What is NoSQL?

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By Sina Nasiri

In the era when the waterfall model was truly popular in the market, at that time relational databases entered into the practice. But this regime did not seem much effective as it was unable to meet the scalability and agility of modern solutions. The commodity storage and processing power were somehow unavailable.

In the late 90s, NoSQL databases entered into the genre and the entire scenario started to change. NoSQL databases are mainly distributed non-relational, open-source, and horizontally scalable databases.

We can say that nowadays, non-relational databases are showing great improvements. NoSQL databases are great options when it comes to storing data. Such database options come with a lot of features that simply transform our database using experience.

Features that Today’s NoSQL Databases Come With

  • Distributed computing system.
  • Amazing scalability.
  • Reduced costs.
  • Flexible schema design.
  • Unstructured and semi-structured data processes.
  • Open-source option.
  • No complex relationship.

What is NoSQL Database?

It is one of the popular database types that we are presently using in order to satisfy our various data requirements. It mainly stores information in JSON documents.

While dealing with relational databases, you may have seen that they use column and row-based styles. But in the case of non-relational or NoSQL databases, we can see information storage in JSON documents. NoSQL stands for not only SQL.

You can say that this type of database is able to store as well as retrieve data easily even without using any SQL. This type of database is actually a great combination of the flexibility of JSON and the power of SQL. Without any doubt, the NoSQL database is purely scalable, flexible, along with the ability to quickly respond to data management demands.

There are a lot of popular enterprises that have been using NoSQL databases. Some of those leading organizations are Tesco, Ryanair, Marriot, GE, and Gannett.

Before there were some technical problems that relational databases were unable to address as well as solve. But today with the help of non-relational databases we can address and solve those problems.

Some of the new technical challenges or digital trends that we can satisfy with NoSQL databases are:

  • More online customers – NoSQL databases are great at scalability. They can help lots of users at the same time without lowering the database experience. These are also effective in satisfying UX requirements while keeping the performance level up to the mark. NoSQL databases also come with amazing availability and great support.
  • Better connectivity – These databases are able to support various kinds of database structures, software/hardware updates, generate different data, and so on. In order to provide better connectivity, NoSQL databases support continuous streams of real-time data.
  • Big data is getting better – Storing different types of data with different structures is truly easy with these databases. If you want to collect data from various sources, you can do that easily with non-relational databases.

Along with these, there are other areas we witness transformation due to NoSQL databases, such as shifting of applications to the cloud. We will be able to understand these databases better when we will discuss the benefits as well as drawbacks.

While exploring the perks and drawbacks you will be able to understand whether the database choice is really going to address all your challenges and satisfy them accordingly or not. Before exploring the benefits and drawbacks, let’s take a look at the types of NoSQL databases available in 2021.

Types of NoSQL Databases

Generally, there are 4 leading types of NoSQL databases that a variety of organizations use across the world. Those leading database types are document databases, key-value databases, wide-column stores, and graph databases. Each of them is detailed as follows:

1. Document database

This type of database prefers to store documents similar to JSON objects. Here, each document comes with fields and values. You will get a variety of values that include lots of elements, like strings, numbers, objects, arrays, and so on.

All these things should properly align with the objectives of the developer. It is able to properly scale-out for the proper accommodation of large volumes of data. MongoDB is the best example of a NoSQL database and a document database.

2. Key-value database

This is also another popular type of NoSQL database that comes with keys and values. When it comes to retrieving the value, it will reference the key. Here, learning how key-value pairs work is simple. If you do not need to perform comparatively complex queries but need to store a large amount of data, you can go for such a database.

From user preferences or caching, you will get the best database help from this type of NoSQL database. DynanoDB and Redis are popular key-value databases.

3. Wide-column stores

This type of NoSQL database prefers to store data in tables, rows, and other dynamic columns. Here, you will enjoy an added level of flexibility in comparison with relational databases.

You will notice that wide column stores do not fix the column numbers in a row. According to some experts, wide-column stores should be known as two-dimensional as well as key-value databases.

When you can easily predict the query pattern that you will need in the near future and need to store a large number of important data, the wide-column store database can be a great choice for you.

We have seen that this type of database gets used when it comes to storing Internet of Things (IoT) data along with user profile data. HBase and Cassandra are two popular examples of wide-column stores data.

4. Graph

This type prefers to store your important data in the form of nodes and edges. Here, nodes will help you in storing information about people, places, etc. while edges will help in storing information about relationships between the nodes.

