Couchbase vs. Apache CouchDB

A comparison of two open source NoSQL database technologies

If you’re confused about the difference between Couchbase and Apache CouchDB you’ve come to the right place. We’ll try to clarify things, both with some high-level background and a chart to help you understand technical similarities and differences.

Brief History

First, a brief history. Apache CouchDB is the open source document database originally created by Damien Katz. Damien started a company (along with J Chris Anderson and Jan Lehnardt) called CouchOne Inc. to provide commercial support for the project. Around the same time another open source distributed key-value database called Membase was getting a lot of traction. In February 2011, CouchOne Inc. and Membase Inc. merged to form Couchbase. The idea behind the merger was pretty simple: combine the document-oriented data model and the indexing and querying capabilities of Apache CouchDB with the high performance, easily scalable, always-on capabilities of Membase to build a great database.

Membase, Apache CouchDB Integration

When engineering set off to integrate Apache CouchDB and Membase to form Couchbase, they started with Membase as the base technology. The team leveraged certain aspects of Apache CouchDB code to replace the Membase storage backend and add indexing and querying. Substantial portions were rewritten, however, to provide the performance and resource utilization that the team felt was required. The result is that while Couchbase is heavily influenced by Apache CouchDB, it is meaningfully different. While many things on the indexing and querying side are upward compatible with Apache CouchDB, the document access and administration APIs for example are upward compatible with Membase. One thing that is the same is that Couchbase in 100% open source and licensed under the Apache 2.0 license.

Apache CouchDB vs. Couchbase

While related from a technology perspective, Apache CouchDB and Couchbase have significantly different capabilities that support very different application developer needs and use cases. For example, Couchbase - like Membase - has a built-in, memcached-based caching technology that consistently provides sub millisecond read/write performance and is capable of hundreds of thousands of ops per second per node. Apache CouchDB is a disk-based database that usually is better suited for use cases where super low latency or high throughput is not a requirement. Couchbase also has a built-in clustering system that allows data to be automatically spread across multiple nodes. Apache CouchDB, on the other hand, is a single node solution with peer-to-peer replication technology and is better suited for decentralized systems and for holding data amounts that do not need to be spread out across multiple nodes.

Even though use cases and capabilities are very different between Couchbase and Apache CouchDB, of course they do have things in common. Both are NoSQL document databases using JSON as their document format. The strong influence of Apache CouchDB on the storage approach means that Couchbase also uses an append-only file format and fundamentally the same approach to indexing and querying as Apache CouchDB; it just extends and optimizes it to the distributed case. Finally, Apache CouchDB replication technology is the underlying technology for Couchbase cross datacenter replication.


Couchbase Inc and the Couchbase Open Source Project

While Couchbase Inc. continues to support the Apache CouchDB project (and our employees still make contributions), our primary focus is on the Couchbase Open Source project and the community of users who need a high performance, easily scalable, always on, easy-to-develop-with document-oriented database. Like Apache CouchDB, the Couchbase Open Source project is 100% open source and uses the Apache 2.0 license. If your requirements are better aligned with the capabilities that Couchbase provides we encourage you to become a part of the Couchbase community and help us build a great document-oriented NoSQL database. Likewise, if your needs align better with what Apache CouchDB provides, we encourage you to participate in their community.