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PHP: So you'd like to migrate from MySQL to CouchDB? - Part II

This is part II of my introductory series to move from MySQL a relational database (management) system to CouchDB. I will be using MySQL as an example. Part I of this series is available here.


In part I, I introduced CouchDB by explaining its basics. I continued by showing a simple request to create a document using curl (on the shell) and expanded how the same request could be written in PHP (using ext/curl) — or in HTTP_Request2 or with phpillow.

Part II will focus on the most basic operations and help you build a small wrapper for CouchDB. The code will be available on Github.

Getting data into CouchDB

As I explained before — CouchDB is all HTTP.

But for starters, we'll take a shortcut here and briefly talk about CouchDB's nifty administration frontend called futon. Think of Futon as a really easy to use phpMyAdmin. And by default futon is included in your CouchDB installation.


Futon will allow you to virtually do anything you need:

  • create a database
  • create a document
  • create a view
  • build the view
  • view ;-) (documents, views)
  • update all of the above
  • delete all of the above
  • replicate with other CouchDB servers

Assuming the installation completed successfully, and CouchDB runs on, the URL to your very own Futon is And it doesn't hurt to create a bookmark while you are at it.

Why GUI?

Purists will always argue that using a GUI is slower than for example hacking your requests from the shell.

That may be correct once you are a level 99 CouchDB super hero, but since we all start at level 1, Futon is a great way to interact with CouchDB to learn the basics. And besides, even level 99 CouchDB super heroes sometimes like to just click and see, and not type in crazy hacker commands to get it done.

I'll encourage everyone to check it out.

Read, write, update and delete.

Sometimes also referred to as CRUD (create, read, update, delete) — read, write, update and delete are the basics most web applications do.

Since most of you have done a "write a blog in X"-tutorial before — and I personally am tired of writing blogs in different languages or with different backends — let's use another example.

Think about a small guestbook application, it does all of the above — a fancy guest will even do update. For the sake of simplicity, I'll skip on the frontend in this example and we'll work on the backend and essentially create a small wrapper class for CouchDB.


By now — "CouchDB is all HTTP" — should sound all familiar. So in turn, all these CRUD operations in CouchDB translate to the following HTTP request methods:

  • write/create - PUT or POST
  • read - GET
  • update - PUT or POST
  • delete - DELETE

On write

Whenever you supply an ID of a new document along with the document, you should use PUT.

When you don't care about the document ID, use POST instead, and CouchDB will generate a unique ID for you.

This unique ID will not look like an autoincremented integer, but we should not cling to this concept anyway. Without diving into too advanced context now, but the auto_increment feature in MySQL is a little flawed in general and in a distributed context especially. More on this (maybe) in a later part of this series — in the mean-time, check out Joshua Schachter's post.

On update

By default, CouchDB keeps a revision ID of each document. To many this is a pretty cool feature — out of the box, so to speak. But there are two very important and fundamental things to be aware of.

  1. CouchDB will keep previous revisions of a document around until you run compact on the database. Think of compact as a house keeping chore. It will wipe your database clean of previous revisions and even optimize the indices (in case you had a lot of data changing operations in the mean time). For CouchDB revisions are especially important in a distributed context (think replication — more on this later) and while it's cool to have them, they should not be used as a feature and be exposed to the user of your application.

  2. In case we decide a document, we always have to provide the previous (or current) revision of the document. This sounds strange, but the reasons are simple — in case another update gets in between all we have to do is provide the necessary interfaces and workflows in our application to alert the user and avoid a possible conflict.

CouchDB and the HTTP standard

CouchDB's API adheres to the above in 99.999999999% of the time. And it only breaks the pattern once. The exception to the rule is that when you bulk request multiple documents, which is strictly speaking a GET operation CouchDB will allow you to post in this case.

The reason for this is that the length of GET request is limited (by RFC) and if we exceeded this by requesting too many document IDs, we would hit a hard limit. To get around this, the operation is POST — but more on this later.


For the following examples we assume a working CouchDB installation and a database called guestbook. No admins are set up — we can read and write without permission.

For simplicty, we imagine a form with the following fields:

  • author
  • entry

... and in addition to those two keys that may be populated by the user we add:

  • type (always: guestbook)
  • added (a date of some kind)

... the last two are not absolutely necessary, but will come handy in future iterations of this tutorial.

Also, on the tech side, we need a webserver with PHP and HTTP_Request2 (pear install HTTP_Request2-alpha) in your include_path. :-)

PHP: So you'd like to migrate from MySQL to CouchDB? - Part I

Update (2009-10-13): I posted part II!

This is the first part of a series. I'll start off by introducing CouchDB — from a PHP side, then I'll demo a couple basic use cases and I later on, I'll dive into migrations from MySQL.

My idea is to introduce CouchDB to a world where database-driven development generally refers to MySQL. By no means, this is meant to be disrespectful to MySQL, or SQL-databases in general. However, I'm a firm believer in using the right tool for the job.

