In describing the architecture of reddit, it is useful to make a distinction between "reddit" the software and "reddit.com" the main user and developer of that software. reddit is able to run on a single machine, or through a data center with hundreds of machines. reddit.com is at the latter end of the spectrum and employs a few tricks that are outside of the reddit software itself as well. This architectural overview starts by describing what is intrinsic to reddit, and then goes on to explain what is currently set up for reddit.com.
Unlike many other high-traffic sites, reddit is a very monolithic piece of software, for better or worse. The reddit application takes HTTP requests and does all the necessary work itself to fetch data from databases and build a proper response.
There are two core permanent data stores that reddit uses, PostgreSQL and Cassandra. Increasingly, ZooKeeper is becoming important for some forms of data storage, but its use remains optional at the code level right now. Memcached is used heavily to speed up many forms of lookup.
A fair (and increasing) amount of reddit's write workload is done outside of user requests to reduce the effect of processing slowdowns. Changes to be executed are queued up by a RabbitMQ messaging server and distributed out to backend jobs for processing.
reddit uses PostgreSQL in two distinct ways: through the ThingDB model, which is akin to a key/value store, and through more traditional relational models.
The ThingDB model is the core Postgres data persistence mechanism for most of the objects that people would associate with reddit e.g. Links, Comments, Accounts, and Subreddits. In short, this data model is a mostly-schemaless key/value store that uses two tables for each thing type, its "thing" table and its "data" table.
The first table is the "thing" table. It has a fixed set of columns common to all things such as ID, whether or not the thing is deleted or marked spam, and the thing's upvote / downvote counts. Some of these columns are repurposed when they don't have a useful meaning for the thing type in question (e.g. a Subreddit's "ups" is its number of subscribers). Having these frequently used attributes in a fixed schema makes it easy to do relatively fast sorts on the things.
ThingDB's flexibility comes in through the "data" table. For every attribute on a thing that isn't represented by a column in the thing table, a row is created in the data table. This allows zero-effort flexibility in the schema of things, but does mean higher overhead via joins and the like to fetch the data.
Lookups done through the ThingDB model can fetch individual items or groups of items in batch. Writes are always done one item at a time.
There is some data that's stored in a more traditional relational form, including traffic statistics and transaction information for selling ads and gold subscriptions. This isn't terribly unique to reddit and not worth much more description.
Memcached is used very heavily throughout reddit to add fast-access caching. There are several distinct ways
Many tasks take a large amount of time to execute and would be ill suited to happen in-request while the user is waiting.