I created a sparse index in my MongoDB Atlas like so:

db.detection_events.createIndex({"emp_id": 1}, {sparse: true})

When I performed this operation:

db.detection_events.count({"emp_id": {$exists: true}})

I got the result extremely quickly. Upon readon the docs for sparse indeces, MongoDB recommends to use partial indeces instead. I created a partial index like so:

db.detection_events.createIndex({"emp_id": 1}, {partialFilterExpression: {emp_id: true}})

And the same query takes a long time to execute. I got the partial index code from here.

Why does the partial index have a much higher query time than the sparse one? Is it because I created the index incorrectly?

  • What is the MongoDB version(x,y,z)? May 13, 2019 at 7:52
  • @MdHaidarAliKhan The server version is 4.0.9
    – A_toaster
    May 14, 2019 at 3:11

1 Answer 1


Turns out I created the partial index incorrectly.

If you want to speed up an $exists query, you need to add the partialFilterExpression option like so:

db.detection_events.createIndex({"thingToQueryOn": 1}, {partialFilterExpression: {thingToQueryOn: {$exists: true}}})

Note the lack of quotation marks in the second document

  • It still seems slower than the sparse index version, but oh well
    – A_toaster
    May 13, 2019 at 6:26
  • 2
    These should actually be equivalent. I suggest comparing the results of explain('executionStats') for a partial vs sparse index -- one possible difference could be whether index/data has already been loaded into RAM. If there is a difference in query plans, you could post both for comparison as a new question. The specific version of MongoDB server would also be relevant (but should be included in the query explain output).
    – Stennie
    May 14, 2019 at 1:34
  • @Stennie I believe you're right. I ran the test again today and am not noticing any difference in speed anymore. Maybe I ran it while it was still building the index or something?
    – A_toaster
    May 14, 2019 at 3:22

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