Distributed counters

Many realtime apps have documents that act as counters. For example, you might count 'likes' on a post, or 'favorites' of a specific item.

In Firestore, you can only update a single document about once per second, which might be too low for some high-traffic applications.

Solution: Distributed counters

To support more frequent counter updates, create a distributed counter. Each counter is a document with a subcollection of "shards," and the value of the counter is the sum of the value of the shards.

Write throughput increases linearly with the number of shards, so a distributed counter with 10 shards can handle 10x as many writes as a traditional counter.

Web

// counters/${ID}
{
  "num_shards": NUM_SHARDS,
  "shards": [subcollection]
}

// counters/${ID}/shards/${NUM}
{
  "count": 123
}

Swift

// counters/${ID}
struct Counter {
    let numShards: Int

    init(numShards: Int) {
        self.numShards = numShards
    }
}

// counters/${ID}/shards/${NUM}
struct Shard {
    let count: Int

    init(count: Int) {
        self.count = count
    }
}

Objective-C

// counters/${ID}
@interface FIRCounter : NSObject
@property (nonatomic, readonly) NSInteger shardCount;
@end

@implementation FIRCounter
- (instancetype)initWithShardCount:(NSInteger)shardCount {
  self = [super init];
  if (self != nil) {
    _shardCount = shardCount;
  }
  return self;
}
@end

// counters/${ID}/shards/${NUM}
@interface FIRShard : NSObject
@property (nonatomic, readonly) NSInteger count;
@end

@implementation FIRShard
- (instancetype)initWithCount:(NSInteger)count {
  self = [super init];
  if (self != nil) {
    _count = count;
  }
  return self;
}
@end

Java
Android

// counters/${ID}
public class Counter {
    int numShards;

    public Counter(int numShards) {
        this.numShards = numShards;
    }
}

// counters/${ID}/shards/${NUM}
public class Shard {
    int count;

    public Shard(int count) {
        this.count = count;
    }
}

Kotlin+KTX
Android

// counters/${ID}
data class Counter(var numShards: Int)

// counters/${ID}/shards/${NUM}
data class Shard(var count: Int)

Python

import random

from google.cloud import firestore


class Shard(object):
    """
    A shard is a distributed counter. Each shard can support being incremented
    once per second. Multiple shards are needed within a Counter to allow
    more frequent incrementing.
    """

    def __init__(self):
        self._count = 0

    def to_dict(self):
        return {"count": self._count}


class Counter(object):
    """
    A counter stores a collection of shards which are
    summed to return a total count. This allows for more
    frequent incrementing than a single document.
    """

    def __init__(self, num_shards):
        self._num_shards = num_shards

Node.js

Not applicable, see the counter increment snippet below.

Go

import (
	"context"
	"fmt"
	"math/rand"
	"strconv"

	"cloud.google.com/go/firestore"
	"google.golang.org/api/iterator"
)

// Counter is a collection of documents (shards)
// to realize counter with high frequency.
type Counter struct {
	numShards int
}

// Shard is a single counter, which is used in a group
// of other shards within Counter.
type Shard struct {
	Count int
}

PHP

Not applicable, see the counter initialization snippet below.

C#

/// <summary>
/// Shard is a document that contains the count.
/// </summary>
[FirestoreData]
public class Shard
{
    [FirestoreProperty(name: "count")]
    public int Count { get; set; }
}

Ruby

import random

from google.cloud import firestore


class Shard(object):
    """
    A shard is a distributed counter. Each shard can support being incremented
    once per second. Multiple shards are needed within a Counter to allow
    more frequent incrementing.
    """

    def __init__(self):
        self._count = 0

    def to_dict(self):
        return {"count": self._count}


class Counter(object):
    """
    A counter stores a collection of shards which are
    summed to return a total count. This allows for more
    frequent incrementing than a single document.
    """

    def __init__(self, num_shards):
        self._num_shards = num_shards

The following code initializes a distributed counter:

Web

function createCounter(ref, num_shards) {
    var batch = db.batch();

    // Initialize the counter document
    batch.set(ref, { num_shards: num_shards });

    // Initialize each shard with count=0
    for (let i = 0; i < num_shards; i++) {
        let shardRef = ref.collection('shards').doc(i.toString());
        batch.set(shardRef, { count: 0 });
    }

    // Commit the write batch
    return batch.commit();
}

Swift

func createCounter(ref: DocumentReference, numShards: Int) {
    ref.setData(["numShards": numShards]){ (err) in
        for i in 0...numShards {
            ref.collection("shards").document(String(i)).setData(["count": 0])
        }
    }
}

