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Sunday, January 1, 2012

MongoDB concurrency - Global write lock and yielding locks

There has been lot of hue and cry about MongoDB's global write lock. Quite a few people have said (in blog posts, mailing lists etc) that this design ties down MongoDB to a great extent in terms of performance. I too was surprised (actually shocked) when I first read that the whole DB is locked whenever a write happens - i.e a create or update. I can't even read a different document during this time. It did not make any sense to me initially. Previous to this revelation I was very pleased to see MongoDB not having transactions and always thought about that feature as a tool which avoided locking the DB when running expensive transactions. However this global lock sent me wondering whether MongoDB is worth using at all.. !! I was under the assumption that the art of "record level locking" had been mastered by the database developers. This made MongoDB look like a tool of stone age.

Well I was wrong. Turns out that "Record level locking" is not that easy (and the reasons for that warrant a different post altogether) and from what I understand MongoDB has no plans of implementing such a thing in the near future. However this doesn't mean the DB will be tied up for long durations (long on some scale) for every write operation. The reason is that MongoDB is designed and implemented in ways different than other databases and there are mechanisms in place to avoid delays to a large extent. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind :

MongoDB uses memory mapped files to access it's DB files. So a considerable chunk of your data resides in the RAM and hence results in fast access - fast read all the time and very fast write without journaling and pretty fast write with journaling. This means that for several regular operations MongoDB will not hit the disk before sending the response at all - including write operations. So the global lock that is applied exists only for the duration of time needed to update the record in the RAM. This is orders of magnitude faster than writing to the disk. So the DB is locked for a very tiny amount of time. This global lock is after all not as bad as it sounds at first.

But then the entire database cannot be in RAM. Only a part of it (often referred to as working set) is in RAM. When a record not present in RAM is requested/updated MongoDB hits the disk. Oh no, wait.. so does that mean the DB is locked while Mongo tries read/write that (slow) disk? Definitely not. This is where the "yield" feature comes in. Since 2.0 MongoDB will yield the lock if it is hitting the disk. This means that once Mongo realizes it is going for the disk, it sort of temporarily releases the lock until the data from disk is loaded and available in RAM.

Although I still prefer record level locking in MongoDB, these two above mentioned features are sufficient to reinstate my respect and love for MongoDB. :)

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