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Model Tree Structures with Child References

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Data in MongoDB has a flexible schema. Collections do not enforce document structure. Decisions that affect how you model data can affect application performance and database capacity. See Data Modeling Concepts for a full high level overview of data modeling in MongoDB.

This document describes a data model that describes a tree-like structure in MongoDB documents by storing references in the parent-nodes to children nodes.


The Child References pattern stores each tree node in a document; in addition to the tree node, document stores in an array the id(s) of the node’s children.

Consider the following hierarchy of categories:

Tree data model for a sample hierarchy of categories.

The following example models the tree using Child References, storing the reference to the node’s children in the field children:

db.categories.insertMany( [
   { _id: "MongoDB", children: [] },
   { _id: "dbm", children: [] },
   { _id: "Databases", children: [ "MongoDB", "dbm" ] },
   { _id: "Languages", children: [] },
   { _id: "Programming", children: [ "Databases", "Languages" ] },
   { _id: "Books", children: [ "Programming" ] }
] )
  • The query to retrieve the immediate children of a node is fast and straightforward:

    db.categories.findOne( { _id: "Databases" } ).children
  • You can create an index on the field children to enable fast search by the child nodes:

    db.categories.createIndex( { children: 1 } )
  • You can query for a node in the children field to find its parent node as well as its siblings:

    db.categories.find( { children: "MongoDB" } )

The Child References pattern provides a suitable solution to tree storage as long as no operations on subtrees are necessary. This pattern may also provide a suitable solution for storing graphs where a node may have multiple parents.