Administering MongoDB

Administering MongoDB is usually a simple task. From taking backups to setting up multinode systems with replication, most administrative tasks are quick and painless. This excerpt is extracted from ‘MongoDB: The Definitive Guide’, published by O’Reilly Media, Inc.

MongoDB: The Definitive Guide

ByKristina Chodorow, Michael Dirolf

Publisher:O’Reilly Media

Released:September 2010

CHAPTER 8: Administration

Administering MongoDB is usually a simple task. From taking backups to setting up multinode systems with replication, most administrative tasks are quick and painless. This reflects a general philosophy of MongoDB, which is to minimize the number of dials in the system. Whenever possible, configuration is done automatically by the system rather than forcing users and administrators to tweak configuration settings. That said, there are still some administrative tasks that require manual intervention.

In this chapter we’ll be switching gears from the developer perspective and discussing what you need to know to work with MongoDB from the operations or administration side. Whether you’re working for a startup where you are both the engineering and ops teams or you’re a DBA looking to work with MongoDB, this is the chapter for you. Here’s the big picture:

  • MongoDB is run as a normal command-line program using the mongod executable.

  • MongoDB features a built-in admin interface and monitoring functionality that is easy to integrate with third-party monitoring packages.

  • MongoDB supports basic, database-level authentication including read-only users and a separate level of authentication for admin access.

  • There are several different ways of backing up a MongoDB system, the choice of which depends on a couple of key considerations.

Starting and Stopping MongoDB

Chapter 2
, we covered the basics of starting MongoDB. This chapter will go into more detail about what administrators need to know to deploy Mongo robustly in production.

Starting from the Command Line

The MongoDB server is started with the mongod executable. mongod has many configurable startup options; to view all of them, run mongod –help from the command line. A couple of the options are widely used and important to be aware of:

–dbpath Specify an alternate directory to use as the data directory; the default is /data/db/ (or C:\data\db\ on Windows). Each mongodprocess on a machine needs its own data directory, so if you are running three instances of mongod, you’ll need three separate data directories. When mongod starts up, it creates a mongod.lock file in its data directory, which prevents any other mongod process from using that directory. If you attempt to start another MongoDB server using the same data directory, it will give an error:

"Unable to acquire lock for lockfilepath: /data/db/mongod.lock." 


Specify the port number for the server to listen on. By default, mongod uses port 27017, which is unlikely to be used by another process (besides other mongod processes). If you would like to run more than one mongodprocess, you’ll need to specify different ports for each one. If you try to start mongod on a port that is already being used, it will give an error:

"Address already in use for socket:" 


Fork the server process, running MongoDB as a daemon.


Send all output to the specified file rather than outputting on the command line. This will create the file if it does not exist, assuming you have write permissions to the directory. It will also overwrite the log file if it already exists, erasing any older log entries. If you’d like to keep old logs around, use the –logappend option in addition to –logpath.


Use a configuration file for additional options not specified on the command line. See
“File-Based Configuration”

on page 113

for details.

So, to start the server as a daemon listening on port 5586 and sending all output to mongodb.log, we could run this:

$ ./mongod --port 5586 --fork --logpath mongodb.log forked process: 45082 all output going to: mongodb.log 

When you first install and start MongoDB, it is a good idea to look at the log. This might be an easy thing to miss, especially if MongoDB is being started from an init script, but the log often contains important warnings that prevent later errors from occurring. If you don’t see any warnings in the MongoDB log on startup, then you are all set. However, you might see something like this:

$ ./mongod 

Sat Apr 24 11:53:49 Mongo DB : starting : pid = 18417 port = 27017 

dbpath = /data/db/ master = 0 slave = 0 32-bit 


WARNING: This is development version of MongoDB.

Not recommended for production. 


