I was working on a section on the gooey innards of journaling for The Definitive Guide, but then I realized it’s an implementation detail that most people won’t care about. However, I had all of these nice diagrams just laying around.
Good idea, Patrick!
So, how does journaling work? Your disk has your data files and your journal files, which we’ll represent like this:
When you start up mongod, it maps your data files to a shared view. Basically, the operating system says: “Okay, your data file is 2,000 bytes on disk. I’ll map that to memory address 1,000,000-1,002,000. So, if you read the memory at memory address 1,000,042, you’ll be getting the 42nd byte of the file.” (Also, the data won’t necessary be loaded until you actually access that memory.)
This memory is still backed by the file: if you make changes in memory, the operating system will flush these changes to the underlying file. This is basically how mongod works without journaling: it asks the operating system to flush in-memory changes every 60 seconds.
However, with journaling, mongod makes a second mapping, this one to a private view. Incidentally, this is why enabling journalling doubles the amount of virtual memory mongod uses.
Note that the private view is not connected to the data file, so the operating system cannot flush any changes from the private view to disk.
Now, when you do a write, mongod writes this to the private view.
mongod will then write this change to the journal file, creating a little description of which bytes in which file changed.
The journal appends each change description it gets.
At this point, the write is safe. If mongod crashes, the journal can replay the change, even though it hasn’t made it to the data file yet.
The journal will then replay this change on the shared view.
Then mongod remaps the shared view to the private view. This prevents the private view from getting too “dirty” (having too many changes from the shared view it was mapped from).
Finally, at a glacial speed compared to everything else, the shared view will be flushed to disk. By default, mongod requests that the OS do this every 60 seconds.
And that’s how journaling works. Thanks to Richard, who gave the best explanation of this I’ve heard (Richard is going to be teaching an online course on MongoDB this fall, if you’re interested in more wisdom from the source).