Largest Graph Network

Minimum MongoDB Version: 4.2


Your organisation wants to know the best targets for a new marketing campaign based on a social network database similar to Twitter. You want to search the collection of social network users, each holding a user's name and the names of other people who follow them. You will execute an aggregation pipeline that walks each user record's followed_by array to determine which user has the largest network reach.

This example uses a simple data model for brevity. However, this is unlikely to be an optimum data model for using $graphLookup at scale for social network users with many followers or running in a sharded environment. For more guidance on such matters, see this reference application: Socialite.

Sample Data Population

Drop any old version of the database (if it exists) and then populate a new users collection with 10 social network users documents, plus an index to help optimise the graph traversal:

use book-largest-graph-network;

// Create index on field which each graph traversal hop will connect to
db.users.createIndex({"name": 1});

// Insert records into the users collection
  {"name": "Paul", "followed_by": []},
  {"name": "Toni", "followed_by": ["Paul"]},
  {"name": "Janet", "followed_by": ["Paul", "Toni"]},
  {"name": "David", "followed_by": ["Janet", "Paul", "Toni"]},
  {"name": "Fiona", "followed_by": ["David", "Paul"]},
  {"name": "Bob", "followed_by": ["Janet"]},
  {"name": "Carl", "followed_by": ["Fiona"]},
  {"name": "Sarah", "followed_by": ["Carl", "Paul"]},
  {"name": "Carol", "followed_by": ["Helen", "Sarah"]},
  {"name": "Helen", "followed_by": ["Paul"]},

Aggregation Pipeline

Define a pipeline ready to perform the aggregation:

var pipeline = [
  // For each social network user, graph traverse their 'followed_by' list of people
  {"$graphLookup": {
    "from": "users",
    "startWith": "$followed_by",
    "connectFromField": "followed_by",
    "connectToField": "name",
    "depthField": "depth",
    "as": "extended_network",

  // Add new accumulating fields
  {"$set": {
    // Count the extended connection reach
    "network_reach": {
      "$size": "$extended_network"

    // Gather the list of the extended connections' names
    "extended_connections": {
      "$map": {
        "input": "$extended_network",
        "as": "connection",
        "in": "$$", // Just get name field from each array element
  // Omit unwanted fields
  {"$unset": [
  // Sort by person with greatest network reach first, in descending order
  {"$sort": {
    "network_reach": -1,


Execute the aggregation using the defined pipeline and also view its explain plan:


Expected Results

Ten documents should be returned, corresponding to the original ten source social network users, with each one including a count of the user's network reach, and the names of their extended connections, sorted by the user with the most extensive network reach first, as shown below:

    name: 'Carol',
    network_reach: 8,
    extended_connections: [ 'David', 'Toni', 'Fiona', 'Sarah', 'Helen', 'Carl', 'Paul',  'Janet' ]
    name: 'Sarah',
    network_reach: 6,
    extended_connections: [ 'David', 'Toni', 'Fiona', 'Carl', 'Paul', 'Janet' ]
    name: 'Carl',
    network_reach: 5,
    extended_connections: [ 'David', 'Toni', 'Fiona', 'Paul', 'Janet' ]
    name: 'Fiona',
    network_reach: 4,
    extended_connections: [ 'David', 'Toni', 'Paul', 'Janet' ]
    name: 'David',
    network_reach: 3,
    extended_connections: [ 'Toni', 'Paul', 'Janet' ]
    name: 'Bob',
    network_reach: 3,
    extended_connections: [ 'Toni', 'Paul', 'Janet' ]
    name: 'Janet',
    network_reach: 2,
    extended_connections: [ 'Toni', 'Paul' ]
    name: 'Toni',
    network_reach: 1, 
    extended_connections: [ 'Paul']
    name: 'Helen',
    network_reach: 1, 
    extended_connections: [ 'Paul' ] 
  { name: 'Paul', 
    network_reach: 0, 
    extended_connections: [] 


  • Following Graphs. The $graphLookup stage helps you traverse relationships between records, looking for patterns that aren't necessarily evident from looking at each record in isolation. In this example, by looking at Paul's record in isolation, it is evident that Paul has no friends and thus has the lowest network reach. However, it is not obvious that Carol has the greatest network reach just by looking at the number of people Carol is directly followed by, which is two. David, for example, is followed by three people (one more than Carol). However, the executed aggregation pipeline can deduce that Carol has the most extensive network reach.

  • Index Use. The $graphLookup stage can leverage the index on the field name for each of its connectToField hops.

  • Extracting One Field From Each Array Element. The pipeline uses the $map array operator to only take one field from each user element matched by the $graphLookup stage. The $map logic loops through each matched user, adding the value of the user's name field to the $map's array of results and ignoring the other field (followed_by). For more information about using the $map operator, see the Advanced Use Of Expressions For Array Processing chapter.