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Question: How does shard rebalancing work in MongoDB?


Shard rebalancing in MongoDB is an automatic process that ensures data is distributed evenly across the shards in a sharded cluster. This mechanism is crucial for maintaining optimal performance and storage utilization as data grows or changes over time.

When you add a new shard to a MongoDB cluster, the cluster doesn't automatically balance the distribution of data across all shards. Instead, MongoDB waits for a trigger, such as a significant imbalance in data distribution or an administrator's command, to initiate the rebalancing process.

How Shard Rebalancing Works

  1. Chunk Splitting: MongoDB divides collections into chunks, which are contiguous ranges of the shard key. As data grows, MongoDB may split chunks that exceed a specified size threshold.

  2. Balancing Process: When MongoDB detects that chunks aren't evenly distributed across the shards, it triggers the balancer. The balancer is a background process that redistributes chunks according to the configured balancing policy, aiming for an even distribution.

  3. Moving Chunks: To rebalance the data, MongoDB moves chunks from shards with more data to those with less. Each chunk move involves copying the chunk to the target shard, updating metadata in the config servers, and finally deleting the chunk from the source shard after confirming the success of the copy.

Triggering Rebalancing Manually

Although the rebalancing process is automatic, administrators can manually trigger it using MongoDB's management tools or command line interface. For example:

# Start the balancer db.adminCommand({ balancerStart: 1 }) # Stop the balancer db.adminCommand({ balancerStop: 1 })


  • Performance Impact: While necessary for long-term performance, the rebalancing process can temporarily affect cluster performance due to the additional network and disk I/O required to move chunks.
  • Shard Key Selection: The choice of shard key can significantly impact the efficiency of the rebalancing process. A well-chosen shard key facilitates evenly distributed data growth, reducing the need for frequent rebalancing.

In summary, shard rebalancing is a critical mechanism for distributing data evenly across a MongoDB sharded cluster. It is mostly automated but can be managed manually by administrators when necessary. Effective shard key selection and understanding the rebalancing process are essential for maintaining optimal performance and scalability in a MongoDB deployment.

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