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In relational world we have Foreign Keys to reference other entities. But how do document-oriented databases like MongoDb, CouchDb, RavenDb implement references among entities?

Update. StackExchange related example. We have Question entity and its tags. Each tag, is a separate entity so it has its properties (for example, description). How can I reference tags for some Question?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

You can do the same thing as in RMDBs, you reference by identifiers. I use MongoDB, so we can talk about this from that point.


  _id: ObjectId('tag id'),
  tag_name: "nosql",
  tag_description: "blahblah' 

Then in the Post

  _id: ObjectId('post id'),
  tags: [
    ObjectId('tag1 id'),
    ObjectId('tag2 id')
  title: "title",
  // etc..

When you load a Post object you can either pull your tags documents as well, or you can pull them from cache. Often you use a ODM (instead of ORM) and it can often handle these references for you. For example, in Mongoid for Rails, you would just say :has_many :tags and it would figure out the rest for you. When you call post.tags it would just return an array of the tags associated with post.

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Does this give the constraint a foreign key gives in a RDBMS? What happens if the tag document is deleted? – johannes Aug 26 '12 at 22:41
There are no constraints. The application will have to deal with that. – Travis Aug 27 '12 at 12:29

Easy; they don't.

If you want join abilities, you have to implement them in your client code. Some of these APIs do it a little easier by defining a 'Key' type that makes it easy to store and use references, but you have to do a second fetch to get the referenced entity.

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Could you please clarify how I can solve a task which I added to Update by document-oriented database? – Idsa Oct 9 '11 at 13:09

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