Objective-C

- (void)createCounterAtReference:(FIRDocumentReference *)reference
                      shardCount:(NSInteger)shardCount {
  [reference setData:@{ @"numShards": @(shardCount) } completion:^(NSError * _Nullable error) {
    for (NSInteger i = 0; i < shardCount; i++) {
      NSString *shardName = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"%ld", (long)shardCount];
      [[[reference collectionWithPath:@"shards"] documentWithPath:shardName]
          setData:@{ @"count": @(0) }];
    }
  }];
}

Java
Android

public Task<Void> createCounter(final DocumentReference ref, final int numShards) {
    // Initialize the counter document, then initialize each shard.
    return ref.set(new Counter(numShards))
            .continueWithTask(new Continuation<Void, Task<Void>>() {
                @Override
                public Task<Void> then(@NonNull Task<Void> task) throws Exception {
                    if (!task.isSuccessful()) {
                        throw task.getException();
                    }

                    List<Task<Void>> tasks = new ArrayList<>();

                    // Initialize each shard with count=0
                    for (int i = 0; i < numShards; i++) {
                        Task<Void> makeShard = ref.collection("shards")
                                .document(String.valueOf(i))
                                .set(new Shard(0));

                        tasks.add(makeShard);
                    }

                    return Tasks.whenAll(tasks);
                }
            });
}

Kotlin+KTX
Android

fun createCounter(ref: DocumentReference, numShards: Int): Task<Void> {
    // Initialize the counter document, then initialize each shard.
    return ref.set(Counter(numShards))
            .continueWithTask { task ->
                if (!task.isSuccessful) {
                    throw task.exception!!
                }

                val tasks = arrayListOf<Task<Void>>()

                // Initialize each shard with count=0
                for (i in 0 until numShards) {
                    val makeShard = ref.collection("shards")
                            .document(i.toString())
                            .set(Shard(0))

                    tasks.add(makeShard)
                }

                Tasks.whenAll(tasks)
            }
}

Python

def init_counter(self, doc_ref):
    """
    Create a given number of shards as
    subcollection of specified document.
    """
    col_ref = doc_ref.collection("shards")

    # Initialize each shard with count=0
    for num in range(self._num_shards):
        shard = Shard()
        col_ref.document(str(num)).set(shard.to_dict())

Node.js

Not applicable, see the counter increment snippet below.

Go

// initCounter creates a given number of shards as
// subcollection of specified document.
func (c *Counter) initCounter(ctx context.Context, docRef *firestore.DocumentRef) error {
	colRef := docRef.Collection("shards")

	// Initialize each shard with count=0
	for num := 0; num < c.numShards; num++ {
		shard := Shard{0}

		if _, err := colRef.Doc(strconv.Itoa(num)).Set(ctx, shard); err != nil {
			return fmt.Errorf("Set: %v", err)
		}
	}
	return nil
}

PHP

$numShards = 10;
$colRef = $ref->collection('SHARDS');
for ($i = 0; $i < $numShards; $i++) {
    $doc = $colRef->document($i);
    $doc->set(['Cnt' => 0]);
}

C#

/// <summary>
/// Create a given number of shards as a
/// subcollection of specified document.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="docRef">The document reference <see cref="DocumentReference"/></param>
private static async Task CreateCounterAsync(DocumentReference docRef, int numOfShards)
{
    CollectionReference colRef = docRef.Collection("shards");
    var tasks = new List<Task>();
    // Initialize each shard with Count=0
    for (var i = 0; i < numOfShards; i++)
    {
        tasks.Add(colRef.Document(i.ToString()).SetAsync(new Shard() { Count = 0 }));
    }
    await Task.WhenAll(tasks);
}

Ruby

# project_id = "Your Google Cloud Project ID"
# num_shards = "Number of shards for distributed counter"
# collection_path = "shards"

require "google/cloud/firestore"

firestore = Google::Cloud::Firestore.new project_id: project_id

shards_ref = firestore.col collection_path

# Initialize each shard with count=0
num_shards.times do |i|
  shards_ref.doc(i).set(count: 0)
end

puts "Distributed counter shards collection created."