** NOTE: when using MongoDB 32 bit, you are limited to about ** 2 gigabytes of data see ** ** for more 

Sat Apr 24 11:53:49 db version v1.5.1-pre-, pdfile version 4.5 Sat Apr 24 11:53:49 git version: f86d93fd949777d5fbe00bf9784ec0947d6e75b9 Sat Apr 24 11:53:49 sys info: 
Linux ubuntu 2.6.31-15-generic ... Sat Apr 24 11:53:49 waiting for connections on port 27017 Sat Apr 24 11:53:49 web admin interface listening on port 28017 

The MongoDB being run here is a development version—if you download a stable release, it will not have the first warning. The second warning occurs because we are running a 32-bit build of MongoDB. We are limited to about 2GB of data when running 32 bit, because MongoDB uses a memory-mapped file-based storage engine (see

pendix C
for details on MongoDB’s storage engine). If you are using a stable release on a 64-bit machine, you won’t get either of these messages, but it’s a good idea to understand how MongoDB logs work and get used to how they look.

The log preamble won’t change when you restart the database, so feel free to run MongoDB from an init script and ignore the logs, once you know what they say. However, it’s a good idea to check again each time you do an install, upgrade, or recover from a crash, just to make sure MongoDB and your system are on the same page.

File-Based Configuration

MongoDB supports reading configuration information from a file. This can be useful if you have a large set of options you want to use or are automating the task of starting up MongoDB. To tell the server to get options from a configuration file, use the -f or –config flags. For example, run mongod –config ~/.mongodb.conf to use ~/.mongodb.conf as a configuration file.

The options supported in a configuration file are exactly the same as those accepted at the command line. Here’s an example configuration file:

# Start MongoDB as a daemon on port 5586 

port = 5586 fork = true # daemonize it! 

It is important not to send a SIGKILL message (kill -9) to a running MongoDB server. Doing so will cause the database to shut down without going through the steps outlined earlier and could lead to corrupt data files. If this happens, the database should be repaired (see “Repair”
on page 124) before being started back up.

Another way to cleanly shut down a running server is to use the shutdown command, {"shutdown" : 1}. This is an admin command and must be run on the admin database. The shell features a helper function to make this easier:

> use admin switched to db admin > db.shutdownServer(); server should be down... 


As the administrator of a MongoDB server, it’s important to monitor the health and performance of your system. Fortunately, MongoDB has functionality that makes monitoring easy.

Using the Admin Interface

By default, starting mongod also starts up a (very) basic HTTP server that listens on a port 1,000 higher than the native driver port. This server provides an HTTP interface that can be used to see basic information about the MongoDB server. All of the information presented can also be seen through the shell, but the HTTP interface gives a nice, easy-to-read overview.

To see the admin interface, start the database and go to

in a web browser. (Use 1,000 higher than the port you specified, if you used the –port option when starting MongoDB.) You’ll see a page that looks like
Figure 8-1


As you can see, this interface gives access to assertion, locking, indexing, and replication information about the MongoDB server. It also gives some more general information, like the log preamble and access to a list of available database commands.

To make full use of the admin interface (e.g., to access the command list), you’ll need to turn on REST support with –rest. You can also turn off the admin interface altogether by starting mongod with the –nohttpinterface option.

Do not attempt to connect a driver to the HTTP interface port, and do not try to connect to the native driver port via HTTP. The driver port handles only the native MongoDB wire protocol; it will not handle HTTP requests. For example, if you go to

in a web browser, you will see:

You are trying to access MongoDB on the native driver port. For http diagnostic access, add 1000 to the port number

Similarly, you cannot use the native MongoDB wire protocol when connecting on the admin interface’s port.


