MongoDB to Postgres

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from MongoDB and load it into PostgreSQL. (If this manual process sounds onerous, check out Stitch, which can do all the heavy lifting for you in just a few clicks.)

What is MongoDB?

MongoDB, or just Mongo, is an open source NoSQL database that stores data in JSON format. It uses a document-oriented data model, and data fields can vary by document. MongoDB isn't tied to any specified data structure, meaning that there's no particular format or schema for data in a Mongo database.

What is PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL, often known simply as Postgres, is a hugely popular object-relational database management system (ORDBMS). It labels itself as "the world's most advanced open source database," and for good reason. The platform, which is available via an open source license, offers enterprise-grade features including a strong emphasis on extensibility and standards compliance.

PostgreSQL runs on all major operating systems, including Linux, Unix, and Windows. It is fully ACID-compliant, and has full support for foreign keys, joins, views, triggers, and stored procedures (in multiple languages). Postgres is often the best tool for the job as a back-end database for web systems and software tools, and cloud-based deployments are offered by most major cloud vendors. Its syntax also forms the basis for querying Amazon Redshift, which makes migration between the two systems relatively painless and makes Postgres a good "first step" for developers who may later work on Redshift's data warehouse platform.

Getting data out of MongoDB

The process of pulling data out of MongoDB depends on how you've loaded data into MongoDB. In some cases, it may be impossible to extract all of your data, because NoSQL databases don't require structure (i.e. specific columns). Relational databases, such as those used for data warehouses, use a more traditional, rigid structure. You'll need to defined a structure in the relational database into which you can insert MongoDB data.

Don't stress about the confusing data structure. Lots of the data that's loaded into MongoDB is created by a computer, so it probably has a pretty predictable structure. If you can find specific fields that exist for every record, you're well on your way. Make sure these fields appear in the records of each collection you'd like to replicate from MongoDB. There are many ways to do this. The most popular method to get data from MongoDB is to use the find() command.

Sample MongoDB data

MongoDB stores and returns JSON-formatted data. Here's an example of what a response might look like to a query against the products collection.

db.products.find( { qty: { $gt: 25 } }, { _id: 0, qty: 0 } )

{ "item" : "pencil", "type" : "no.2" }
{ "item" : "bottle", "type" : "blue" }
{ "item" : "paper" }

Loading data into Postgres

Once you have identified all of the columns you will want to insert, you can use the CREATE TABLE statement in Postgres to create a table that can receive all of this data. Then, Postgres offers a number of methods for loading in data, and the best method varies depending on the quantity of data you have and the regularity with which you plan to load it.

For simple, day-to-day data insertion, running INSERT queries against the database directly are the standard SQL method for getting data added. Documentation on INSERT queries and their bretheren can be found in the Postgres documentation here.

For bulk insertions of data, which you will likely want to conduct if you have a high volume of data to load, other tools exist as well. This is where the COPY command becomes quite useful, as it allows you to load large sets of data into Postgres without needing to run a series of INSERT statements. Documentation can be found here.

The Postgres documentation also provides a helpful overall guide for conducting fast data inserts, populating your database, and avoiding common pitfalls in the process. You can find it here.

Keeping MongoDB data up to date

Fine job! You are the proud developer of a script that moves data from MongoDB to your data warehouse. This works as a one-shot deal. It's good to think about what will happen when there is new and updated data in MongoDB.

One option that works would be to load the entire MongoDB dataset all over again. That would certainly update the data, but it's not very efficient and can also cause terribly latency.

The smartest way to get data updated from MongoDB would be to identify keys that can be used as bookmarks to store where you script left off on the last run. Fields like updated_at, modified_at, or other auto-incrementing data are useful here. With that done, you can set up your script as a cron job or continuous loop to identify new data as it appears.

Other data warehouse options

PostgreSQL is great, but sometimes you need to optimize for different things when you're choosing a data warehouse. Some folks choose to go with Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, or Snowflake, which are RDBMSes that use similar SQL syntax, or Panoply, which works with Redshift instances. If you're interested in seeing the relevant steps for loading data into one of these platforms, check out To Redshift, To BigQuery, To Snowflake, and To Panoply.

Easier and faster alternatives

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t be alarmed. If you have all the skills necessary to go through this process, chances are building and maintaining a script like this isn’t a very high-leverage use of your time.

Thankfully, products like Stitch were built to solve this problem automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your MongoDB data via the API, structuring it in a way that is optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into your PostgreSQL data warehouse.