Data Modeling and Operational Factors

Designing the data model of your application is a crucial task that can make or break the performance of your application. A well-designed data model will allow you to write efficient AQL queries, increase throughput of CRUD operations and will make sure your data is distributed in the most effective way.

Whether you design a new application with ArangoDB or port an existing one to use ArangoDB, you should always analyze the (expected) data access patterns of your application in conjunction with several factors:

Operation Atomicity

All insert / update / replace / remove operations in ArangoDB are atomic on a single document, in the sense that any read operation either observes a single document write in its entirety or not at all, regardless of whether it is a read in the same transaction, a different transaction, or indeed another write operation implicitly reading the document (like update). This is true for all deployment modes including cluster.

When using a single instance of ArangoDB or a OneShard database in a cluster, we can make additional guarantees: Multi-document / multi-collection queries are guaranteed to be fully atomic, in the sense that one transaction observes any other transaction either in its entirety, or not at all. In general, this is not guaranteed for cluster deployments in case of failovers.

Transactional Isolation

In the single instance case and in the OneShard database case, ArangoDB uses RocksDB’s snapshot isolation for reads and uses RocksDB key-level pessimistic locking for write-write-conflict detection. Therefore, in these cases, the isolation level ArangoDB guarantees for transactions is “repeatable read” in the following sense: the reads of a transaction see a snapshot of the state of the database, that is, a transaction T does not see “dirty reads”, which are writes from other transactions which have not yet committed. Furthermore, a transaction T does not see writes from other transactions, which have started, after T was started, even if they commit before the read of T happens. Finally, in the end, there is a total order on the set of all transactions, so that the state of the database is as if the writes of the transactions would have been executed in this order.

Note that this is strictly weaker than “serializable”, since it is possible that two concurrent transactions T1 and T2 both read the old state from before both of them (including the documents T1 or T2 touch), but then write to disjoint sets of keys. This allows for the possibility of “phantom reads”.

Note that in a cluster without OneShard databases, these isolation guarantees are not given.

Denormalizing Data

In traditional SQL databases it is considered a good practice to normalize all your data across multiple tables to avoid duplicated data and ensure consistency.

ArangoDB is a schema-less NoSQL multi-model database, so a good data model is not necessarily normalized. On the contrary, to avoid extra joins it is often an advantage to deliberately denormalize your data model.

To denormalize your data model you essentially combine all related entities into a single document instead of spreading it over multiple documents and collections. The advantage of this is that it allows you to atomically update all of your connected data, the downside is that your documents become larger (see below for more considerations on large documents).

As a simple example, lets say you want to maintain the total amount of a shopping basket (from an online shop) together with a list of all included items and prices. The total balance of all items in the shopping basket should stay in sync with the contained items, then you may put all contained items inside the shopping basket document and only update them together:

    "_id": "basket/123",
    "_key": "123",
    "_rev": "_Xv0TA0O--_",
    "user": "some_user",
    "balance": "100",
    "items": [ { "price": 10, "title": "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone" },
               { "price": 90, "title": "Vacuum XYZ" } ]

This allows you to avoid making lookups via the document keys in multiple collections.

Ensuring Consistent Atomic Updates

There are ways to ensure atomicity and consistency when performing updates in your application. ArangoDB allows you to specify the revision ID (_rev) value of the existing document you want to update. The update or replace operation is only able to succeed if the values match. This way you can ensure that if your application has read a document with a certain _rev value, the modifications to it are only allowed to pass if and only if the document was not changed by someone else in the meantime. By specifying a document’s previous revision ID you can avoid losing updates on these documents without noticing it.

You can specify the revision via the _rev field inside the document or via the If-Match: <revision> HTTP header in the documents REST API. In the arangosh you can perform such an operation like this:

db.basketCollection.update({"_key": "123", "_rev": "_Xv0TA0O--_"}, data)
// or replace
db.basketCollection.replace({"_key": "123", "_rev": "_Xv0TA0O--_"}, data)

An AQL query with the same effect can be written by using the ignoreRevs option together with a modification operation. Either let ArangoDB compare the _rev value and only succeed if they still match, or let ArangoDB ignore them (default):

FOR i IN 1..1000
  UPDATE { _key: CONCAT('test', i), _rev: "1287623" }
  WITH { foobar: true } IN users
  OPTIONS { ignoreRevs: false }


Indexes can improve the performance of AQL queries drastically. Queries that frequently filter on or one more fields can be made faster by creating an index (in arangosh via the ensureIndex command, the Web UI or your specific client driver). There is already an automatic (and non-deletable) primary index in every collection on the _key and _id fields as well as the edge index on _from and _to (for edge collections).

Should you decide to create an index you should consider a few things:

  • Indexes are a trade-off between storage space, maintenance cost and query speed.
  • Each new index will increase the amount of RAM and the amount of disk space needed.
  • Indexes with indexed array values need an extra index entry per array entry
  • Adding indexes increases the write-amplification i.e. it negatively affects the write performance (how much depends on the storage engine)
  • Each index needs to add at least one index entry per document. You can use sparse indexes to avoid adding null index entries for rarely used attributes
  • Sparse indexes can be smaller than non-sparse indexes, but they can only be used if the optimizer determines that the null value cannot be in the result range, e.g. by an explicit FILTER doc.attribute != null in AQL (also see Type and value order).
  • Collections that are more frequently read benefit the most from added indexes, provided the indexes can actually be utilized
  • Indexes on collections with a high rate of inserts or updates compared to reads may hurt overall performance.

Generally it is best to design your indexes with your queries in mind. Use the query profiler to understand the bottlenecks in your queries.

Always consider the additional space requirements of extra indexes when planning server capacities. For more information on indexes see Index Basics.

