How bad can MongoDB be with Dirty Reads?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:

Very worrisome, though no sane person would use MongoDB to track something involving money. That’s simply not what MongoDB is for.

How bad are dirty reads?

Read uncommitted allows all kinds of terrible anomalies we probably don’t want as MongoDB users.

For instance, suppose we have a user registration service keyed by a unique username. Now imagine a partition occurs, and two users–Alice and Bob–try to claim the same username–one on each side of the partition. Alice’s request is routed to the majority primary, and she successfully registers the account. Bob, talking to the minority primary, will see his account creation request time out. The minority primary will eventually roll his account back to a nonexistent state, and when the partition heals, accept Alice’s version.

But until the minority primary detects the failure, Bob’s invalid user registration will still be visible for reads. After registration, the web server redirects Alice to /my/account to show her the freshly created account. However, this HTTP request winds up talking to a server whose client still thinks the minority primary is valid–and that primary happily responds to a read request for the account with Bob’s information.

Alice’s page loads, and in place of her own data, she sees Bob’s name, his home address, his photograph, and other things that never should have been leaked between users.

You can probably imagine other weird anomalies. Temporarily visible duplicate values for unique indexes. Locks that appear to be owned by two processes at once. Clients seeing purchase orders that never went through.

Or consider a reconciliation process that scans the list of all transactions a client has made to make sure their account balance is correct. It sees an attempted but invalid transaction that never took place, and happily sets the user’s balance to reflect that impossible transaction. The mischievous transaction subsequently disappears on rollback, leaving customer support to puzzle over why the numbers don’t add up.

Or, worse, an admin goes in to fix the rollback, assumes the invalid transaction should have taken place, and applies it to the new primary. The user sensibly retried their failed purchase, so they wind up paying twice for the same item. Their account balance goes negative. They get hit with an overdraft fine and have to spend hours untangling the problem with support.

Read-uncommitted is scary.