To increment the counter, choose a random shard and increment the count:

Web

function incrementCounter(db, ref, num_shards) {
    // Select a shard of the counter at random
    const shard_id = Math.floor(Math.random() * num_shards).toString();
    const shard_ref = ref.collection('shards').doc(shard_id);

    // Update count
    return shard_ref.update("count", firebase.firestore.FieldValue.increment(1));
}

Swift

func incrementCounter(ref: DocumentReference, numShards: Int) {
    // Select a shard of the counter at random
    let shardId = Int(arc4random_uniform(UInt32(numShards)))
    let shardRef = ref.collection("shards").document(String(shardId))

    shardRef.updateData([
        "count": FieldValue.increment(Int64(1))
    ])
}

Objective-C

- (void)incrementCounterAtReference:(FIRDocumentReference *)reference
                         shardCount:(NSInteger)shardCount {
  // Select a shard of the counter at random
  NSInteger shardID = (NSInteger)arc4random_uniform((uint32_t)shardCount);
  NSString *shardName = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"%ld", (long)shardID];
  FIRDocumentReference *shardReference =
      [[reference collectionWithPath:@"shards"] documentWithPath:shardName];

  [shardReference updateData:@{
    @"count": [FIRFieldValue fieldValueForIntegerIncrement:1]
  }];
}

Java
Android

public Task<Void> incrementCounter(final DocumentReference ref, final int numShards) {
    int shardId = (int) Math.floor(Math.random() * numShards);
    DocumentReference shardRef = ref.collection("shards").document(String.valueOf(shardId));

    return shardRef.update("count", FieldValue.increment(1));
}

Kotlin+KTX
Android

fun incrementCounter(ref: DocumentReference, numShards: Int): Task<Void> {
    val shardId = Math.floor(Math.random() * numShards).toInt()
    val shardRef = ref.collection("shards").document(shardId.toString())

    return shardRef.update("count", FieldValue.increment(1))
}

Python

def increment_counter(self, doc_ref):
    """Increment a randomly picked shard."""
    doc_id = random.randint(0, self._num_shards - 1)

    shard_ref = doc_ref.collection("shards").document(str(doc_id))
    return shard_ref.update({"count": firestore.Increment(1)})

Node.js

function incrementCounter(docRef, numShards) {
  const shardId = Math.floor(Math.random() * numShards);
  const shardRef = docRef.collection('shards').doc(shardId.toString());
  return shardRef.set({count: FieldValue.increment(1)}, {merge: true});
}

Go

// incrementCounter increments a randomly picked shard.
func (c *Counter) incrementCounter(ctx context.Context, docRef *firestore.DocumentRef) (*firestore.WriteResult, error) {
	docID := strconv.Itoa(rand.Intn(c.numShards))

	shardRef := docRef.Collection("shards").Doc(docID)
	return shardRef.Update(ctx, []firestore.Update{
		{Path: "Count", Value: firestore.Increment(1)},
	})
}

PHP

$colRef = $ref->collection('SHARDS');
$numShards = 0;
$docCollection = $colRef->documents();
foreach ($docCollection as $doc) {
    $numShards++;
}
$shardIdx = random_int(0, $numShards-1);
$doc = $colRef->document($shardIdx);
$doc->update([
    ['path' => 'Cnt', 'value' => FieldValue::increment(1)]
]);

C#

/// <summary>
/// Increment a randomly picked shard by 1.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="docRef">The document reference <see cref="DocumentReference"/></param>
/// <returns>The <see cref="Task"/></returns>
private static async Task IncrementCounterAsync(DocumentReference docRef, int numOfShards)
{
    int documentId;
    lock (s_randLock)
    {
        documentId = s_rand.Next(numOfShards);
    }
    var shardRef = docRef.Collection("shards").Document(documentId.ToString());
    await shardRef.UpdateAsync("count", FieldValue.Increment(1));
}

Ruby

# project_id = "Your Google Cloud Project ID"
# num_shards = "Number of shards for distributed counter"
# collection_path = "shards"

require "google/cloud/firestore"

firestore = Google::Cloud::Firestore.new project_id: project_id

# Select a shard of the counter at random
shard_id = rand 0...num_shards
shard_ref = firestore.doc "#{collection_path}/#{shard_id}"

# increment counter
shard_ref.update count: firestore.field_increment(1)

puts "Counter incremented."