First things first!

First off, before using CouchDB and maybe eventually replacing MySQL with it, we need to ask ourself the "Why?"-question.

And in order to be capable of more than a well-educated guess we need to familiarize ourselves with the CouchDB basics.


  • Document-oriented and schema-less storage.
  • Erlang (for rock-solid-scaling-goodness).
  • RESTful HTTP-API (we'll get to that).
  • Everything is JSON - request data, storage, response!


In a document-oriented as to opposed to a relational store, the data is not stored in table, where data is usually broken down into fields. In a document-oriented store each record is stored along side and can have its own characteristics — properties of any kind.

As an example, consider these two records:

Till Klampaeckel, Berlin
Till Klampaeckel, [email protected], Berlin, Germany

In a relational store, we would attempt to break down, or normalize, the data. Which means that we would probably create a table with the columns name, email, city and country.

Consider adding another record:

Till Klampaeckel, +49110, [email protected]

(Just fyi — this is not my real phone number!)

Looking for an intersection in the records, the name is the only thing this record has in common with the previous two. With a relational database, we would either have to add a column for phone number and chat, or we would start splitting off the data into multiple tables (e.g. a table called phone and one called chat) in order to get grip.

With a document-oriented database — such as CouchDB — this is not an issue.

We can store any data, constraints do not apply.


Erlang was invented a while ago, by Ericsson, when it was still sans Sony. In a nutshell, Erlang's true strength is reliability and stability. It also manages to really utilize all the resources modern hardware has to offer since it's a master of parallelization.

CouchDB is written in Erlang, and also accepts view code written in Erlang. More on views later.


For starters, a lot of HTTP-APIs claim to be RESTful, most of them are not. HTTP has so called request verbs (DELETE, GET, HEAD, POST, PUT among them) and a lot of APIs don't use them to the fullest extend, or rather not all.

Instead, most APIs are limited GET and maybe use a little POST. An example of such an API is the Flickr API.

Most of us are familiar with GET and POST already. For example, when you opened the web page to this blog entry, the browser made a GET-request. If you decide to post a comment later on — you guessed it, that's a POST-request.

Aside from its basic yet powerful nature, HTTP is interesting in particular because it is the least common multiple in many programming language. Whatever you use — C#, PHP, Python, Ruby — these languages know how to talk HTTP. And even better — most of them ship pretty comfortable wrappers.


JSON — it's godsend for those of us who never liked XML.

It's very lightweight, yet we able to represent lists and objects, integers, strings — most data types you would want to use. A clear disadvantage of JSON is that it lacks validation (think DTD), and of course comments — ha, ha!

Why, oh why?

So along with "Why?", we should consider the following:

  • Does it make sense?
  • Is CouchDB (really) the better fit for my application?
  • What is my #1 problem in MySQL, and how does CouchDB solve it?

And if we are still convinced to migrate all of our data, we'll need to decide on an access wrapper.

It's all HTTP, right?

By now, everyone has heard that CouchDB has a RESTful HTTP-API. But what does that imply?

It means, that we won't need to build a new extension in PHP to be able to use it. There's already either ext/socket or ext/curl — often both — in 99% of all PHP installs out there. Which means that PHP is more than ready to talk to CouchDB — right out of the box.

Since I mentioned JSON before — today ext/json is available in most PHP installs as well. If however we happen to be one of the few unfortunates who don't have and cannot get this extension, we should use Services_JSON instead.

Install it!

CouchDB installations are available in most Linux and Unix distributions. On MacOSX, get CouchDBXthe one-click CouchDB package, and there's a work in process for Windows as well. Especially interesting for those who run Ubuntu 9.10 (which has been released a few days ago), there's already a CouchDB install included.


apt-get install couchdb


cd /usr/ports/databases/couchdb && make install clean

Introducing TillStore

Update, 2009-10-24: Fixed a bug, and committed a couple other improvements — TillStore 0.2.0 is released!

I went to nosqlberlin last week and I got inspired. I listened to a lot of interesting talks — most notably about Redis, CouchDB, Riak and MongoDB (I'm omitting two talks, which of course were not less awesome than the rest!) Due to an unfortunate circumstance I had six hours to hack on stuff from Thursday to Friday.

And here it is — I'm proud to present my very own approach to key-value stores: TillStore!

What is a key-value store?

In a nutshell, a key-value store is a database for values (Doh!). There are no duplicates, it's always a key mapped to a value. No bells and whistles — most just want to be fast. Eventually consistent is another attribute which most of them like to claim for themselves. The value term (in key-value store) is very flexible. Some key-value stores only support certain types, TillStore supports them all through JSON. ;-)

Other examples for key-value stores include Riak, Redis, Cassandra and Tokyo Cabinet.


So vain, right? Well, in the beginning TillStore was an inside joke with a colleague. And to be honest, TillStore was nothing more but the following:

$tillStore = array();

However, when I had time to hack away on Thursday night, I took it a slightly higher level. ;-)