Multiple Indicesedit

Finally, remember that there is no rule that limits your application to using only a single index. When we issue a search request, it is forwarded to a copy (a primary or a replica) of all the shards in an index. If we issue the same search request on multiple indices, the exact same thing happens—there are just more shards involved.


Searching 1 index of 50 shards is exactly equivalent to searching 50 indices with 1 shard each: both search requests hit 50 shards.

This can be a useful fact to remember when you need to add capacity on the fly. Instead of having to reindex your data into a bigger index, you can just do the following:

  • Create a new index to hold new data.
  • Search across both indices to retrieve new and old data.

In fact, with a little forethought, adding a new index can be done in a completely transparent way, without your application ever knowing that anything has changed.

In Index Aliases and Zero Downtime, we spoke about using an index alias to point to the current version of your index. For instance, instead of naming your index tweets, name it tweets_v1. Your application would still talk to tweets, but in reality that would be an alias that points to tweets_v1. This allows you to switch the alias to point to a newer version of the index on the fly.

A similar technique can be used to expand capacity by adding a new index. It requires a bit of planning because you will need two aliases: one for searching and one for indexing:

PUT /tweets_1/_alias/tweets_search 
PUT /tweets_1/_alias/tweets_index 

Both the tweets_search and the tweets_index alias point to index tweets_1.

New documents should be indexed into tweets_index, and searches should be performed against tweets_search. For the moment, these two aliases point to the same index.

When we need extra capacity, we can create a new index called tweets_2 and update the aliases as follows:

POST /_aliases
  "actions": [
    { "add":    { "index": "tweets_2", "alias": "tweets_search" }}, 
    { "remove": { "index": "tweets_1", "alias": "tweets_index"  }}, 
    { "add":    { "index": "tweets_2", "alias": "tweets_index"  }}  

Add index tweets_2 to the tweets_search alias.

Switch tweets_index from tweets_1 to tweets_2.

A search request can target multiple indices, so having the search alias point to tweets_1 and tweets_2 is perfectly valid. However, indexing requests can target only a single index. For this reason, we have to switch the index alias to point to only the new index.


A document GET request, like an indexing request, can target only one index. This makes retrieving a document by ID a bit more complicated in this scenario. Instead, run a search request with the ids query, or do a multi-get request on tweets_1 and tweets_2.

Using multiple indices to expand index capacity on the fly is of particular benefit when dealing with time-based data such as logs or social-event streams, which we discuss in the next section.