Amazon DynamoDB is a fast and flexible NoSQL database service for all applications that need consistent, single-digit millisecond latency at any scale. It is a fully managed database and supports both document and key-value data models.

DynamoDB is always stored on SSDs. It's spread across three geographically distinct data centers.

Note that DynamoDB can be expensive for writes, but it's extremely cheap for reads.

DynamoDB has push button scaling, meaning that you can scale your database on the fly, without any downtime. RDS is harder to scale and might have some downtime.


DynamoDB consists of tables with items that have attributes. The database supports key-value and document data structures. Documents can be written in JSON, HTML, or XML.

Consistency Models

AWS gives you a choice between two consistency models: eventually consistent reads and strongly consistent reads.

Eventually Consistent Reads

Consistency across all copies of data is usually reached within a second. Repeating a read after a short time should return the updated data (best read performance)

Strongly Consistent Reads

Returns a result that reflects all writes that received a successful response prior to the read. Choose this model if you need to be able to read the information less than a second after it's written.

Primary Keys

DynamoDB stores and retrieves data based on a primary key. DynamoDB has two types of primary keys: partiton keys and composite keys.

Partition Keys

A partition key is a unique attribute (e.g. user ID). The value of the partition key is input to an internal hash function which determines the partition or physical location on which the data is stored. If you are using the partition key as your primary key, then no two items can have the same partition key.

Composite Keys

Made up of a partition key and a sort key in combination. Let's say you are storing messages by the same user posting multiple times. The composition key might have a partition key of the user ID and a sort key of the timestamp of the post. A composite key allows you to store multiple items with the same partition key.

Access Control

DynamoDB authentication is managed by IAM. You can create an IAM user within your AWS account which has specific permissions to access and create DynamoDB tables. IAM conditions can be added to IAM policies give fine grained access. The dynamodb:LeadingKeys parameter allows users to access only the items where the partition key matches their user ID.


DynamoDB provides fast access to items in a table by specifying primary key values. However, many applications might benefit from having one or more secondary keys available. DynamoDB supports two types of secondary indexes local secondary indexes and global secondary indexes.

Local Secondary Index

Can only be created when you are creating your table. It cannot be added, removed, or modified later. This index has the same partition key as your original table but a different sort key. This gives a different view of you data, organized according to this alternate sort key.

Global Secondary Index

Can be added when you create your table or after the table has been created. The global secondary index has a different partition key as well as a different sort key.

Scan and Query API Calls


A Query operation finds items in a table based on the primary key. An optional sort key can also be given to further refine the results.

By default, a Query returns all the attributes for the items, but you can use the ProjectionExpression parameter if you want the query to only return the specific attributes you want.

Results are always sorted by the sort key. You can reverse the order by setting the ScanIndexForward parameter to false.


A Scan operation examines every item in the table. A filter can be given to refine the results. Again, the ProjectionExpression parameter can refine which attributes are returned.

A scan operation is usually slower than a query operation (especially as the table grows). You can reduce the impact of a query or scan by setting a smaller page size which uses fewer read operations. You can also configure DynamoDB to use parallel scans. This will logically divide a table into segments and scan each segment in parallel. Avoid scan operations if you can!

Provisioned Throughput

When you create a table or index in DynamoDB, you must specify your capacity requirements for read and write activity. DynamoDB provisioned throughput is measured in capacity units.

  • 1 write capacity unit = 1 KB write per second.
  • 1 read capacity unit =
    • 1 strongly consistent read of 4KB per second
    • or, 2x eventually consist reads of 4KB per second (default).

DynamoDB Accelerator (DAX)

DAX is a fully managed, clustered in-memory cache for DynamoDB. This cache delivers up to 10x read performance improvement. Retrieval of data from reduces the read load on DynamoDB tables.

DAX is a write-through caching service; data is written to the cache as well as the backend store at the same time. This allows you to point your DynamoDB API calls at the DAX cluster. If the item you are querying is in the cache (cache hit), DAX returns the result. IF the item is not available (cache miss) then DAX performs an eventually consistent GetItem operation.

DAX caters for eventually consistent reads only. It isn't suitable for applications that require strongly consistent reads. It also doesn't really help write-intensive applications or applications that just don't perform many read operations.