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Introduction to MongoDB Database Tools & Utilities

No matter the database you are working with, there are likely database tools available to help you work with your database. Database tools is a collective term for tools, utilities, and assistants that can make life easier when performing database administration tasks.

While not necessary to use, database tools and utilities can save you time and effort. MongoDB has a first party collection of extremely helpful, good to know command-line utilities that you can use in your deployment. In this article we are going to briefly mention installation and then cover the most useful utilities to know.

MongoDB separates its tools and utilities into four categories: Binary Import / Export, Data Import / Export, Diagnostic Tools, and GridFS so we'll cover them accordingly.

Installing MongoDB database tools

Starting in MongoDB version 4.4, the MongoDB Database Tools are released separately from the download of the MongoDB Server. They are also maintained on their own versioning compared to previous instances when these tools were released alongside a respective MongoDB Server version.

We won’t cover the steps for installation, but if you are working with MongoDB 4.4 or later, then the following will walk you through each OS installation process.

Binary import / export


mongodump is a utility for creating a binary export of the contents of a database. This utility can export data from standalone, replica set, and sharded cluster deployments. The exports can be executed from either mongod or mongos instances. It is important to note that mongodump needs to be run from the system command line, not the mongo shell.

mongodump can be a partner with mongorestore (more upcoming) to form part of a complete backup and recovery strategy. mongodump can also generate partial backups based on a collection, query, or syncing from production to development environment.

While a viable strategy for smaller deployments, mongodump should be set aside for another backup strategy for larger MongoDB deployments. Because mongodump operates by interacting with a running mongod instance, it can impact the performance of your running database. On top of creating traffic, the tool also forces the database to read all data through memory. When MongoDB needs to read infrequently accessed data, this can take away from more frequently accessed data, diminishing the regular workload’s performance.

The basic syntax for mongodump looks as follows in the system command line:

mongodump <options> <connection-string>

mongodump will generate a file and store it in a dump/ directory for you to access. You can read more about the connection string configuration and additional options in the official MongoDB documentation.


mongorestore is the partner tool to mongodump for creating a sufficient backup strategy for small deployments. The mongorestore program loads data from either a binary database dump (mongodump file) or the standard input into a mongod or mongos instance.

Like mongodump, mongorestore needs to be run in the system command-line rather than the mongo shell. It works against the running mongod instance as well making it inefficient as a restoration strategy for anything more than a small deployment.

The basic syntax for mongorestore looks like the following:

mongorestore <options> <connection-string> <directory or file to restore>

The additional options for mongorestore can be added to meet whatever requirements you may need for your backup strategy or standalone imports.


bsondump is a tool for reading binary files produced from using mongodump. The bsondump utility converts BSON files into human-readable formats, including JSON.

bsondump must be run in the command line, and it is a diagnostic tool for inspecting BSON files. It is not meant to be used for data ingestion or other application use.

bsondump uses Extended JSON v2.0 (Canonical Mode) to format its data. By default bsondump writes to standard output. To create a JSON file, you can use the following --outFile option:

bsondump --outFile=file.json file.bson

--outFile specifies the path of the file which bsondump should write its output JSON data. file.bson specifies the file to be converted. Other additional options are available in depth in the MongoDB Documentation.

bsondump is particularly useful for any mongodump debugging tasks where the file needs to become human readable. For example, you can do the following to produce a debugging output:

bsondump --type=debug file.bson

Data import / export


The mongoexport tool can also export data from a MongoDB instance. This command-line tool, however, produces a JSON or CSV export of the data rather than a binary dump like mongodump making it a slower operation.

In order to use mongoexport, a user requires at least read access on the target database. They can either be connected to a mongod or mongos instance. The basic syntax for mongoexport looks as follows:

mongoexport --collection=<coll> <options> <connection-string>

There are many additional options you can incorporate depending on your connection needs and use case. Because mongoexport produces a JSON or CSV export, in order to preserve all rich BSON data types for a full instance backup you will need to specify Extended JSON v2.0 (Canonical mode).

This is an important option to know because JSON can only directly represent some of the types supported by BSON. Therefore, you must append the --jsonFormat option and set to canonical. An example would something like the following:

mongoexport --jsonFormat=canonical --collection=<coll> <connection-string>

Like mongodump, mongoexport has a partner import tool that will be able to render the exported file for import into MongoDB.


The mongoimport tool imports the data captured from an Extended JSON (mongoexport file with preserved BSON data types), CSV, or TSV exports created from the mongoexport tool. With the correct formatting, mongoimport can also import files from a third-party export tool.