To get the total count, query for all shards and sum their count fields:

Web

function getCount(ref) {
    // Sum the count of each shard in the subcollection
    return ref.collection('shards').get().then(snapshot => {
        let total_count = 0;
        snapshot.forEach(doc => {
            total_count += doc.data().count;
        });

        return total_count;
    });
}

Swift

func getCount(ref: DocumentReference) {
    ref.collection("shards").getDocuments() { (querySnapshot, err) in
        var totalCount = 0
        if err != nil {
            // Error getting shards
            // ...
        } else {
            for document in querySnapshot!.documents {
                let count = document.data()["count"] as! Int
                totalCount += count
            }
        }

        print("Total count is \(totalCount)")
    }
}

Objective-C

- (void)getCountWithReference:(FIRDocumentReference *)reference {
  [[reference collectionWithPath:@"shards"]
      getDocumentsWithCompletion:^(FIRQuerySnapshot *snapshot,
                                   NSError *error) {
        NSInteger totalCount = 0;
        if (error != nil) {
          // Error getting shards
          // ...
        } else {
          for (FIRDocumentSnapshot *document in snapshot.documents) {
            NSInteger count = [document[@"count"] integerValue];
            totalCount += count;
          }

          NSLog(@"Total count is %ld", (long)totalCount);
        }
  }];
}

Java
Android

public Task<Integer> getCount(final DocumentReference ref) {
    // Sum the count of each shard in the subcollection
    return ref.collection("shards").get()
            .continueWith(new Continuation<QuerySnapshot, Integer>() {
                @Override
                public Integer then(@NonNull Task<QuerySnapshot> task) throws Exception {
                    int count = 0;
                    for (DocumentSnapshot snap : task.getResult()) {
                        Shard shard = snap.toObject(Shard.class);
                        count += shard.count;
                    }
                    return count;
                }
            });
}

Kotlin+KTX
Android

fun getCount(ref: DocumentReference): Task<Int> {
    // Sum the count of each shard in the subcollection
    return ref.collection("shards").get()
            .continueWith { task ->
                var count = 0
                for (snap in task.result!!) {
                    val shard = snap.toObject<Shard>()
                    count += shard.count
                }
                count
            }
}

Python

def get_count(self, doc_ref):
    """Return a total count across all shards."""
    total = 0
    shards = doc_ref.collection("shards").list_documents()
    for shard in shards:
        total += shard.get().to_dict().get("count", 0)
    return total

Node.js

async function getCount(docRef) {
  const querySnapshot = await docRef.collection('shards').get();
  const documents = querySnapshot.docs;

  let count = 0;
  for (const doc of documents) {
    count += doc.get('count');
  }
  return count;
}

Go

// getCount returns a total count across all shards.
func (c *Counter) getCount(ctx context.Context, docRef *firestore.DocumentRef) (int64, error) {
	var total int64
	shards := docRef.Collection("shards").Documents(ctx)
	for {
		doc, err := shards.Next()
		if err == iterator.Done {
			break
		}
		if err != nil {
			return 0, fmt.Errorf("Next: %v", err)
		}

		vTotal := doc.Data()["Count"]
		shardCount, ok := vTotal.(int64)
		if !ok {
			return 0, fmt.Errorf("firestore: invalid dataType %T, want int64", vTotal)
		}
		total += shardCount
	}
	return total, nil
}

PHP

$result = 0;
$docCollection = $ref->collection('SHARDS')->documents();
foreach ($docCollection as $doc) {
    $result += $doc->data()['Cnt'];
}

C#

/// <summary>
/// Get total count across all shards.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="docRef">The document reference <see cref="DocumentReference"/></param>
/// <returns>The <see cref="int"/></returns>
private static async Task<int> GetCountAsync(DocumentReference docRef)
{
    var snapshotList = await docRef.Collection("shards").GetSnapshotAsync();
    return snapshotList.Sum(shard => shard.GetValue<int>("count"));
}

Ruby

# project_id = "Your Google Cloud Project ID"
# collection_path = "shards"

require "google/cloud/firestore"

firestore = Google::Cloud::Firestore.new project_id: project_id

shards_ref = firestore.col_group collection_path

count = 0
shards_ref.get do |doc_ref|
  count += doc_ref[:count]
end

puts "Count value is #{count}."

Limitations

The solution shown above is a scalable way to create shared counters in Firestore, but you should be aware of the following limitations:

  • Shard count - The number of shards controls the performance of the distributed counter. With too few shards, some transactions may have to retry before succeeding, which will slow writes. With too many shards, reads become slower and more expensive. You can offset the read-expense by keeping the counter total in a seprate roll-up document which is updated at a slower cadence (e.g. once per second), and having clients read from that document to get the total. The tradeoff is that clients will have to wait for the roll-up document to be updated, instead of computing the total by reading all of the shards immediately after any update.
  • Cost - The cost of reading a counter value increases linearly with the number of shards, because the entire shards subcollection must be loaded.