should be part of the same document.

  • Separate data that can be referred to from multiple places into its own collection.

    This is not so much a "storage space" issue as it is a "data consistency" issue. If many records will refer to the same data it is more efficient and less error prone to update a single record and keep references to it in other places.

  • Document size considerations

    MongoDB imposes a 4MB (16MB with 1.8) size limit on a single document. In a world of GB of data this sounds small, but it is also 30 thousand tweets or 250 typical Stack Overflow answers or 20 flicker photos. On the other hand, this is far more information than one might want to present at one time on a typical web page. First consider what will make your queries easier. In many cases concern about document sizes will be premature optimization.

  • Complex data structures:

    MongoDB can store arbitrary deep nested data structures, but cannot search them efficiently. If your data forms a tree, forest or graph, you effectively need to store each node and its edges in a separate document. (Note that there are data stores specifically designed for this type of data that one should consider as well)

    It has also been pointed out than it is impossible to return a subset of elements in a document. If you need to pick-and-choose a few bits of each document, it will be easier to separate them out.

  • Data Consistency

    MongoDB makes a trade off between efficiency and consistency. The rule is changes to a single document are always atomic, while updates to multiple documents should never be assumed to be atomic. There is also no way to "lock" a record on the server (you can build this into the client's logic using for example a "lock" field). When you design your schema consider how you will keep your data consistent. Generally, the more that you keep in a document the better.

For what you are describing, I would embed the comments, and give each comment an id field with an ObjectID. The ObjectID has a time stamp embedded in it so you can use that instead of created at if you like.

Solution 2

In general, embed is good if you have one-to-one or one-to-many relationships between entities, and reference is good if you have many-to-many relationships.

Solution 3

Well, I'm a bit late but still would like to share my way of schema creation.

I have schemas for everything that can be described by a word, like you would do it in the classical OOP.


  • Comment
  • Account
  • User
  • Blogpost
  • ...

Every schema can be saved as a Document or Subdocument, so I declare this for each schema.


  • Can be used as a reference. (E.g. the user made a comment -> comment has a "made by" reference to user)
  • Is a "Root" in you application. (E.g. the blogpost -> there is a page about the blogpost)


  • Can only be used once / is never a reference. (E.g. Comment is saved in the blogpost)
  • Is never a "Root" in you application. (The comment just shows up in the blogpost page but the page is still about the blogpost)

Solution 4

I came across this small presentation while researching this question on my own. I was surprised at how well it was laid out, both the info and the presentation of it.


It summarized:

As a general rule, if you have a lot of [child documents] or if they are large, a separate collection might be best.

Smaller and/or fewer documents tend to be a natural fit for embedding.

Solution 5

Actually, I'm quite curious why nobody spoke about the UML specifications. A rule of thumb is that if you have an aggregation, then you should use references. But if it is a composition, then the coupling is stronger, and you should use embedded documents.

And you will quickly understand why it is logical. If an object can exist independently of the parent, then you will want to access it even if the parent doesn't exist. As you just can't embed it in a non-existing parent, you have to make it live in it's own data structure. And if a parent exist, just link them together by adding a ref of the object in the parent.

Don't really know what is the difference between the two relationships ? Here is a link explaining them: Aggregation vs Composition in UML

Solution 6

If I want to edit a specified comment, how to get its content and its question?

You can query by sub-document: db.question.find({'comments.content' : 'xxx'}).

This will return the whole Question document. To edit the specified comment, you then have to find the comment on the client, make the edit and save that back to the DB.

In general, if your document contains an array of objects, you'll find that those sub-objects will need to be modified client side.

Solution 7

Yes, we can use the reference in the document.To populate the another document just like sql i joins.In mongo db they dont have joins to mapping one to many relationship document.Instead that we can use populate to fulfill our scenario..

var mongoose = require('mongoose')
  , Schema = mongoose.Schema

var personSchema = Schema({
  _id     : Number,
  name    : String,
  age     : Number,
  stories : [{ type: Schema.Types.ObjectId, ref: 'Story' }]

var storySchema = Schema({
  _creator : { type: Number, ref: 'Person' },
  title    : String,
  fans     : [{ type: Number, ref: 'Person' }]

Population is the process of automatically replacing the specified paths in the document with document(s) from other collection(s). We may populate a single document, multiple documents, plain object, multiple plain objects, or all objects returned from a query. Let's look at some examples.

Better you can get more information please visit :http://mongoosejs.com/docs/populate.html

Solution 8

I know this is quite old but if you are looking for the answer to the OP's question on how to return only specified comment, you can use the $ (query) operator like this:

db.question.update({'comments.content': 'xxx'}, {'comments.$': true})

Solution 9

MongoDB gives freedom to be schema-less and this feature can result in pain in the long term if not thought or planned well,

There are 2 options either Embed or Reference. I will not go through definitions as the above answers have well defined them.

When embedding you should answer one question is your embedded document going to grow, if yes then how much (remember there is a limit of 16 MB per document) So if you have something like a comment on a post, what is the limit of comment count, if that post goes viral and people start adding comments. In such cases, reference could be a better option (but even reference can grow and reach 16 MB limit).

So how to balance it, the answer is a combination of different patterns, check these links, and create your own mix and match based on your use case.



Solution 10

If I want to edit a specified comment, how do I get its content and its question?

If you had kept track of the number of comments and the index of the comment you wanted to alter, you could use the dot operator (SO example).

You could do f.ex.

        "title": "aaa"       
        "comments.0.contents": "new text"

(as another way to edit the comments inside the question)