The most basic tool for getting statistics about a running MongoDB server is the serverStatus command, which has the following output (exact keys present may vary by platform/server version):

> db.runCommand({"serverStatus" : 1}) 

{ "version" : "1.5.3", "uptime" : 166, "localTime" : "Thu Jun 10 2010 15:47:40 GMT-0400 (EDT)", "globalLock" : { 

"totalTime" : 165984675, "lockTime" : 91471425, "ratio" : 0.551083556358441 


"mem" : { "bits" : 64, "resident" : 101, "virtual" : 2824, "supported" : true, "mapped" : 336 


"connections" : { "current" : 141, "available" : 19859 


"extra_info" : {

"note" : "fields vary by platform" }, "indexCounters" : { 

"btree" : { "accesses" : 1563, "hits" : 1563, "misses" : 0, "resets" : 0, "missRatio" : 0 

} }, "backgroundFlushing" : { 

"flushes" : 2,

"total_ms" : 44, 

Raw status information can also be retrieved as JSON using the MongoDB HTTP interface, at the /_status (


) URL: this includes the output of serverStatus, as well as the output of some other useful commands. See “Using the Admin Interface”
on page 115
for more on the admin interface.

serverStatus provides a detailed look at what is going on inside a MongoDB server. Information such as the current server version, uptime (in seconds), and current number of connections is easily available. Some of the other information in the serverStatus response might need some explaining, however.

The value for "globalLock" gives a quick look at how much time a global write lock has been held on the server (the times are given in microseconds). "mem" contains information on how much data the server has memory mapped and what the virtual and resident memory sizes are for the server process (all in megabytes). "indexCounters" gives information on the number of B-Tree lookups that have had to go to disk ("misses") versus successful lookups from memory ("hits")—if this ratio starts to increase you should consider adding more RAM, or system performance might suffer. "background Flushing" tells us how many background fsyncs have been performed and how long they’ve taken. One of the most important pieces of the response is the "opcounters" document, which contains counters for each of the major operation types. Finally, "asserts" counts any assertions that have occurred on the server.

All of the counters in the serverStatus output are tracked from the time the server was started and will eventually roll over if the counts get high enough. When a rollover occurs for any counter, all counters will roll over, and the value of "rollovers" in the "asserts" document will increment.


Although powerful, serverStatus is not exactly a user-friendly mechanism for monitoring server health and performance. Fortunately, MongoDB distributions also ship with mongostat, which puts a friendly face on the output of serverStatus.

mongostat prints some of the most important information available from serverStatus. It prints a new line every second, which gives a more real-time view to the static counters we saw previously. The columns printed by mongostat have names like inserts/s, commands/s, vsize, and % locked, each of which corresponds exactly to data available in serverStatus.

Third-Party Plug-Ins

Most administrators are probably already using monitoring packages to keep track of their servers, and the presence of serverStatusand the /_status URL make it pretty easy to write a MongoDB plug-in for any such tool. At the time of this writing, MongoDB plug-ins exist for at least Nagios, Munin, Ganglia, and Cacti. For an up-to-date list of third-party plug-ins, check out the
MongoDB documentation on monitoring tools


Security and Authentication

One of the first priorities for any systems administrator is to ensure their systems are secure. The best way to handle security with MongoDB is to run it in a trusted environment, ensuring that only trusted machines are able to connect to the server. That said, MongoDB supports per connection authentication, albeit with a pretty coarse-grained permissions scheme.

Authentication Basics

Each database in a MongoDB instance can have any number of users. When security is enabled, only authenticated users of a database are able to perform read or write operations on it. In the context of authentication, MongoDB treats one database as special: admin. A user in the admin database can be thought of as a superuser. After authenticating, admin users are able to read or write from any database and are able to perform certain admin-only commands, like listDatabases or shutdown.

Before starting the database with security turned on, it’s important that at least one admin user has been added. Let’s run through a quick example, starting from a shell connected to a server without security turned on:

> use admin 

switched to db admin 

> db.addUser("root", "abcd"); 


"user" : "root", 

The addUser method is useful for more than just adding new users: it can be used to change a user’s password or read-only status. Just call addUser with the username and a new password or read-only setting for the user.