The mongoimport tool can only be used from the system command-line and not the mongo shell. It has the following basic syntax:

mongoimport <options> <connection> <file>

mongoimport restores a database from a backup taken with mongoexport. Therefore most of the arguments for both are the same. It is best practice that when using these tools together for a backup strategy that they are on the same version.

mongoimport also only supports data files that are UTF-8 encoded. If you attempt to import with any other encoding, then it will result in an error. An exhaustive list of additional option configuration can be found in the official MongoDB documentation.

Diagnostic tools


MongoDB also has helpful tools for gathering insights on any of your database instances. One such tool is mongostat. mongostat is a diagnostic tool that provides a quick overview of the status of a currently running mongod or mongos instance. If you are familiar with UNIX/Linux, this will sound familiar to vmstat except in a MongoDB context.

The mongostat utility can only be run from the system command line and not the mongo shell. In order to connect to a mongod instance and use the mongostat tool, a user must have the serverStatus privilege action on the cluster. MongoDB has a built-in role called clusterMonitor that provides this. It is also possible to customize other roles to take advantage of mongostat.

The basic syntax for mongostat is as follows:

mongostat <options> <connection-string> <polling interval in seconds>

By default, mongostat reports values that reflect operations over a 1 second period. However, you can adjust this with the <sleeptime> argument. Adjusting this time period to anything greater than 1 second averages the statistics to reflect the average operations per second.

mongostat returns many fields fields, and it can be customized to return only the fields of interest. Another important option to know is --rowcount=<number>, -n=<number>. This option limits the amount of rows returned by mongostat. Some examples of the fields returned are:

  • inserts : The number of objects inserted into the database per second.
  • query : The number of query operations per second.
  • vsize : The amount of virtual memory in megabytes used by the process at the time of the last mongostat call.
  • repl : The replication status of the member.

There are many more fields covered in the Official MongoDB Documentation, but these few examples demonstrate the mongostat utility’s capability for database monitoring from the system command-line.


While mongostat is a useful tool for monitoring on a database level, mongotop is a useful tool to know for providing statistics on a per-collection level. Specifically, mongotop provides a method to track the amount of time a mongod instance spends reading and writing data every second.

mongotop can only be run from the command line, and its basic syntax looks as follows:

mongotop <options> <connection-string> <polling interval in seconds>

mongotop returns the following fields:

  • mongotop.ns : This is the database namespace, which is a combination of the database name and collection
  • : Provides the total amount of time that the mongod spent operation on the namespace.
  • : Provides the amount of time that the mongod spent performing read operation on the namespace.
  • mongotop.write : Provides the amount of time that the mongod spent performing write operation on the namespace.
  • mongotop.<timestamp> : Provides the time stamp for the returned data.

mongotop allows a database user to monitor the traffic of a collection within a database. You’ll be able to form an image of when the collection is experiencing spikes or lulls in read or write operations.


GridFS is a convention for storing large files in a MongoDB database. All of the official MongoDB drivers support this convention, as does the following mongofiles program. It acts as an abstraction layer for storage and recovery of large files such as videos, audios, and images.


The mongofiles tool makes it possible to manipulate files stored in a MongoDB instance as GridFS objects from the system’s command line. This is particularly useful because it provides an interface between the objects stored in your file system and GridFS.

The basic syntax of mongofiles is the following:

mongofiles <options> <connection-string> <command> <filename or _id>

The <command> component determines what action you would like the mongofiles utility to take. Some example commands are:

  • list <prefix> : Lists the files in the GridFS store. The <prefix> portion optionally limits the list of returned items to files that begin with that string of characters.
  • search <string> : Lists the files in the GridFS store with names that match any portion of <string>.
  • delete <filename> : Delete the specified file from GridFS storage.

mongofiles provides interconnectivity between your local file system and GridFS that is conveniently navigable via the system command line. This makes file management and file storage a simpler task for database administrators and enhances data processing.


In this article, we discussed some of the MongoDB database tools and utilities that make important database tasks simpler via the command-line. A tool may be an essential to everyday database administrative operations or only needed ad-hoc.

Whether it’s exporting/importing data for maintaining a sound backup/recovery strategy, diagnostic monitoring on a database or collection level, or simplifying the interface between file systems for file management, MongoDB has you covered.

About the Author(s)
Alex Emerich

Alex Emerich

Alex is your typical bird watching, hip-hop loving bookworm that also enjoys writing about databases. He currently lives in Berlin, where he can be seen walking through the city aimlessly like Leopold Bloom.