Number of Databases and Collections

Sometimes you can consider to split up data over multiple collections. For example, one could create a new set of collections for each new customer instead of having a customer field on each documents. Having a few thousand collections has no significant performance penalty for most operations and results in good performance.

Grouping documents into collections by type (i.e. a session collection ‘sessions_dev’, ‘sessions_prod’) allows you to avoid an extra index on a type field. Similarly you may consider to split edge collections instead of specifying the type of the connection inside the edge document.

A few things to consider:

  • Adding an extra collection always incurs a small amount of overhead for the collection metadata and indexes.
  • You cannot use more than 2048 collections/shards per AQL query
  • Uniqueness constraints on certain attributes (via an unique index) can only be enforced by ArangoDB within one collection

Cluster Sharding

The ArangoDB cluster partitions your collections into one or more shards across multiple DB-Servers. This enables efficient horizontal scaling: It allows you to store much more data, since ArangoDB distributes the data automatically to the different servers. In many situations one can also reap a benefit in data throughput, again because the load can be distributed to multiple machines.

ArangoDB uses the specified shard keys to determine in which shard a given document is stored. Choosing the right shard key can have significant impact on your performance can reduce network traffic and increase performance.

ArangoDB uses consistent hashing to compute the target shard from the given values (as specified via ‘shardKeys’). The ideal set of shard keys allows ArangoDB to distribute documents evenly across your shards and your DB-Servers. By default ArangoDB uses the _key field as a shard key. For a custom shard key you should consider a few different properties:

  • Cardinality: The cardinality of a set is the number of distinct values that it contains. A shard key with only N distinct values can not be hashed onto more than N shards. Consider using multiple shard keys, if one of your values has a low cardinality.
  • Frequency: Consider how often a given shard key value may appear in your data. Having a lot of documents with identical shard keys will lead to unevenly distributed data. Consider using multiple shard keys or a different one that is more suitable.

The default sharding should randomly distribute your documents across your cluster machines. This may be good enough for you, but depending on the kind of AQL queries and other operations an application performs, it may leave a lot of performance on the table.

See Cluster Sharding for more information.


SmartGraphs are an Enterprise Edition feature of ArangoDB. It enables you to manage graphs at scale, it will give a vast performance benefit for all graphs sharded in an ArangoDB Cluster.

To add a SmartGraph you need a SmartGraph attribute that partitions your graph into several smaller sub-graphs. Ideally these sub-graphs follow a “natural” structure in your data. These subgraphs have a large amount of edges that only connect vertices in the same subgraph and only have few edges connecting vertices from other subgraphs.

All the usual considerations for sharding keys also apply for smart attributes, for more information see SmartGraphs

Document and Transaction Sizes

When designing your data-model you should keep in mind that the size of documents affects the performance and storage requirements of your system. Very large numbers of very small documents may have an unexpectedly big overhead: Each document needs has a certain amount extra storage space, depending on the storage engine and the indexes you added to the collection. The overhead may become significant if your store a large amount of very small documents.

Very large documents may reduce your write throughput: This is due to the extra time needed to send larger documents over the network as well as more copying work required inside the storage engine.

Consider some ways to minimize the required amount of storage space:

  • Explicitly set the _key field to a custom unique value. This enables you to store information in the _key field instead of another field inside the document. The _key value is always indexed, setting a custom value means you can use a shorter value than what would have been generated automatically.
  • Shorter field names will reduce the amount of space needed to store documents (this has no effect on index size). ArangoDB is schemaless and needs to store the document structure inside each document. Usually this is a small overhead compared to the overall document size.
  • Combining many small related documents into one larger one can also reduce overhead. Common fields can be stored once and indexes just need to store one entry. This will only be beneficial if the combined documents are regularly retrieved together and not just subsets.

Storage Engine

Large documents and transactions may negatively impact the write performance of the RocksDB storage engine.

  • Consider a maximum size of 50-75 kB per document as a good rule of thumb. This will allow you to maintain steady write throughput even under very high load.
  • Transactions are held in-memory before they are committed. This means that transactions have to be split if they become too big, see the limitations section.

Improving Update Query Performance

You may use the exclusive query option for modifying AQL queries, to improve the performance drastically. This has the downside that no concurrent writes may occur on the collection, but ArangoDB is able to use a special fast-path which should improve the performance by up to 50% for large collections.

FOR doc IN mycollection
  UPDATE doc._key
  WITH { foobar: true } IN mycollection
  OPTIONS { exclusive: true }

The same naturally also applies for queries using REPLACE or INSERT. Additionally you may be able to use the intermediateCommitCount option in the API to subdivide the AQL transaction into smaller batches.

Read / Write Load Balance

Depending on whether your data model has a higher read- or higher write-rate you may want to adjust some of the RocksDB specific options. Some of the most critical options to adjust the performance and memory usage are listed below:


This is the size of the block cache in bytes. This cache is used for read operations. Increasing the size of this may improve the performance of read heavy workloads. You may wish to adjust this parameter to control memory usage.


Amount of data to build up in memory before converting to a file on disk. Larger values increase performance, especially during bulk loads.


Maximum number of write buffers that built up in memory, per internal column family. The default and the minimum number is 2, so that when 1 write buffer is being flushed to storage, new writes can continue to the other write buffer.

The total amount of data to build up in all in-memory buffers when writing into ArangoDB. You may wish to adjust this parameter to control memory usage.

Setting this to a low value may limit the RAM that ArangoDB will use but may slow down write heavy workloads. Setting this to 0 will not limit the size of the write-buffers.


When this many files accumulate in level-0, writes will be stopped to allow compaction to catch up. Setting this value very high may improve write throughput, but may lead to temporarily bad read performance.