Now let’s restart the server, this time adding the –authcommand-line option to enable security. After enabling security, we can reconnect from the shell and try it:

> use test 

switched to db test 

> db.test.find(); 

error: { "$err" : "unauthorized for db [test] lock type: -1 " } 

> db.auth("read_only", "ijkl"); 


> db.test.find(); 

{ "_id" : ObjectId("4bb007f53e8424663ea6848a"), "x" : 1 } 

> db.test.insert({"x" : 2}); 


> db.auth("test_user", "efgh"); 


> db.test.insert({"x": 2}); 

> db.test.find(); 

{ "_id" : ObjectId("4bb007f53e8424663ea6848a"), "x" : 1 } 

{ "_id" : ObjectId("4bb0088cbe17157d7b9cac07"), "x" : 2 } 

> show dbs 

assert: assert failed : listDatabases failed:{

"assertion" : "unauthorized for db [admin] lock type: 1 ",

"errmsg" : "db assertion failure",

"ok" : 0 


> use admin 

switched to db admin 

> db.auth("root", "abcd"); 


> show dbs 




When we first connect, we are unable to perform any operations (read or write) on the test database. After authenticating as the read_only user, however, we are able to perform a simple find. When we try to insert data, we are again met with a failure because of the lack of authorization. test_user, which was not created as read-only, is able to insert data normally. As a nonadmin user, though, test_user is not able to list all of the available databases using the show dbs helper. The final step is to authenticate as an admin user, root, who is able to perform operations of any kind on any particular database.

How Authentication Works

Users of a given database are stored as documents in its system.users collection. The structure of a user document is {"user" : username, "readOnly" : true, "pwd" : password hash}. The password hash is a hash based on the username and password chosen.

Knowing where and how user information is stored makes performing some common administration tasks trivial. For example, to remove a user, simply remove the user document from the system.users collection:

> db.auth("test_user", "efgh"); 1 > db.system.users.remove({"user" : "test_user"}); > db.auth("test_user", "efgh"); 0 

When a user authenticates, the server keeps track of that authentication by tying it to the connection used for the authenticate command. This means that if a driver or tool is employing connection pooling or fails over to another node, any authenticated users will need to reauthenticate on any new connections. Some drivers may be capable of handling this transparently, but if not, it will need to be done manually. If that is the case, then it might be best to avoid using –auth altogether (again, by deploying MongoDB in a trusted environment and handling authentication on the client side).

It is not safe to create a copy of the data directory while MongoDB is running unless the server has done a full fsyncand is not allowing writes. Such a backup will likely turn out to be corrupt and need repairing (see the section
“Repair” on page 124).

Because mongodump operates using the normal MongoDB query mechanism, the backups it produces are not necessarily point-in-time snapshots of the server’s data. This is especially evident if the server is actively handling writes during the course of the backup.

Another consequence of the fact that mongodumpacts through the normal query mechanism is that it can cause some performance degradation for other clients throughout the duration of the backup.

Like most of the command-line tools included with MongoDB, we can see the options available for mongodump by running with the –help option:

$ ./mongodump --help 

--help  produce help message 
-v [ --verbose ]  be more verbose (include multiple times for more 
 verbosity e.g. -vvvvv) 
-h [ --host ] arg  mongo host to connect to ("left,right" for pairs) 
-d [ --db ] arg  database to use 
-c [ --collection ] arg  collection to use (some commands) 
-u [ --username ] arg  username 
-p [ --password ] arg  password 
--dbpath arg  directly access mongod data files in the given path, 
 instead of connecting to a mongod instance - needs 
 to lock the data directory, so cannot be used if a 
 mongod is currently accessing the same path 
--directoryperdb  if dbpath specified, each db is in a separate 

-o [ --out ] arg (=dump) output directory 

Along with mongodump, MongoDB distributions include a corresponding tool for restoring data from a backup, mongorestore. mongorestore takes the output from running mongodump and inserts the backed-up data into a running instance of MongoDB. The following example session shows a hot backup of the database test to the backup directory, followed by a separate call to mongorestore:

$ ./mongodump -d test -o backup 

connected to: 

DATABASE: test to backup/test

test.x to backup/test/x.bson

1 objects 

$ ./mongorestore -d foo --drop backup/test/ 

connected to: 


going into namespace [foo.x]


1 objects 

In the previous example, we use -d to specify a database to restore to, in this case foo. This option allows us to restore a backup to a database with a different name than the original. We also use the –drop option, which will drop the collection (if it exists) before restoring data to it. Otherwise, the data will be merged into any existing collection, possibly overwriting some documents. Again, for a complete list of options, run mongorestore –help.

fsync and Lock

Although mongodumpand mongorestoreallow us to take backups without shutting down the MongoDB server, we lose the ability to get a point-in-time view of the data. MongoDB’s fsync command allows us to copy the data directory of a running MongoDB server without risking any corruption.

