How-To: Bail out on Iris Couch

By Jason on May 11, 2011

Iris Couch and CouchDB means easy data replication and no vendor lock-in for you. It is important to explore what that means.

Let’s walk through how you would pack up and move on. Thanks to CouchDB, it’s simple! Even if you actually like Iris Couch, this is a useful exercise:

  • You’ll maintain an independent disaster-recovery or backup site.
  • You’ll stay upstream. If your needs ever change, at any time, for any reason, switch couches.
  • You’ll sharpen your CouchDB skills.

The Big Idea

This is a basic disaster-recovery (DR) scenario. We want to perform one simple task to completely pull the plug, jumping to a different CouchDB system.

Thus these are the main objectives:

  • Have a duplicate of the Iris couch, called B-Couch.
  • B-Couch syncs from Iris couch automatically or regularly.
  • Be able to activate B-Couch with a single domain name change.

Quick and Dirty Sidenote

If you have no backups whatsoever, the dead-simple partial solution is to make a full document dump: /my_db/_changes?include_docs=true

This is like an incomplete mysqldump because it does not fetch document attachments. On the other hand, it’s a quick one-liner which you can run from cron, so what’s stopping you?

$ curl ''
{"seq":5,"id":"doc 1","doc":{"_id":"doc 1","_rev":"7-1f6e64...","awesome":true}, etc. },
{"seq":8,"id":"other doc","doc":{"_id":"other doc","_rev":"3-8b92cd..."}, etc. },
{ ... etc ... },

This is not a complete copy of the data. Again: it will not include attachments.

However, if you have no backups in the first place, well, at least it’s a full replica of the data. Bang for buck.

Next I’ll explore a proper couch clone. Yeah. We all see what’s coming. We’re going to replicate CouchDB—no surprises there. Of course, “surprise” isn’t typically part of a good DR plan.

Preparing the Iris couch

First, you need a user account on the Iris couch. This account must have permission to read every database. In a pinch, that can be the system _admin account.

For this discussion, suppose the user name is icuser and the password is icsec, on the couch

Confirm that icuser (or any of icuser’s roles) can access every database. The security object (in Futon’s “Security” section) for each database should list icuser in the “users” array, or one of icuser’s roles in the “roles” array.

In other words:

* For each database:
  * Check the _security object (the "Security" link in Futon)
  * Check the "Admins" section:
    * If Names contains icuser, ok.
    * If Roles contains any of icuser's roles, ok.
  * Check _security (the Security link in Futon) in the Readers section:
    * If Names and Roles are both empty, ok.
    * If Names contains icuser, ok.
    * If Roles contains any of icuser's roles, ok.
  * Otherwise, you must add icuser (or its role) somewhere in this mix.

You can confirm that everything works with curl.

$ curl

$ curl
{"db_name":"stuff","doc_count":92,"doc_del_count":12,... // etc.

$ curl
{"db_name":"not_stuff","doc_count":8,"doc_del_count":0,... // etc.

Preparing B-Couch

Obviously, you need B-Couch on-line. This can be pretty much any CouchDB server you can find or run yourself. In fact, B-Couch can be on your laptop, or a spare computer in the office. If you haven’t got any clone of your couch, by all means, start with CouchDBX, homebrew, or (if you’re sophisticated) the CouchDB that comes with your OS.

If B-Couch is private, you won’t have the DNS switchover we discuss later. But again: that’s better than nothing.

Iris Couch runs the GeoCouch plugin. An easy way to build CouchDB with GeoCouch is with Build CouchDB. (Well, you might say “an easier way.”) GeoCouch is not necessary to have a complete backup; however, if you want to use B-Couch in production with geo queries, you’ll need it.

As before, you need a Couch user with write access to the databases. You could use the _admin account. Nobody’d blame you. But a less-privileged account is better.

A good place to start is replicating the user database straightaway.

$ curl -X POST      \
  -H 'Content-Type: application/json'                            \
  -d '{ "source":""}  \
      , "target": "_users"}'

Replicating the _users database will add identical account names and roles to B-Couch. If you don’t want peopla using B-Couch, then set the _security objects differently on B-Couch. See? Locked down. That’s why security objects don’t replicate.

Confirm that B-Couch responds to queries and that everything looks good.

$ curl

$ curl
{ "ok": true
, "userCtx": { "name": "icuser", "roles": ["some_role"] }
, "info": { "authentication_db": "_users"
          , "authentication_handlers": [ "oauth", "cookie", "default" ]
          , "authenticated": "default"


You did it once already and it wasn’t so bad. Do that for every database you need.

for db in admin_db _users some_other_db; do
  curl -X POST    \
       -H 'Content-Type: application/json'                           \
       -d '{ "source":""} \
           , "target": "_users"}'

Here our paths diverge a bit. This is your back-up, DR, cold-spare, hot-spare, or whatever. The point is, you’ve got your own couch that is a clone of your Iris couch. Back it up to tape. Put it in Dropbox. Whatever.

The command above does not use continuous replication. Instead, it starts one-off replications, effective immediately. That’s easy to understand, easy to keep an eye on, and easy to back up correctly.

You might prefer a continuous replication, maintaining a real-time copy of the Iris couch. Any time, rain or shine, B-Couch will be identical to the Iris couch. If that sounds like something you want, add one more field to your replication requests:

{ "source": ""}
, "target": "_users"
, "continuous": true

The hostname switch

Finally, the big red button!

We want one simple place where we can change one configuration or setting, and B-Couch takes over in production.

The answer is to use your own DNS domain. For example, suppose your domain is Build your applications and services to use CouchDB from

; Example BIND 9 setting. This points a domain name I
; control ( to whichever couch I
; prefer (currently Iris Couch).
couch           CNAME

Consider the time-to-live (TTL) for your domain. When you change the CNAME, users will still connect to the Iris couch for up to TTL seconds.

Confirm that your CNAME looks good and works for queries.

$ dig A

;             IN      A

;; ANSWER SECTION:      712     IN      CNAME       712     IN      A

$ curl

You're done!

Now, if you ever need to change which couch you use for production, just update the CNAME record in your DNS domain. No software changes, no downtime, no lock-in.

; Modified BIND 9 setting. This points a domain name I
; control ( to whichever couch I
; prefer (now B-Couch).
couch           CNAME

When that pushes and propogates, the client-side (that is, your web app or iPhone app) doesn’t change.

$ dig A

;             IN      A

;; ANSWER SECTION:      811     IN      CNAME      811     IN      A

Note that the couch clients require no change at all.

$ curl