The Great Debate: NoSQL vs Relational Databases

We explore the NoSQL vs. Relational Databases debate, providing essential rules and strategies to help you make informed choices.

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Foundry Staff

In the world of software development, one decision can make or break your project's success. This post explores the NoSQL vs. Relational Databases debate, providing essential rules and strategies to help you make informed choices.

The Rules

Rule One: The Allure of Relational Databases

Proponents of relational databases argue that most projects are better suited for a relational DB. Although NoSQL data stores have their merits, developers should first consider whether their data truly necessitates a NoSQL approach. 

Rule Two: The Hybrid Approach

Some argue that even when NoSQL is the desired data store, backing it with a relational database management system (RDBMS) is a viable strategy. This hybrid approach can provide the best of both worlds, allowing you to exploit the strengths of each database type.

Rule Three: Regretting NoSQL

Regretting NoSQL happens when projects scale, revealing the complex challenges of managing intricate data relationships.

Further Considerations

The Pros of NoSQL: Dispelling Misconceptions

While NoSQL databases offer undeniable advantages, such as document databases, key-value stores, and more, they are especially suitable for non-relational data. For instance, MongoDB excels in transaction log replication across multiple hosts and is optimized for read operations, however falls short when it comes to generating reports and understanding Data. 

It's crucial to remember that, over time, developers may encounter challenges. A common sentiment among developers is that, after 6-12 months, they regret not using a relational database from the outset. This stems from the challenges that arise when scaling a project or adding new features that require complex relationships between data.

The Caveat of Newness

Many NoSQL databases are relatively new and, therefore, unproven. Battle-tested databases like PostgreSQL have been refined over decades. Developing a robust database is a complex problem that requires a deep understanding of computer science, ACID properties, and systems design.

The Case for Hybrid Architectures

In large-scale applications with billions of monthly requests, a combination of database types may be the most effective solution. A hybrid architecture might include:

  • Redshift: Write optimized, read rarely (stores activity and logs)
  • MongoDB: Read optimized, written rarely (stores user data and preferences)
  • Redis/Memcached: Key-value R/W optimized (stores access tokens and cache data)
  • RDS/PostgreSQL: Supports reporting requirements for various departments
  • Varnish/Nginx: Serves the site behind load balancers

The Popularity and Pitfalls of NoSQL

NoSQL databases, with MongoDB at the forefront, have gained widespread popularity for their user-friendly nature. They simplify the process of record creation by eliminating the need for extensive data definition language (DDL) and meticulous planning.

However, the apparent ease of use can be deceptive, particularly as it relates to complex data relationships and scalability. Developers are often lured by NoSQL databases' compatibility with the JSON/REST world, allowing the effortless storage and retrieval of JSON data. Yet, this simplicity can mask the limitations that become evident when scaling projects or adding new features.

The Verdict

In many cases, choosing a hybrid approach that combines both NoSQL and relational databases can be the best way forward. By carefully considering your project's needs and the strengths and weaknesses of each database type, you can create a more robust and scalable solution. This balanced perspective is often the recommended path for most projects.

This content was created with the assistance of a large language model. Specifically, it is based on the transcript of an actual Slack debate / discussion among our engineers. The generated content has been independently verified and heavily edited for accuracy and clarity.