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Document Validation for Polymorphic Collections

Andrew Morgan6 min read • Published Aug 10, 2023 • Updated Feb 19, 2024
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In data modeling design reviews with customers, I often propose a schema where different documents in the same collection contain different types of data. This makes it efficient to fetch related documents in a single, indexed query. MongoDB's flexible schema is great for optimizing workloads in this way, but people can be concerned about losing control of what applications write to these collections.
Customers are often concerned about ensuring that only correctly formatted documents make it into a collection, and so I explain MongoDB's schema validation feature. The question then comes: "How does that work with a polymorphic/single-collection schema?" This post is intended to answer that question — and it's simpler than you might think.

The banking application and its data

The application I'm working on manages customer and account details. There's a many-to-many relationship between customers and accounts. The app needs to be able to efficiently query customer data based on the customer id, and account data based on either the id of its customer or the account id.
Here's an example of customer and account documents where my wife and I share a checking account but each have our own savings account:
As an aside, these are the indexes I added to make those frequent queries I referred to more efficient:

Adding schema validation

To quote the docs
Schema validation lets you create validation rules for your fields, such as allowed data types and value ranges.
MongoDB uses a flexible schema model, which means that documents in a collection do not need to have the same fields or data types by default. Once you've established an application schema, you can use schema validation to ensure there are no unintended schema changes or improper data types.
The validation rules are pretty simple to set up, and tools like Hackolade can make it simpler still — even reverse-engineering your existing documents.
It's simple to imagine setting up a JSON schema validation rule for a collection where all documents share the same attributes and types. But what about polymorphic collections? Even in polymorphic collections, there is structure to the documents. Fortunately, the syntax for setting up the validation rules allows for the required optionality.
I have two different types of documents that I want to store in my Accounts collection — customer and account. I included a docType attribute in each document to identify which type of entity it represents.
I start by creating a JSON schema definition for each type of document:
Those definitions define what attributes should be in the document and what types they should take. Note that fields can be optional — such as name.middle in the customer schema.
It's then a simple matter of using the oneOf JSON schema operator to allow documents that match either of the two schema:
I wanted to go a stage further and add some extra, semantic validations:
  • For customer documents, the customerSince value can't be any earlier than the current time.
  • For account documents, the dateOpened value can't be any earlier than the current time.
  • For savings accounts, the balance can't fall below zero.
These documents represents these checks:
I updated the collection validation rules to include these new checks:
If you want to recreate this in your own MongoDB database, then just paste this into your MongoDB playground in VS Code:

Conclusion

I hope that this short article has shown how easy it is to use schema validations with MongoDB's polymorphic collections and single-collection design pattern.
I didn't go into much detail about why I chose the data model used in this example. If you want to know more (and you should!), then here are some great resources on data modeling with MongoDB:

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Table of Contents
  • The banking application and its data