There's some confusion on the internet about what happens when you call Model.find() in Mongoose. Make no mistake, Model.find() does what you expect: find all documents that match a query. But there's some confusion about Model.find() vs Query#find(), setting options, promise support. In this article, I'll provide a conceptual overview of what happens when you call Model.find() so you can answer similar questions for yourself.


For the purposes of this article, I'll assume you already have a MongoDB instance running on localhost:27017. If you don't, check out run-rs, it downloads and runs MongoDB for you with no dependencies beyond Node.js. Here's a standalone script that demonstrates creating some documents and using find():

const mongoose = require('mongoose');

run().catch(error => console.log(error.stack));

async function run() {
  await mongoose.connect('mongodb://localhost:27017/test', { useNewUrlParser: true });

  // Clear the database every time. This is for the sake of example only,
  // don't do this in prod :)
  await mongoose.connection.dropDatabase();

  const customerSchema = new mongoose.Schema({ name: String, age: Number, email: String });
  const Customer = mongoose.model('Customer', customerSchema);

  await Customer.create({ name: 'A', age: 30, email: '' });
  await Customer.create({ name: 'B', age: 28, email: '' });

  // Find all customers
  const docs = await Customer.find();

Models and Queries

Mongoose actually has two find() functions. The above standalone example uses Model.find(), but there's also Query#find(). Query#find() is shorthand for Query.prototype.find(), find() is an instance method on the Query class.

The Model.find() function returns an instance of Mongoose's Query class. The Query class represents a raw CRUD operation that you may send to MongoDB. It provides a chainable interface for building up more sophisticated queries. You don't instantiate a Query directly, Customer.find() instantiates one for you.

const query = Customer.find();
query instanceof mongoose.Query; // true
const docs = await query; // Get the documents

So Model.find() returns an instance of the Query class. You can chain find() calls to add additional query operators, also known as filters, to the query. For example, both of the following queries will find all customers whose email contains '' and whose age is at least 30.

// First parameter to `find()` is an object that contains query operators, see:
Customer.find({ email: /foo\.bar/, age: { $gte: 30 } });
// Equivalent:
Customer.find({ email: /foo\.bar/ }).find({ age: { $gte: 30 } });

Query objects have numerous helpers for building up sophisticated CRUD operations. The most commonly used ones are Query#sort(), Query#limit(), and Query#skip().

// Find the customer whose name comes first in alphabetical order, in
// this case 'A'. Use `{ name: -1 }` to sort by name in reverse order.
const res = await Customer.find({}).sort({ name: 1 }).limit(1);

// Find the customer whose name comes _second_ in alphabetical order, in
// this case 'B'
const res2 = await Customer.find({}).sort({ name: 1 }).skip(1).limit(1);

One major advantage of using Mongoose is that Mongoose casts queries to match the model's schema. This means you don't explicitly need to convert strings to ObjectIds or worry about the nuances of converting strings to numbers.

// Mongoose will convert `_id` from a string to an ObjectId, and `age.$gte`
// into a number, or throw an error if it failed to convert these values.
Customer.find({ _id: res[0]._id.toHexString(), age: { $gte: '25' } });

Setting Options

The sort(), limit(), and skip() helpers modify the query's options. For example, query.getOptions() below will return an object that contains sort and limit properties.

const query = Customer.find().sort({ name: 1 }).limit(1);
query.getOptions(); // { sort: { name: 1 }, limit: 1 }

The Model.find() function takes 3 arguments that help you initialize a query without chaining. The first argument is the query filter (also known as conditions). The 2nd argument is the query projection, which defines what fields to include or exclude from the query. For example, if you want to exclude the customer's email for privacy concerns, you can use either of the below syntaxes.

// Explicitly exclude `email` using the 2nd argument. Use `email: 1` to
// include _only_ the `email` property.
Customer.find({}, { email: 0 });
// Equivalent approach using chaining
Customer.find().select({ email: 0 });

The 3rd argument to Model.find() is the general query options. Here's a full list of options. For example, you can set limit and skip in the 3rd argument.

const res = await Customer.find({}, null, { sort: { name: 1 }, limit: 1 });
res[0].name; // 'A'

Note that Mongoose's Model.find() has a different function signature than the MongoDB driver's collection.find() function. The MongoDB driver only takes 2 arguments, filter and options. To convert a MongoDB driver find() call to a Mongoose Model.find() call without chaining, add null as the 2nd argument.

// MongoDB driver query
client.db().collection('customers').find({ email: /foo\.bar/ }, { limit: 1 });
// Equivalent Mongoose query
Customer.find({ email: /foo\.bar/ }, null, { limit: 1 });
// Equivalent Mongoose query using chaining
Customer.find({ email: /foo\.bar/ }).limit(1);

Promises and Async/Await

Model.find() returns a query instance, so why can you do await Model.find()? That's because a Mongoose query is a thenable, meaning they have a then() function. That means you can use queries in the same way you use promises, including with promise chaining as shown below.

Customer.find({ name: 'A' }).
  then(customers => {              
    console.log(customers[0].name); // 'A'
    return Customer.find({ name: 'B' });
  then(customers => {
    console.log(customers[0].name); // 'B'

Queries also have a catch() function. In general, a thenable doesn't need to have a catch() function, but Mongoose added one for your convenience. Below is an example of using catch() to handle a malformed number in your query.

// Caught: Cast to number failed for value "not a number" at path "age" for
// model "Customer"
Customer.find({ age: 'not a number' }).
  catch(err => console.log('Caught:', err.message));

Queries are thenables, but queries are not promises. In some cases, you might need a promise, not just a thenable. For example, you may have strict TypeScript bindings or you may be using the cls-hooked module. The Query#exec() function returns a fully fledged promise.

const q = Customer.find();
q instanceof Promise; // false
q.exec() instanceof Promise; // true

Moving On

Finding all documents that match a query in Mongoose is intuitive, but there's nuances that pop up once you go beyond the most basic queries. Mongoose lets you structure queries using chaining or, equivalently, using POJOs in a single function call. Model.find() returns a query, which has a separate find() method that lets you attach additional filters. Queries are not promises, but close enough for most practical uses. Remember these 3 concepts and you'll know enough to address most common Mongoose issues.

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