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Ruby ORM for Amazon's DynamoDB
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Dynamoid is an ORM for Amazon's DynamoDB for Ruby applications. It provides similar functionality to ActiveRecord and improves on Amazon's existing HashModel by providing better searching tools, native association support, and a local adapter for offline development.

DynamoDB is not like other document-based databases you might know, and is very different indeed from relational databases. It sacrifices anything beyond the simplest relational queries and transactional support to provide a fast, cost-efficient, and highly durable storage solution. If your database requires complicated relational queries and transaction support, then this modest Gem cannot provide them for you, and neither can DynamoDB. In those cases you would do better to look elsewhere for your database needs.

But if you want a fast, scalable, simple, easy-to-use database (and a Gem that supports it) then look no further!


Installing Dynamoid is pretty simple. First include the Gem in your Gemfile:

gem 'dynamoid'

Then you need to initialize it to get it going. Put code similar to this somewhere (a Rails initializer would be a great place for this if you're using Rails):

  Dynamoid.configure do |config|
    config.adapter = 'local' # This adapter allows offline development without connecting to the DynamoDB servers. Data is *NOT* persisted.
    # config.adapter = 'aws_sdk' # This adapter establishes a connection to the DynamoDB servers using Amazon's own AWS gem.
    # config.access_key = 'access_key' # If connecting to DynamoDB, your access key is required.
    # config.secret_key = 'secret_key' # So is your secret key. 
    config.namespace = "dynamoid_#{Rails.application.class.parent_name}_#{Rails.env}" # To namespace tables created by Dynamoid from other tables you might have.
    config.warn_on_scan = true # Output a warning to the logger when you perform a scan rather than a query on a table.
    config.partitioning = true # Spread writes randomly across the database. See "partitioning" below for more.
    config.partition_size = 200  # Determine the key space size that writes are randomly spread across.

Once you have the configuration set up, just define models like this:

class User
   include Dynamoid::Document # Documents automatically receive an 'id' field: you don't have to specify it.

   field :name           # Every field you have on the object must be specified here.
   field :email          # If you have fields that aren't specified they won't be attached to the object as methods.
   field :rank, :integer # Every field is assumed to be a string unless otherwise specified.
                         # created_at and updated_at with a type of :datetime are automatically added.

   index :name           # Only specify indexes if you intend to perform queries on the specified fields.
   index :email          # Fields without indexes suffer extremely poor performance as they must use 
   index [:name, :email] # scan rather than query.
   index :created_at, :range => true
   index :name, :range => :created_at
                         # You can only provide one range query for each index, or specify an index
                         # to be only a range query with :range => true.

   has_many :addresses   # Associations do not accept any options presently. The referenced
                         # model name must match exactly and the foreign key is always id.
   belongs_to :group     # If they detect a matching association on 
                         # the referenced model they'll auto-update that association.
   has_one :role         # Contrary to ActiveRecord, all associations are stored on the object,
                         # even if it seems like they'd be a foreign key association.
   has_and_belongs_to_many :friends
                         # There's no concept of embedding models yet but it's coming!


Dynamoid's syntax is very similar to ActiveRecord's.

u = => 'Josh') = ''

Save forces persistence to the datastore: a unique ID is also assigned, but it is a string and not an auto-incrementing number. # => "3a9f7216-4726-4aea-9fbc-8554ae9292cb"

Along with persisting the model's attributes, indexes are automatically updated on save. To use associations, you use association methods very similar to ActiveRecord's:

address = u.addresses.create = 'Chicago'

Querying can be done in one of three ways:

Address.find(              # Find directly by ID.
Address.where(:city => 'Chicago').all # Find by any number of matching criteria... though presently only "where" is supported.
Address.find_by_city('Chicago')       # The same as above, but using ActiveRecord's older syntax.

And you can also query on associations:

u.addresses.where(:city => 'Chicago').all

But keep in mind Dynamoid -- and document-based storage systems in general -- are not drop-in replacements for existing relational databases. The above query does not efficiently perform a conditional join, but instead finds all the user's addresses and naively filters them in Ruby. For large associations this is a performance hit compared to relational database engines.

If you have a range index, Dynamoid provides a number of additional other convenience methods to make your life a little easier:

User.where("" => -
User.where("" => -

It also supports .gte and .lte. Turning those into symbols and allowing a Rails SQL-style string syntax is in the works. You can only have one range argument per query, because of DynamoDB's inherent limitations, so use it sensibly!

Partitioning, Provisioning, and Performance

DynamoDB achieves much of its speed by relying on a random pattern of writes and reads: internally, hash keys are distributed across servers, and reading from two consecutive servers is much faster than reading from the same server twice. Of course, many of our applications request one key (like a commonly used role, a superuser, or a very popular product) much more frequently than other keys. In DynamoDB, this will result in lowered throughput and slower response times, and is a design pattern we should try to avoid.

Dynamoid attempts to obviate this problem transparently by employing a partitioning strategy to divide up keys randomly across DynamoDB's servers. Each ID is assigned an additional number (by default 0 to 199, but you can increase the partition size in Dynamoid's configuration) upon save; when read, all 200 hashes are retrieved simultaneously and the most recently updated one is returned to the application. This results in a significant net performance increase, and is usually invisible to the application itself. It does, however, bring up the important issue of provisioning your DynamoDB tables correctly.

When your read or write provisioning exceed your table's allowed throughput, DynamoDB will wait on connections until throughput is available again. This will appear as very, very slow requests and can be somewhat frustrating. Partitioning significantly increases the amount of throughput tables will experience; though DynamoDB will ignore keys that don't exist, if you have 20 partitioned keys representing one object, all will be retrieved every time the object is requested. Ensure that your tables are set up for this kind of throughput, or turn provisioning off, to make sure that DynamoDB doesn't throttle your requests.


Dynamoid borrows code, structure, and even its name very liberally from the truly amazing Mongoid. Without Mongoid to crib from none of this would have been possible, and I hope they don't mind me reusing their very awesome ideas to make DynamoDB just as accessible to the Ruby world as MongoDB.

Running the tests

The tests can be run in the simple predictable way with rake. However, if you provide environment variables for ACCESS_KEY and SECRET_KEY, the tests will use the aws_sdk adapter rather than the local adapter: ACCESS_KEY=<accesskey> SECRET_KEY=<secretkey> rake. Keep in mind this takes much, much longer than the local tests.


Copyright (c) 2012 Josh Symonds. See LICENSE.txt for further details.

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