The fsync command will force the MongoDB server to flush all pending writes to disk. It will also, optionally, hold a lock preventing any further writes to the database until the server is unlocked. This write lock is what allows the fsync command to be useful for backups. Here is an example of how to run the command from the shell, forcing an fsync and acquiring a write lock:

> use admin 

switched to db admin 

> db.runCommand({"fsync" : 1, "lock" : 1}); 


"info" : "now locked against writes, use db.$cmd.sys.unlock.findOne() to unlock",

"ok" : 1 


At this point, the data directory represents a consistent, point-in-time snapshot of our data. Because the server is locked for writes, we can safely make a copy of the data directory to use as a backup. This is especially useful when running on a snapshotting filesystem, like LVM* or EBS, where taking a snapshot of the data directory is a fast operation.

After performing the backup, we need to unlock the database again:

> db.$cmd.sys.unlock.findOne(); { "ok" : 1, "info" : "unlock requested" } > db.currentOp(); { "inprog" : [ ] } 

Here we run the currentOp command to ensure that the lock has been released. (It may take a moment after the unlock is first requested.)

The fsync command allows us to take very flexible backups, without shutting down the server or sacrificing the point-in-time nature of the backup. The price we’ve paid, however, is a momentary block against write operations. The only way to have a point-in-time snapshot without any downtime for reads or writes is to backup from a slave.

Slave Backups

Although the options discussed earlier provide a wide range of flexibility in terms of backups, none is as flexible as backing up from a slave server. When running MongoDB with replication (see
Chapter 9
), any of the previously mentioned backup techniques can be applied to a slave server rather than the master. The slave will always have a copy of the data that is nearly in sync with the master. Because we’re not depending on the performance of the slave or its availability for reads or writes, we are free to use any of the three options above: shutting down, the dump and restore tools, or the fsync command. Backing up from a slave is the recommended way to handle data backups with MongoDB.


We take backups so that when a disaster occurs, which could be anything from a power failure to an elephant on the loose in the data center, our data is safe. There will unfortunately always be cases when a server with no backups (or slaves to failover to) fails. In the case of a power failure or a software crash, the disk will be fine when the machine comes back up. Because of the way MongoDB stores data, however, we are not guaranteed that the data on the disk is OK to use: corruption might have occurred (see
Appendix C
for more on MongoDB’s storage engine). Luckily, MongoDB has built-in repairing functionality to attempt to recover corrupt data files.

* A logical volume manager for Linux

† Amazon’s Elastic Block Store

Repairing a database will also perform a compaction. Any extra free space (which might exist after dropping large collections or removing large number of documents, for example) will be reclaimed after a repair.

To repair a single database on a running server, you can use the repairDatabasemethod from the shell. If we wanted to repair the database test, we would do the following:

> use test
switched to db test
> db.repairDatabase()
{ "ok" : 1 }

To do the same from a driver rather than the shell, issue the repairDatabase command, {"repairDatabase" : 1}.

Repairing to eliminate corruption should be treated as a last resort. The most effective way to manage data is to always stop the MongoDB server cleanly, use replication for failover, and take regular backups.

MongoDB: The Definitive Guide

ByKristina Chodorow, Michael Dirolf

Publisher:O’Reilly Media

Released:September 2010

Get the Free Newsletter!
Subscribe to Cloud Insider for top news, trends & analysis
This email address is invalid.
Get the Free Newsletter!
Subscribe to Cloud Insider for top news, trends & analysis
This email address is invalid.

Latest Articles