When you need to traverse relationships in order to look for patterns, such as fraud detection, social networks, and recommendation engines, you can take the help of this type of NoSQL database. JansuhGraph and Neo4j are 2 amazing examples of Graph databases.

After exploring the types of NoSQL databases it is time to explore all their benefits as well as drawbacks. So, let’s take a quick look at the list of benefits and drawbacks of NoSQL databases.

Advantages of NoSQL Databases

1. Elastic scalability

Relational databases are not a great choice in the case of scalability on commodity clusters. But with NoSQL databases, you will enjoy added transparent expansion along with the advantages of new nodes. These databases aim to help low-cost commodity hardware.

You may have noticed that the type and demand of scalability are changing. Now more companies are more in need of outward scalability instead of upward scalability. In order to satisfy this kind of requirement, NoSQL databases will be the best choice for you.

2. Big data applications

It is normal that users require storing a really wide set of data. Over time, this amount will only get bigger. With relational databases, you can enjoy scalability but that’s a hard job. After applying lots of effort, you will get some scalable experience with relational database management systems.

The data amount will be bigger on a regular basis and you need to store the same with full-on security. For data storage, you cannot spend lots of time, so, simply, you can scale your data management process up with NoSQL databases.

3. Database administration

We have seen that relational database management systems require the help of administrators when it comes to designing, installing, and maintaining the systems. But we can say that if you go with NoSQL databases, there is no need to do all these things. These tasks get automatically managed so well with NoSQL databases.

NoSQL databases come with data distribution, simplified data models, and, repair capabilities. However, note that both relational and non-relational databases will require a regular check on performance and availability.

4. Better support for unstructured data

You may know that the vast majority of data in the leading enterprise systems is unstructured. Previously, indexing unstructured data with relational databases was a hard job, rather we can say that it was impossible.

NoSQL databases come with the ability to handle the indexing of unstructured data. It will be done as a native feature or integrated sets of services, such as Elasticsearch and Solr.

Organizations do not need to pour any additional effort into structuring all types of data. When enterprises need to collect lots of data on a regular basis from various sources, they cannot take additional time to prepare structured datasets to store in relational databases.

With NoSQL databases, unstructured data gets indexed easily and organizations get better visibility as well as time to make various types of informed decisions.

By enabling NoSQL databases, a company will enjoy proper support for various languages, faceted search, snippet functionality, word-stemming support, and so on. A NoSQL database with advanced features will also support dictionaries as well as thesauri.

5. More prone to scalability

You may have heard that NoSQL databases are schema-agnostic in nature. It makes NoSQL databases able to manage various types of changes. Here, you do not even need to re-write ETL routines.

Some NoSQL databases also offer to add benefits in the same area. There you will get universal indexing structure, values, and text. Microsoft DocumentDB and MarkLogic Server are some examples of such databases.

If a document structure changes at any time, these indexes are going to help you in using information immediately. Earlier, for the same thing to happen, we needed to wait for months. But now we can get the desired information set instantly.

6. Multiple data structure support

The market is filled with various types of products and they require different types of data storage, such as object storage, and complex and interrelated structure storage. NoSQL databases are able to support a wide variety of data structures that are available today. It supports:

  • Simple binary values, maps, lists, and strings.
  • All strings will be handled at a great speed.
  • Related information values will be easily grouped in column families.
  • Parent-child hierarchical structures can be easily managed within the document database.

There are a lot of other benefits that organizations can actually enjoy with NoSQL databases. Just like any other thing in this universe, NoSQL databases also have some drawbacks. Before going for NoSQL databases, you should also check the drawbacks. It will help you in understanding these databases better.

Drawbacks of NoSQL Databases

1. Relatively New/Less Mature

According to users, relational database management systems are in practice for a long time in comparison to NoSQL databases. There are a lot of important as well as the required implementations that are yet to take place in the case of NoSQL databases.

2. No Guaranteed Support

All enterprises out there should get reassurance that if their database management system fails, they should get access to competent support within a short span of time. Relational database management systems have ensured this thing so well. They offer 24/7 support to keep their clients’ databases functional as well as truly accessible round the clock.

You know that nearly all NoSQL databases are open-source. Hence, support is not that great. In fact, just a few companies are there to offer the support. So, during your hour of need, the support is not, usually, assured.


NoSQL databases have changed the way we used to do database management. They have added more ease and flexibility. Now satisfying bigger data storage requirements is neither time-consuming nor requires a lot of effort.

You can manage everything with ease, speed, and more transparency. NoSQL databases are perfect even if the commodity hardware is cheap. You can manage data by sparing less effort as well as less money.

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