Finding Exact Valuesedit

When working with exact values, you will be working with filters. Filters are important because they are very, very fast. Filters do not calculate relevance (avoiding the entire scoring phase) and are easily cached. We’ll talk about the performance benefits of filters later in All About Caching, but for now, just keep in mind that you should use filters as often as you can.

term Filter with Numbersedit

We are going to explore the term filter first because you will use it often. This filter is capable of handling numbers, Booleans, dates, and text.

Let’s look at an example using numbers first by indexing some products. These documents have a price and a productID:

POST /my_store/products/_bulk
{ "index": { "_id": 1 }}
{ "price" : 10, "productID" : "XHDK-A-1293-#fJ3" }
{ "index": { "_id": 2 }}
{ "price" : 20, "productID" : "KDKE-B-9947-#kL5" }
{ "index": { "_id": 3 }}
{ "price" : 30, "productID" : "JODL-X-1937-#pV7" }
{ "index": { "_id": 4 }}
{ "price" : 30, "productID" : "QQPX-R-3956-#aD8" }

Our goal is to find all products with a certain price. You may be familiar with SQL if you are coming from a relational database background. If we expressed this query as an SQL query, it would look like this:

SELECT document
FROM   products
WHERE  price = 20

In the Elasticsearch query DSL, we use a term filter to accomplish the same thing. The term filter will look for the exact value that we specify. By itself, a term filter is simple. It accepts a field name and the value that we wish to find:

{
    "term" : {
        "price" : 20
    }
}

The term filter isn’t very useful on its own, though. As discussed in Query DSL, the search API expects a query, not a filter. To use our term filter, we need to wrap it with a filtered query:

GET /my_store/products/_search
{
    "query" : {
        "filtered" : { 
            "query" : {
                "match_all" : {} 
            },
            "filter" : {
                "term" : { 
                    "price" : 20
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

The filtered query accepts both a query and a filter.

A match_all is used to return all matching documents. This is the default behavior, so in future examples we will simply omit the query section.

The term filter that we saw previously. Notice how it is placed inside the filter clause.

Once executed, the search results from this query are exactly what you would expect: only document 2 is returned as a hit (because only 2 had a price of 20):

"hits" : [
    {
        "_index" : "my_store",
        "_type" :  "products",
        "_id" :    "2",
        "_score" : 1.0, 
        "_source" : {
          "price" :     20,
          "productID" : "KDKE-B-9947-#kL5"
        }
    }
]

Filters do not perform scoring or relevance. The score comes from the match_all query, which treats all docs as equal, so all results receive a neutral score of 1.

term Filter with Textedit

As mentioned at the top of this section, the term filter can match strings just as easily as numbers. Instead of price, let’s try to find products that have a certain UPC identification code. To do this with SQL, we might use a query like this:

SELECT product
FROM   products
WHERE  productID = "XHDK-A-1293-#fJ3"

Translated into the query DSL, we can try a similar query with the term filter, like so:

GET /my_store/products/_search
{
    "query" : {
        "filtered" : {
            "filter" : {
                "term" : {
                    "productID" : "XHDK-A-1293-#fJ3"
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

Except there is a little hiccup: we don’t get any results back! Why is that? The problem isn’t with the term query; it is with the way the data has been indexed. If we use the analyze API (Testing Analyzers), we can see that our UPC has been tokenized into smaller tokens:

GET /my_store/_analyze?field=productID
XHDK-A-1293-#fJ3
{
  "tokens" : [ {
    "token" :        "xhdk",
    "start_offset" : 0,
    "end_offset" :   4,
    "type" :         "<ALPHANUM>",
    "position" :     1
  }, {
    "token" :        "a",
    "start_offset" : 5,
    "end_offset" :   6,
    "type" :         "<ALPHANUM>",
    "position" :     2
  }, {
    "token" :        "1293",
    "start_offset" : 7,
    "end_offset" :   11,
    "type" :         "<NUM>",
    "position" :     3
  }, {
    "token" :        "fj3",
    "start_offset" : 13,
    "end_offset" :   16,
    "type" :         "<ALPHANUM>",
    "position" :     4
  } ]
}

There are a few important points here:

  • We have four distinct tokens instead of a single token representing the UPC.
  • All letters have been lowercased.
  • We lost the hyphen and the hash (#) sign.

So when our term filter looks for the exact value XHDK-A-1293-#fJ3, it doesn’t find anything, because that token does not exist in our inverted index. Instead, there are the four tokens listed previously.

Obviously, this is not what we want to happen when dealing with identification codes, or any kind of precise enumeration.

To prevent this from happening, we need to tell Elasticsearch that this field contains an exact value by setting it to be not_analyzed. We saw this originally in Customizing Field Mappings. To do this, we need to first delete our old index (because it has the incorrect mapping) and create a new one with the correct mappings:

DELETE /my_store 

PUT /my_store 
{
    "mappings" : {
        "products" : {
            "properties" : {
                "productID" : {
                    "type" : "string",
                    "index" : "not_analyzed" 
                }
            }
        }
    }

}

Deleting the index first is required, since we cannot change mappings that already exist.

With the index deleted, we can re-create it with our custom mapping.

Here we explicitly say that we don’t want productID to be analyzed.

Now we can go ahead and reindex our documents:

POST /my_store/products/_bulk
{ "index": { "_id": 1 }}
{ "price" : 10, "productID" : "XHDK-A-1293-#fJ3" }
{ "index": { "_id": 2 }}
{ "price" : 20, "productID" : "KDKE-B-9947-#kL5" }
{ "index": { "_id": 3 }}
{ "price" : 30, "productID" : "JODL-X-1937-#pV7" }
{ "index": { "_id": 4 }}
{ "price" : 30, "productID" : "QQPX-R-3956-#aD8" }

Only now will our term filter work as expected. Let’s try it again on the newly indexed data (notice, the query and filter have not changed at all, just how the data is mapped):

GET /my_store/products/_search
{
    "query" : {
        "filtered" : {
            "filter" : {
                "term" : {
                    "productID" : "XHDK-A-1293-#fJ3"
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

Since the productID field is not analyzed, and the term filter performs no analysis, the query finds the exact match and returns document 1 as a hit. Success!

Internal Filter Operationedit

Internally, Elasticsearch is performing several operations when executing a filter:

  1. Find matching docs.

    The term filter looks up the term XHDK-A-1293-#fJ3 in the inverted index and retrieves the list of documents that contain that term. In this case, only document 1 has the term we are looking for.

  2. Build a bitset.

    The filter then builds a bitset--an array of 1s and 0s—that describes which documents contain the term. Matching documents receive a 1 bit. In our example, the bitset would be [1,0,0,0].

  3. Cache the bitset.

    Last, the bitset is stored in memory, since we can use this in the future and skip steps 1 and 2. This adds a lot of performance and makes filters very fast.

When executing a filtered query, the filter is executed before the query. The resulting bitset is given to the query, which uses it to simply skip over any documents that have already been excluded by the filter. This is one of the ways that filters can improve performance. Fewer documents evaluated by the query means faster response times.