Designing a document databaseAggregation Recalculating

time to read 4 min | 775 words

One of the more interesting problems with document databases is the views, and in particular, how are we going to implement views that contain aggregation. In my previous post, I discussed the way we will probably expose this to the users. But it turn out that there are significant challenges in actually implementing the feature itself, not just in the user visible parts.

For projection views, the actual problem is very simple, when a document is updated/removed, all we have to do is to delete the old view item, and create a new item, if applicable.

For aggregation views, the problem is much harder, mostly because it is not clear what the result of adding, updating or removing a document may be. As a reminder, here is how we plan on exposing aggregation views to the user:


Let us inspect this from the point of view of the document database. Let us say that we have 100,000 documents already, and we introduce this view. A background process is going to kick off, to transform the documents using the view definition.

The process goes like this:


Note that the process depict above is a serial process. This isn’t really useful in the real world. Let us see why. I want to add a new document to the system, how am I going to update the view? Well… an easy option would be this:


I think you can agree with me that this is not a really good thing to do from performance perspective. Luckily for us, there are other alternative. A more accurate representation of the process would be:


We run the map/reduce process in parallel, producing a lot of separate reduced data points. Now we can do the following:


We take the independent reduced results and run a re-reduce process on them again. That is why we have the limitation that map & reduce must return objects in the same shape, so we can use reduce for data that came from map or from reduce, without caring where it came from.

This also means that adding a document is a much easier task, all we need to do is:


We get the single reduced result from the whole process, and now we can generate the final result very easily:


All we have to do is run the reduce on the final result and the new result. The answer from that would be identical to the answer running the full process on all the documents. Things get more interesting, however, when we talk about document update or document removal. Since update is just a special case of atomic document removal and addition, I am going to talk about document removal only, in this case.

Removing a document invalidate the final aggregation results, but it doesn’t necessarily necessitate recalculating the whole thing from scratch. Do you remember the partial reduce results that we mentioned earlier? Those are not only useful for parallelizing the work, they are also very useful in this scenario. Instead of discarding them when we are done with them, we are going to save them as well. They wouldn’t be exposed to the user at any way, but they are persisted. They are going to be useful when we need to recalculate. The fun thing about them is that we don’t really need to recalculate everything. All we have to do is recalculate the batch that the removed document resided on, without that document. When we have the new batch, we can now reduce the whole thing to a final result again.

I am guessing that this is going to be… a challenging task to build, but from design perspective, it looks pretty straightforward.

More posts in "Designing a document database" series:

  1. (17 Mar 2009) What next?
  2. (16 Mar 2009) Remote API & Public API
  3. (16 Mar 2009) Looking at views
  4. (15 Mar 2009) View syntax
  5. (14 Mar 2009) Aggregation Recalculating
  6. (13 Mar 2009) Aggregation
  7. (12 Mar 2009) Views
  8. (11 Mar 2009) Replication
  9. (11 Mar 2009) Attachments
  10. (10 Mar 2009) Authorization
  11. (10 Mar 2009) Concurrency
  12. (10 Mar 2009) Scale
  13. (10 Mar 2009) Storage