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FAQ: Indexes

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  • How do I create an index?
  • How does an index build affect database performance?
  • How do I see what indexes exist on a collection?
  • How can I see if a query uses an index?
  • How do I determine which fields to index?
  • How can I see the size of an index?
  • How do write operations affect indexes?

This document addresses some common questions regarding MongoDB indexes. For more information on indexes, see Indexes.

To create an index on a collection, use the db.collection.createIndex() method. Creating an index is an administrative operation. In general, applications should not call db.collection.createIndex() on a regular basis.


Index builds can impact performance; see How does an index build affect database performance?. Administrators should consider the performance implications before building indexes.

MongoDB index builds against a populated collection require an exclusive read-write lock against the collection. Operations that require a read or write lock on the collection must wait until the mongod releases the lock.

Changed in version 4.2.

  • For feature compatibility version (fcv) "4.2", MongoDB uses an optimized build process that only holds the exclusive lock at the beginning and end of the index build. The rest of the build process yields to interleaving read and write operations.

  • For feature compatibility version (fcv) "4.0", the default foreground index build process holds the exclusive lock for the entire index build. background index builds do not take an exclusive lock during the build process.

For more information on the index build process, see Index Builds on Populated Collections.

Index builds on replica sets have specific performance considerations and risks. See Index Builds in Replicated Environments for more information. To minimize the impact of building an index on replica sets, including shard replica sets, use a rolling index build procedure as described in Rolling Index Builds on Replica Sets.

To return information on currently running index creation operations, see Active Indexing Operations. To kill a running index creation operation on a primary or standalone mongod, use db.killOp(). The partially built index will be deleted.

You cannot terminate a replicated index build on secondary members of a replica set. You must first drop the index on the primary. The secondaries will replicate the drop operation and drop the indexes after the index build completes. All further replication blocks behind the index build and drop.

To list a collection's indexes, use the db.collection.getIndexes() method.

To inspect how MongoDB processes a query, use the explain() method.

A number of factors determine which fields to index, including selectivity, the support for multiple query shapes, and size of the index. For more information, see Operational Considerations for Indexes and Indexing Strategies.

The db.collection.stats() includes an indexSizes document which provides size information for each index on the collection.

Depending on its size, an index may not fit into RAM. An index fits into RAM when your server has enough RAM available for both the index and the rest of the working set. When an index is too large to fit into RAM, MongoDB must read the index from disk, which is a much slower operation than reading from RAM.

In certain cases, an index does not need to fit entirely into RAM. For details, see Indexes that Hold Only Recent Values in RAM.

Write operations may require updates to indexes:

  • If a write operation modifies an indexed field, MongoDB updates all indexes that have the modified field as a key.

Therefore, if your application is write-heavy, indexes might affect performance.

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