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Question: How do you select a shard key in MongoDB?


Selecting an appropriate shard key is crucial for optimizing the performance and scalability of a MongoDB database that utilizes sharding. A poorly chosen shard key can lead to uneven distribution of data, also known as 'jitter', or can bottleneck write and read operations, affecting the overall system performance. Here's how you should approach selecting a shard key:

Evaluate Data Access Patterns

  • Query Isolation: Aim for a shard key that supports your most common queries, isolating them to specific shards. This reduces the number of shards involved in fulfilling a query, thereby improving response times.
  • Write Distribution: Consider how insert, update, and delete operations will distribute across shards. A good shard key evenly spreads write operations across all shards.


  • A shard key should have high cardinality, which means it has a wide range of distinct values. High cardinality helps in evenly distributing data across shards.

Write Scaling

  • Consider future growth. The shard key should be able to accommodate the scaling out of your database by distributing the increasing volume of writes across multiple shards effectively.

Avoid Monotonically Increasing Keys

  • Shard keys based on monotonically increasing values, like timestamps or auto-incrementing IDs, can cause hotspotting, where a single shard receives a disproportionate amount of write load.

Compound Shard Keys

  • If no single field serves as a good shard key, consider using a compound shard key. This involves combining multiple fields to create a shard key that better aligns with access patterns and data distribution needs.

Example: Selecting a Shard Key

Imagine a database storing user activity logs with fields like userId, activityDate, and actionType. If queries often filter by userId and activityDate, a compound shard key on userId and activityDate could be effective:

db.createCollection("activityLogs", { shardKey: { userId: 1, activityDate: 1 } });

This shard key choice supports query isolation by userId and activityDate, providing efficient query performance. It also offers reasonable write distribution since activities are likely to occur at different times for different users.

In conclusion, selecting a shard key requires careful consideration of your application’s access patterns, data distribution, and future growth. There's no one-size-fits-all answer, but aligning the shard key with your most critical and frequent operations will generally lead to better performance and scalability.

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